How did India build their world-beating bench strength? They have a system
So how did this miracle happen amidst the general chaos that characterises India? The answer lies with the generation of players who played international cricket in the 1990s: “The last time India handed out so many debuts on an away tour was back in 1996, when as many as six players earned a cap in England. Two of those debutants, Rahul Dravid and Paras Mhambrey, now carry the responsibility of ensuring a player making his India debut is ready for that level of competition….Both players felt international cricket was a massive jump.
Dravid is now the director of the National Cricket Academy, Mhambrey the bowling coach there. Until recently, their partners in crime were the selection committee of Prasad, another Indian cricketer who, not unlike many others in that era, was thrown in at the deep end. Prasad ended with six Tests to his name: the last of them, when he was 24, came on India’s horrid tour of Australia in 1999-2000. When India started to put together their now formidable talent acquisition system, the junior selection committee was led by Aashish Kapoor, who played the last of his four Tests at the age of 25.It is tempting to think of it as four men trying to make sure the next generation doesn’t face the same challenges they did.”
With smart, determined, well educated cricketers at the helm, the BCCI has built a powerful talent spotting, training, coaching and mentoring system which starts at the Under-16 and goes all the way to the Test team: “….this success is largely down to the robust system India have built, a board willing to spend massively on that system, and the vast improvement in the knowledge of all the coaches, trainers and physios in the country.After the Lodha Committee’s recommendations to overhaul Indian cricket came into full effect, 38 teams play Under-19 and U-16 domestic cricket. These matches are not televised nor are they covered by the media. Picking an India team based on these matches is difficult, so the junior selection committee, in consultation with Dravid’s team at the NCA, picks 150 players from these 38 teams. The five selectors on that committee can travel only so much; they have to rely largely on the players’ numbers, and also on the informal scouting system: umpires, scorers, match officials and the like. The zonal system of picking players was done away with to deny politically appointed officials undue say in selection.
These 150 players are then divided into six groups of 25 and each group is sent to a month-long camp at a Zonal Cricket Academy (ZCA). The physios and trainers at the ZCA are as good as those at international level. The coaches at the NCA – Mhambrey, Narendra Hirwani, Abhay Sharma, sometimes Dravid – travel to these camps, taking turns so that between them they watch as much of as many young players as they can. The camps themselves are run by experienced former players who have officially trained as coaches…”
The most interesting part of the article is about how this army of coaches, physios and selectors are NOT focused on winning the World Cup; they are focused on the process, on the day to day metrics generated by the players i.e. the process is the focus, not the outcome: “…fitness and actual matches between the players are given prime importance. All the data is collected: fitness parameters, reaction to workloads, runs, wickets, catches, run-outs. The coaches add another, qualitative, layer to these assessments: whether someone is a big hitter, whether someone can rotate strike, how quick someone is to the ball in the field, how consistent and relentless a bowler is. Eventually the junior selectors and the NCA coaching staff prune the group down to 50 players, who take part in two national month-long camps of 25 cricketers each.
The primary focus of this selection process is not to win the U-19 World Cup. If that is your main aim, that list of 150 can come down to 15 or 20 pretty quickly, but with players 17-18 years old, you don’t cast the net that narrow. Not everyone blossoms early; you don’t want to look past someone only for his performances to surge six months down the line….
It starts about 18 months before the World Cup, and only towards the end, after a lot of rotation and matches – both intra-camp and international – does the list come down to the 15 who go to the World Cup. This final selection is done after every player has been given enough matches to present his case. That is Dravid’s philosophy. If you give everyone enough matches to score 800 runs and be that standout player, he will not feel hard done by if he scores 400 and someone scoring 425 or 375 gets selected. During this time the players have had exposure to NCA training, coaching, fitness approach, and plenty of matches, which gives the coaches a whole lot of data.”