Bharat Arun - coach of the victorious India Under-19 team and the Head Bowling Coach at BCCI’s National Cricket Academy - talks about the way forward for the promising young players to CricketCountry’s Correspondent, Nishad Pai Vaidya.
CricketCountry (CC): When you took over as coach of the India under-19 side, what was your first impression about them – as a unit?
Bharat Arun (BA): It takes a bit of time to form an impression, but at the outset we knew that they were very talented. It was a big challenge to get the best out of this talent. There are a lot of talented boys in our country and when you are given the responsibility of handling such a side – it is indeed a challenge.
CC: In the lead-up to the ICC Under-19 World Cup 2012, India under-19s played numerous tournaments. How significant was that experience in helping the team handle the pressure at the big event?
BA: BCCI’s planning was outstanding. In the tournaments we played in the lead-up to the World Cup, we faced all the countries with the exception of South Africa. We did extremely well and in fact won all the three tournaments which gave us a big boost and self belief. It stems from what we had done in the past and we had beaten most of the teams. We believed, “If we play well, we have a good chance of winning the World Cup.”
CC: The start to the tournament wasn’t the best for India as they lost to West Indies. The batsmen too didn’t get going early on. What do you think was the main reason for this?
BA: There was always something in it for the bowlers. If you look at it the other way, our bowlers did an exceptional job. Sandeep Sharma was easily the bowler of the tournament and Harmeet bowled exceptionally well. They were well supported by Kamal Passi. And Ravikant Singh was the find of the tournament. In all the opportunities Vikas Mishra got, he bowled well. It was a tough call to drop Vikas as he was fantastic, but to get Harmeet in that decision had to be made. To sum up, the bowling was brilliant. None of the teams scored over 200 against us barring Australia.
CC: After the defeat against the West Indies, what was the message you gave the team?
BA: We lost the game against the West Indies, but we didn’t lose heart. We bowled well, but in scoring 166, we didn’t have a formidable score on the board. They got there only in the 48th over – a tremendous fight from our bowlers. There were positives to emerge from that game. Yes, our batting didn’t click, but the bowling performance was a huge plus point.
We had done well in the last one year and one can have an off-game. In a World Cup you have to win a certain number of games to go all the way and there are bound to be a defeat in between. Our game against the West Indies was that.
CC: India-Pakistan is a rivalry that spreads across different sports. In the past, India under-19 haven’t done too well against Pakistan in World Cups. It changed this time and it was dramatic. On being set a target of 137, what did the team make of it?
BA: We knew that having dismissed for 136, Pakistan had nothing to lose and would come hard at us. Our strategy was to build partnerships. For such a target, once we cross 100 with only two or three down, psychologically we would have had the advantage. Initially we lost a few wickets which gave Pakistan some hope. Vijay Zol and Baba Aparajith’s partnership was very good. Smit Patel also chipped in. We were comfortably placed at 120 for five, but then everyone knows what happened. Harmeet and Sandeep showed a lot of courage and resilience. They knew they had the overs on their side and all they needed to do was hold their wickets as most of the top Pakistan fast-bowlers had finished their spells. It was very sensible batting by Sandeep as he knew what had to be done when he walked in. He said that he would hang in there and runs would come his way. With just 10 runs to get off eight overs, the runs would have come if he had played out the overs. That is exactly what he did.
CC: Harmeet hit the winning runs by lofting it over the in-field. Considering the pressure of the situation, was it a heart-in-the-mouth moment for you and the entire team?
BA: The minute he hit it we knew it was going to cross the fielder in the in-field. When the ball was hit, the fielder started running backwards and it was far away from him. Actually, we were in a state of shock as 137 didn’t look too hard – even though we knew Pakistan would come hard at us. We didn’t feel we would work so hard to win the game.
CC: Everybody is talking about Unmukt Chand. What do you think makes him unique and that he always performs in the final – having scored three hundreds in three tournament finals for India uner-19?
BA: The bigger the game – the better the player gets. And that is the hallmark of a true champion. Unmukt has done that on three consecutive occasions. A striking feature of his batting is that he rallies the others around him. At such a young age, he showed the maturity and that was a big bonus for the team. It was exactly the role of a captain – something he fit in to perfection.
CC: Chand’s performance in the final truly stole the show. However, in the preceding games Prashant Chopra and Vijay Zol were India’s main batsmen. What are your views on their performance and their prospects?
BA: Vijay Zol is still young enough to play the next Under-19 World Cup. He showed a lot of determination in the earlier games. Prashant Chopra scored three fifties – two of which came in crucial situations. These boys have the potential to succeed. Also, Baba Aparajith batted well throughout the tournament but he should learn to finish. These three are certainly exciting prospects for the future.
CC: Harmeet was the other player who caught the eye. In fact, Ian Chappell showered praises on him. How do you look at such adulation and how do you see Harmeet’s career progressing in the near future?
BA: Somebody like Ian Chappell saying that about Harmeet is simply outstanding. It isn’t just Harmeet but even the others in the team who have to build on this success. They got a good platform here and showcased their talent and potential. Having done that, the biggest challenge is to perform and be more consistent at the next level – that is First-class cricket. It will be a lot tougher. They have to be consistent there as well and then move on to the next level.
CC: Is the Indian Premier League (IPL) a positive or a negative influence on young cricketers who are just coming out of the Under-19 structure?
BA: A cricketer who is good in the longer formats succeeds at the IPL. If you look at the top performers in the IPL, most of them are fantastic Test players. It wouldn’t be too different for these boys as well. The quicker they learn to adapt to all forms of the game, the better it is for them. The most important thing for them is to understand what kind of players they are and that comes with experience.
CC: Not all Under-19 stars make it to the highest level. Some hone their skills at the domestic level, while others even fall by the wayside. At the back of this success, what advice would you give a young cricketer on chalking out a long career?
BA: For the young boys, the process of discovering themselves begins. They have the base to build upon – having showcased their talent at this level. Yes, the conversion rate from Under-19 level to the highest level is not as high as it should be. That is a big challenge for all of us – the percentages of conversion has to improve, better than what it is right now.
CC: Chand is going to New Zealand with India A. Harmeet has been picked for the Irani Trophy. Sandeep Sharma and Baba Aparajith have been selected for the Challenger Trophy. Do you think the selections are well-timed or they are being rushed in?
BA: These are encouraging developments. This is the time their talent has to be tested at a higher level. They need to come out of their comfort zone. In fact, anyone who wants to improve and climb the ladder has to come out of the comfort zone. This is a big test for these guys; let us see how they perform. They will know where they stand once they play at the higher level and need to work towards getting better. Once they are given exposure, it would give them an idea as to what are their strengths and weaknesses – the areas they would have to work upon.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)