A distinguished left-hand batter who scored 11,000 plus runs for Tamil Nadu for 15 seasons in the BCCI domestic tournaments from the 1992-93 season, Sridharan Sharath, is the Chairman of the BCCI’s Junior Selection Committee. Within five months of taking up the onerous job, India’s Under-19 team won the ICC Under-19 World Cup in the West Indies. The 49-year-old spoke at length about the team’s selection process, preparation and winning the ultimate prize.
Summing up the performance of the Indian team, he said: "Hats off to the team and the team management. It has been a nightmare for two years and the boys have brought smiles to all of us. It was an incredible performance. They showed terrific resilience and mental strength, There was a Covid outbreak in the team after the World Cup started. A difficult time it was, overcoming Covid and playing when your teammates were affected. And in these circumstances, the team has done incredibly well. I was worried in the match against Ireland because we had only 11 players, the others were down with Covid. That game was the turning point for me, I guess. That match made the team mentally strong.”
It was India’s fourth Under-19 World Cup win, so India continues to have a good bench strength at the lower level of the national team? The standard of Under-19 in India ought to be very good. The BCCI has been doing some awesome work.
Definitely, the BCCI has been doing good work. There was no cricket at all for the schools and juniors for two years because of the pandemic. The young players were trapped in their houses. Then they came out and represented their State in the tournaments.
It was a masterstroke by the BCCI to conduct the tournaments for the boys. So there was some good preparation from September 2021 to November before the World Cup. All the white ball tournaments were conducted by the BCCI; the Vinoo Mankad league and knock out, six teams of 15 each totalling 90 boys for the Challenger competition. Then we had the miseries between the India A and B teams and Bangladesh, the Asia Cup in Dubai before the World Cup.
In the short time available, it was good preparation. We could mix and match and field teams. It turned out to be a good learning experience. We could identify the weak areas and plug the gaps. We selected a 17 member squad; even the backup players were really good. They were in the reserves and many of them did not get to play. Anybody could have replaced anybody.
You became the Chairman of the selection committee in September and in less than five months the team won the World Cup.
I received my appointment letter on September 17. All of us. It was a new five-member committee. We all went to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru. It was a tough job to select the team. We took time to prepare and watch all the matches. We assembled for the Vinoo Mankad knockout in Ahmedabad and the Challenger also in Ahmedabad. It was during the Challenger that we got together and came to a conclusion around 30 players.
The teams for the Vinoo Mankad were selected by the States. Haryana, the winner, did not lose a match in ten, and it showed its consistency. Maharashtra, the runner-up, lost a handful in the league. Rajasthan and UP were in the semis, and so we got sufficient players from these teams to be part of the pool.
So the committee picked the team on the basis of the knowledge it had about the conditions in the West Indies?
The West Indies- countries are generally in coastal areas. So coastal weather, emphasizes the presence of breeze. We thought the pitches in the West Indies would be two-paced or batting friendly. And that it would help the spinners. So we thought we would have a combination of swing bowlers, and also hitting the deck type. We also picked two good left-arm spinners who could bat and field well and two off-spinners. There was not a single good quality leg spinner.
The captain Yash Dhull turned out to be very good?
From day one, he was an impressive kid. He showed a great attitude and character. When he was not the captain he was running around for the others in the team. He led Delhi well. He led the team very well in the Asia Cup in Dubai. He had the team bonding going on. We should give credit to the support staff in Hrisikhesh Kanitkar, Sairaj Bahutule and Munish Bali. They had team bonding sessions in Dubai and the West Indies. They also had a one-week camp at the NCA.
Rahul Dravid was part of the set-up before he took charge of the national team and now it is VVS Laxman, as Head of the NCA?
Laxman’s presence in the West Indies was massive for the team. He was helping the team to shape up, gain confidence and look in the right direction. These kids would have picked up a lot from Laxman. Some players should get into the State teams for the Ranji Trophy. I don’t see anybody going big at the next level immediately. These kids are not so diverted right now to get into the IPL, they are keener to get into the State teams. But some of them know they have a chance to get into the IPL.
Hrishikesh (Head Coach), Sairaj (bowling coach) and Munish (fielding coach) also have been part of the team for some time?
Hrishikesh is a good guy to work with. He was the coach of the Tamil Nadu team when I was the chairman of the state selection committee. It was a pleasure catching up with him again. We did very well when he was the TN coach. We have known each other quite well. I have played a lot with Sairaj. He was a fantastic cricketer, there is no doubt about it. It’s been great interacting with him in the last month. From Dravid to Laxman and Laxman is keen to have good coaches everywhere.