Nagraj Gollapudi

The recent suspensions of Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul for their comments on a TV chat show brought into focus various questions related to mentoring of cricketers: is enough is being done at the grassroots and junior levels for players to understand their responsibilities, both on and off the field?

Rahul Dravid, the former India captain who is now the India A and India Under-19 coach, believes the responsibility of mentoring should not lie solely with the cricketing authorities. Speaking to ESPNcricinfo, Dravid says it begins at home. Dravid says players should understand their responsibilities to begin with, understand what repercussions their words and actions can have, and how they can be guiding lights for others if they do things the right way.

Are you happy with the CoA's decision to lift the suspensions on Pandya and Rahul?

I am glad the suspension has been lifted. There is an inquiry in process which must be completed.

Some critics have pointed out that bringing the players back into the dressing room is not wise because it will hurt public sentiments. Do you agree?

No one is brushing this under the carpet. The players have been the first people to admit that they made a mistake. They already have suffered a lot publicly. It is time to move on. We also need to ensure we don't overreact. At no stage are you condoning their action or the behaviour.

Did you watch the chat show on which Pandya and Rahul spoke?

I did not see the full show. I saw bits and pieces. At one level the players themselves have come out and said how disappointed they were with the way it came out, and rightly so. Clearly when you are representing India you need to be a bit careful with your public views and comments that you make because it might be completely inappropriate to a lot of people. Having said that it is important to recognise and realise that sometimes these things can happen. Sportspersons and public figures can make mistakes. It is part of learning and growing up.

You made this comment, let us not overreact - what specifically did you mean?

Sometimes we forget that mistakes have happened in the past. They will happen in the future. If you were to read the papers or if I were to hear comments it comes across as if it is only happening now. I can understand some of the anger, I can understand some of the reactions, but one has to understand mistakes will happen.

"Pujara comes from Australia and plays for Saurashtra in the Ranji Trophy. For me that is terrific. I know that Pujara is not just going to be playing, he is going to be playing the match properly. That is very important."
Clearly then what you are saying is Pandya and Rahul continue to be role models. They have accepted their mistake, which they will have to live with, and they just have to learn from it?

Absolutely. I have no doubt about it. I have coached both of them at various levels. I somehow just don't feel that interview truly reflected the players. Hopefully they will come back better and stronger from this. I will say honestly, I do believe that both of them have not yet achieved their obvious potential that they both have, and maybe this might be the catalyst that would lead them to reflect and help them reach the level and potential they can achieve in all forms of the game. If they can do that they can certainly be role models.

Upbringing plays an important role in how you handle success or failure in life. In professional sport, where young athletes spend more time training and outside of the house, how big is it the responsibility of the parent body to look after the players?

It is very important at a lot of levels. But I don't think you can just pass on the responsibility to just the BCCI and state associations. Along the way there are many touchpoints for cricketers, they come across many things. Right from the time the boy or girl starts playing cricket, your attitude towards the game, what is it that you are taught, are very, very important, because in a lot of ways they sometimes frame your personality, the way you approach and think about the game. Young players go through a journey - junior teams at the state level, junior teams at the national level, first-class teams, A teams, IPL teams. So there are many places where you can use the opportunity to support and help the youngsters.

Some of the Under-19 boys that I first met and coached a few years ago and now when I see them at the A level a few years later, when I interact with them now I can already see how they have changed, how they have matured.

It is interesting to see young people grow, their views change, their thoughts change. As long as they can be guided in the right and positive manner and in the right direction.

In the end all of this to ensure that they get the best out of their talent and they get to maximize the potential they have.

Hardik Pandya races seagulls in the outfield AFP
As th India Under-19 and A coach you have been involved with youngsters for the past few years closely. For the benefit of the fans can you put in a nutshell the challenge(s) today's youth face compared to your generation?

There are different formats of the game they play, there are different competitions. There is a lot more, I would say, scrutiny and focus. There is a lot more accessibility maybe through social media for a lot of the players. They have become - and they choose to sometimes - more accessible to people. Social media works both ways. The more success you get the more it gets highlighted and you get praised a lot more as well. The flip side is when things are going wrong or if you do badly the criticism and the scrutiny is a lot more as well. You get to hear and see a lot more comments and feedback than you probably did in earlier generations. Young people getting on those platforms should understand the obvious advantages and the pitfalls.

Social media is a big influencer now. A growing concern, not just for young athletes but even for parents, is the escalation of social media. As you said social media can work both ways. How do you teach the youngster to make it beneficial for him?

