On Tuesday, Rahul Dravid delivered the MAK Pataudi Memorial lecture in New Delhi. The former India skipper and current Under-19 coach spoke about the prevalence of age-fraud and why it needs to be weeded out at the earliest, reforms required in junior cricket, why cricket is no longer the preferred choice of sport for children and about what leaders of the game must strive to achieve. Excerpts
On India’s place in world cricket
Indian cricket at the moment is in a state of both enormous popularity and considerable reflection. It is blessed with great resources, financial and human, and is currently trying to arrive at a consensus over the best way possible to make the most of what we have. Indian cricket’s economic strength is both the envy of the world and if I may say so, some of its resentment.
We are at a moment in our history where we have every reason to be optimistic, but where we must strive to be visionary leaders of the world game, working with equal parts foresight and empathy.
At times like these, we need the wisdom of our elders and the energy of our young cricketers to do what is best for Indian cricket and the game at large. For a few weeks now, I have thought about what kind of advice would Tiger Pataudi, one of our most wise elders, have offered us.
Keeping in mind the situation we are in today, I have no doubt about what Tiger Pataudi would have said. Put cricket, first and foremost, at the centre of every decision you take. The bottom line of all our endeavours must always be the sport that we love.
About how to keep it fresh, inclusive, beyond mere frequent rule-changes, how to enrich it beyond the commerce.
Cricket’s wake-up call
Rather than expect our best talent to come flocking to our junior cricket nurseries, we first need to have a clear, detailed plan. A blueprint for our junior cricket.
The age group that gives academies its biggest revenues is the youngest – the beginners, age five upwards. Yet they are paid the least attention. Usually, it is the junior-most coach who works with the hardest to handle youngest kids. Kids that age can’t be stuck into the nets and expected to obediently do drills. Five year olds need to be entertained for the entire duration of their training and be taught skills as part of that enjoyment.
The youngest coach, hard-working and committed he may be, is often given 20 children between 5-7 year olds to handle. Never mind twenty, try handling five. If we check, there’s a good chance the coach has not undergone any specialised training in working with children. Nor will there be any official coaching certification about the level of his skills. He could be training kids using methods he learnt from his coach more than a decade ago.
The youngest coach shouldn’t be working with the youngest wards; it should in fact be the other way around. In a fascinating book called “The Talent Code”, writer Daniel Coyle talks about how greatness across many fields, – be it sport, music, science – is not only ‘born’ it is grown.
On faulty actions
As coach of the India U-19 team, over the last few months I have seen quite a few youngsters and many, many matches. When I hear about some under-19 bowlers being reported for a suspect action, it upsets me deeply. What were the coaches doing until the boy got to that age – 17-18-19? Did his faulty action begin at the age of 10 years old, because his coach had him bowl the full 22 yards? Then as he grew up did his next bunch of coaches just let it go because the boy kept getting wickets and winning tournaments?
Like the issue of bowling actions, it is a similar emphasis on short-term results that has led to the scourge of overage players in junior matches. That entire exercise begins when a coach alters a player’s date of birth so that he can take part in a local tournament. The parents are happy to accept the value of an extra year or two, particularly in junior cricket and, academically at middle school. The truth is that the player who has faked his age might make it at the junior level not necessarily because he is better or more talented, but because he is stronger and bigger. We all know how much of a difference a couple of years can make at that age. That incident will have another ripple effect: an honest player deprived of his place by an overage player, is disillusioned. We run the risk of losing him forever.
I think of this overage business as dangerous and even toxic and to me gives rise to a question: If a child sees his parents and coaches cheating and creating a fake birth certificate, will he not be encouraged to become a cheat? He is being taught to lie by his own elders.