A concerned Rahul Dravid, now junior India coach, on Tuesday touched upon some of the most critical issues of junior cricket in the country, like the need of a minimum coaching guidelines for academies, age fudging (he termed it “dangerous and even toxic”), parental pressure on their wards to excel, and suggested BCCI – with its administrators sitting in front of him – what to do to make the game vibrant at that level.
While delivering the fourth MAK Pataudi Memorial Lecture in New Delhi, the former India captain bravely touched upon issues that many people would think several times before raising them with BCCI administrators for the fear of being rebuked or even being victimised.
But Dravid, much like his solid and frills-less batting, fearlessly told that the BCCI that a lot of changes need to be effected at the junior level to keep it going. He also told the Board that “we must strive to be visionary leaders of the world game”.
And after his 28-minute-50-second speech, BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur, speaking in the absence of president Shashank Manohar, appreciated the suggestions. It, however, remains to be seen how many of those suggestions – if any – would be eventually implemented by the BCCI.
After raising the issues, Dravid posed a question to the audience — which comprised the Indian and South Africa teams that will play the fourth and final Test in Delhi from Thursday — and himself offered some answers: “Cricket needs to wake up. But how?” He began by saying a “blueprint for our junior cricket” is required.
As Pataudi’s wife and renowned Bollywood actress Sharmila Tagore listened attentively, Dravid talked about age fudging at the junior level.
“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,” he said in front of an audience that also had former captain Bishan Singh Bedi, a staunch crusader against the prevalent age fraud.
“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,” said a passionate Dravid.
“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. At 14 it may be in the matter of the age criteria, at 25 it may be fixing and corruption. How are the two different in any way? In both cases, is it not blatant cheating?”
Faulty bowling actions was another crucial issue that Dravid touched upon.
“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, 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?” he stressed.
With top BCCI administrators in attendance, Dravid suggested some innovative planning was required to engage school students, to ensure that they don’t leave cricket for some other sport.
“Our junior cricket needs to think of options – rolling substitutions like in football, or a rotational system in batting or bowling, where everyone is given a chance. Just as an example: maybe batsmen could retire after scoring a 50 (or a 30?) and return only after their side has lost three more wickets. Bowlers should be allowed to bowl a maximum of one-third of the total overs instead of one-fifth,” he suggested.
If it is Dravid, a known avid reader, the mention of a famous is not far away. On Tuesday, he referred to a “fascinating book called ‘The Talent Code’, writer Daniel Coyle talks about how greatness across many field — be it sport, music, science — is not only ‘born’ it is grown”.
“Indian cricket should seek to draft and adopt a universally-applied Junior Cricket Policy. It doesn’t have to be a mind numbing 50-page document; it can be a well-explained simple framework,” Dravid further suggested. “The BCCI must publish a Minimum Standards guideline which academies must adhere to. If they fail, they must be pulled up. We could get the most out of this vast network of academies if they are brought into the formalised structures of the game.”
“Today’s coaches can take a leaf or two out of the way men like the Keki Tarapores [He was Dravid’s coach] and Ramakant Achrekars [coach of Sachin Tendulkar] took responsibility for the overall growth of their wards along with their cricket,” he pointed out.
Dravid talked of Parental pressure too. “Alarm bells [are] ringing in the heads of Indian parents everywhere. At an age when the only decision that boys should stress about is whether to start shaving or not we expect them to decide what they want to do with their lives,” he said in all seriousness.
The master batsman sounded concerned that cricket’s “appeal to both children and parents has changed considerably”, what with several options available to them, and he buttressed his point by giving an example of declining cricket equipment/gear among children.
“The generation when you could say that ‘every Indian baby is born with a cricket bat in the hand’ is well behind us. I feel that strongly because I can see more Indian children in the cities taking up other sports. Cricket is not their first game anymore,” Dravid emphasised.
“A leading sports equipment manufacturer tells me that in the last 4-5 years, the percentage of sales of cricket equipment in the children’s category, has gone down when compared to the sales of footballs, table tennis and badminton racquets and swimming gear,” he said. “The cricketer in me is a little apprehensive about this trend. Not because other sports are getting more popular which is terrific, but because we may not be doing enough to attract children to cricket and from there, we could be losing out some talented youngsters and future fans of the game.”