We mention this a lot with the Under-19 players. We know they are going to be on it (social media). We know they are going to access it. We do not deny them that. There is no point telling them not to do it. Personally I don't believe that is going to work. They are going to access various touchpoints and platforms, half of which I don't even have an understanding of. All we tell them is look, there are advantages with what you guys are doing, but there are obvious dangers and stuff that can mess up with your mind, which will then not necessarily allow you to focus on the game or will stress you out, affect you mentally, and affect your game. So you've got to be careful that you not let that happen.

ALSO READ - Hardik Pandya and the man in the mirror

You have now coached at various levels including in the IPL. Is there a sense of entitlement that can creep in unknowingly especially in young players that become rich and household names overnight?

I don't like to equate entitlement with wealth. Yes, it can come with wealth, but I don't think that is the only factor. Entitlement can come in many ways in any environment. It can happen from a young age. Sometimes in a lower-income family they see one of the kids is special in cricket so the entire energy of the family is focused towards him or her. If everything is sacrificed for that one person then sometimes that can lead to a sense of entitlement as well. If that starts at a very young age the kid could feel, "I am special and it is all about me."

At coaching academies I see a lot of times when some youngster is talented a coach will give a lot of special treatment. He will ensure that this player opens all the time, bowls all the time, bats all the time. Most of the other players are there to serve those one or two players. Now, that can lead to entitlement as well.

If the player is going to feel a sense of entitlement irrespective of whether he is rich or poor then you have a problem. We face that problem sometimes. At the NCA, a lot of coaches have told me sometimes the best bowlers and the best batsmen are the worst fielders or the worst runners between wickets.

So, yes, wealth is not the underlying factor behind entitlement. Wealth brings its own challenges. Sudden wealth especially, because you have to suddenly make decisions and choices. And you hope that people, when there many options with the sudden wealth, have the maturity and the ability to make the right choice.

KL Rahul punches with a high elbow Getty Images
It is a good point you make. VVS Laxman made a telling comment on the same recently. He said: "Being a cricketer in India is very tough. How many of us, at the age of 17, have to handle crores of rupees? It's not easy. It is easy to handle failures but it's difficult to handle success." You should agree with Laxman?

I do. You really need to be very strong with the support system in that kind of scenario. You need to ensure you have the backing of the right kind of people who are going to ensure that they are going to look after your best interests, and sometimes tell you things that you don't necessarily want to hear. Sometimes success and money at a young age, if you are not careful, surrounds you with people who actually just tell you what you want to hear all the time. That is dangerous.

You have taken certain steps to address various scenarios and situations young players can encounter, as you have just described. Can you expand?

At the NCA when the players have camps there are talks and lectures around a lot of these things, the challenges youngsters face, on their responsibilities. We get external speakers to talk to the junior players about some of these issues. As coaches we are not equipped to deal with some of the issues some players might have and experts and professionals from other walks of life are brought in to have conversations.

We will continue to get better at what we are doing, but there are two things that are very important. The first is what kids are taught by their parents and early coaches. If people have been told they can fudge their age, that is the start of a problem. You are basically telling the kid it is okay to cheat. For me that is not setting the right example to a young kid at an impressionable age. If a parent is shouting at a coach and blaming a coach or umpire when things go wrong, to a young, impressionable kid, he grows up thinking that is the way things should be done.

The second key point, I feel, that can help youngsters is the role a senior player plays. Seniors in cricket teams can play a huge role in guiding and helping a youngster - not necessarily with words but by setting the right example.

I have always stressed this to the India A players that they need to be role models when they go back to their first-class teams. Nothing disappoints me more than when a state coach comes to me and says so-and-so does not play our Ranji matches with seriousness; and he is a senior guy is not setting the right example.

That for me is very disappointing. Senior players, even if they are not playing for India, senior players in first-class teams are the guys who can actually really set a huge example. I honestly learned from my seniors. Nobody sat and gave me a chat. Nobody gave me a lecture. I just learned by observation. You observe, you see, you learn.

Take Cheteshwar Pujara as an example. He comes from Australia and plays for Saurashtra in the Ranji Trophy. For me that is terrific. I know that Pujara is not just going to be playing, he is going to be playing the match properly. That is very important.

I tell the India A players that when they come up a level and when they go back to first-class cricket it is very, very important they reflect the professionalism and attitude we expect from them at India A.