Rahul Dravid, India’s Under-19 coach, has called for “even bigger praise” for the backroom staff who had to manage injuries to as many as five key players and made sure there was no knock-on effect on the team’s run to the title.
“We have had a few injuries right through the year,” he told ESPNcricinfo. “The way they’ve managed these injuries and handled players has been thoroughly professional. I’ve been around for a long time and seen how professional athletes are managed. These under-19 boys got the best professional help from the current team of physios and trainers here and at the NCA.”
Among those who were under an injury cloud in the two months leading into the World Cup were the fast bowling pair of Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi. Both men regularly clocked in excess of 140kph and impressed most with their ability to hustle batsmen with pace and get the ball to swing both ways. Nagarkoti had a shoulder injury while Mavi had suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (knee) injury.
The pair spent three weeks at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru under Anand Date, the strength and conditioning trainer, and Yogesh, the physio, before being declared fit. It helped that Date and Yogesh were also part of the support staff group that travelled to New Zealand for the Under-19 World Cup.
Dravid also acknowledged the importance of the “much-maligned” NCA and the support system he had at his disposal for helping overcome difficult challenges in injury management and player development.
“It’s much-maligned unfortunately, but when you see Nagarkoti or Mavi bowl, when we congratulate ourselves, we should raise a glass to the NCA,” he said. “All these boys had over the course of a year have been managed very carefully. They had a couple of injuries, but the trainers and physios worked hard with them. Lot of this is team effort, it’s not just what I do, it’s also my support staff here, the backing of the NCA too.”
Left-arm spinner Anukul Roy has a history of injuries and a stress-related issue with his ankle made him miss the Under-19 Challenger Trophy which was meant to help the selectors pick the 15 for the World Cup. He was in danger of not making the squad, and “was scared” but the team management put him at ease and backed him to be on the plane to New Zealand.
Riyan Parag, the highest run-getter in the Challenger Trophy, injured his finger in India’s final tour game before the World Cup. He was the youngest member of the squad at age 16, and after an excellent tour of England in 2017, he was among those earmarked as a finisher. The team management persisted with him, giving him every chance to soak in the “moment they had worked for.”
“Their health and well-being came first. We wanted them to be a part of this experience and play the World Cup,” Dravid said. “For them to have the confidence that we genuinely wanted them to do it and will go out of our way to make it possible to ensure that they played this World Cup was important.”
“Riyan was batting so well and then broke his finger in our last practice game in Napier. We could have easily sent him home, but we took the gamble of keeping him here and managing that injury because we knew we had a bit of time and the physio was confident that he could get him right. The easiest thing for us would have been to send some of them home, but we chose to back them and support them. We chose to take those risks, huge credit to Anand Date (the trainer) and Yogesh (they physio).”
Dravid then cited the case of Ishan Porel, the tall fast bowler, who injured his left heel during the opening game against Australia. Porel did not have a great run in the build-up to the World Cup, but Dravid and his staff saw something in his ability to generate steep bounce and push the batsmen back. In the nets too, he would be among the pick of the bowlers. And when it came down to the “50-50” decision of sending him home, they decided to wait.
For three hours every training day, even as Dravid, bowling coach Paras Mhambrey and fielding coach Abhay Sharma would work with the rest of the team, Date and Yogesh would monitor Porel’s drills and slowly ease him back despite the risk of the injury recurring. They took the risk, and in the semi-final, Porel justified his selection with a four-wicket haul that bundled Pakistan out for their lowest score in all Under-19 World Cups.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Ishan yet,” Dravid said. “In the first game, he was unfortunately injured. I’m confident he too would’ve touched 140kph otherwise. It hasn’t quite worked for him, but he’s got a long road ahead. Again, the physios asked for time and were confident of working extra to have him ready.
“He was distraught but giving him confidence and telling him ‘we want to help you’ made him feel great. The BCCI too gave us the confidence by flying in Aditya Thakare, who was also part of our plans during the preparation for the tournament. Knowing we’d be able to pick him in case Ishan’s injury didn’t heal helped. He spent two weeks at the back end, so this planning and injury management went a long way in helping us deliver results on the field. It’s not just about what we do on the match day, but also in the build-up to the games, I can say this was one of the best support groups to be a part of.”