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Dravid: Will be exciting to see youngsters be tested by a strong South African team

Having to shepherd the Indian team through a five-match T20 series against South Africa without Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah won’t be much of a hassle and will allow the bench strength to be augmented through exposure given to budding stars, believes head coach Rahul Dravid.

Some new faces were seen going through fielding drills at the Feroz Shah Kotla grounds here in hot weather as they gear up for the first T20I against South Africa on Thursday. Hardik Pandya, who emerged with his reputation enhanced in IPL 2022, was also part of the training sessions; At a press conference here, Dravid revealed he had been given an extra day off ahead of the series for playing the IPL final.

The Indian team during a training session in New Delhi on Tuesday. – RV Moorthy

India goes into the contest on the cusp of a record in the T20I format – of most wins in a row by an international team. A win will hand it the world record – 13 consecutive wins. Dravid said the team wasn’t bothered by such records and it doesn’t feature in the discussions of the team management.

‘Not worried about records’

“Not worried about creating records, we want to win every game that we play,” he said.

“We want to prepare and practice well, get to the ground with our tactics right, and try and execute. We do realise that we’re up against a very strong South African side, it’s really exciting for me as well. It’s going to give us a really good test and a lot of our young players, players who might not have got a chance if all of our players were playing, it gives them a chance to test themselves against a very good side. That’s the exciting part for us.”

Dravid said the players who play all formats for India can’t be expected to be available for every single game. Rohit and the others were being preserved for the fifth Test in Edgbaston.

“Rohit is one of our all-format players; we don’t expect him to be available for every single game, every single time. We also want to ensure we’re fit for the big tournaments; we need to manage them before that to ensure that they’re peaking for the big tournaments, the big games. With the one-off Test match in the UK, we’ll try to ensure we get our best side for that match. With the kind of busy schedule we have, [not having the best players] doesn’t really bother us.

“From my point of view, exciting to see a lot of younger guys get opportunities to play which they probably might not have got. Increases the depth of our squad. I think there are some positives as well which come out of it,” Dravid said.

‘Nice to see Indians lead well in IPL’

With his success in the IPL, Hardik Pandya has been talked up as a possible choice for a leadership role for the national team in the future. Dravid praised him, but played down the hype.

“His leadership is very impressive, right throughout the IPL his team has done well. You don’t have to be designated as a leader to be part of any leadership group. At this point of time, a good thing from our perspective is that he has started bowling again. You know what that does for us; what depth that brings to our side. It’s about ensuring we get the best out of him as a cricketer, in terms of his bowling, in terms of his batting, in terms of his contributions. In terms of what happens ahead and whether someone leads teams or doesn’t lead teams, it depends on many factors collectively.

“It’s great that we have a lot of Indian captains doing well in the IPL. Hardik is one of them. Rahul did a really good job with LSG. Sanju with Royals. It’s nice to see the younger batch leading a lot of their teams now , which is great. Shreyas did that for KKR as well. It helps people grow and develop as players. It helps you grow as a person also,” Dravid said.

‘Exciting’ Umran

Dravid welcomed Umran Malik’s entry into the Indian squad, but wasn’t so sure of how much playing time the Sunrisers Hyderabad quick will receive in the five-match series.

“He was exciting. Certainly bowled quick. The other exciting thing in the IPL for me was – watching from the outside – a number of Indian guys bowling really fast. As a coach of all three formats of the game I would love to see that translated into the longer formats of the game as well. I was watching Umran yesterday in the nets, you can see he’s got that pace,” he said.

Members of the playing eleven may not get to play the roles when they did playing for their clubs in the IPL, cautioned Dravid. He explained that the team management required India’s players to be ready for slightly different roles based on the team’s requirements and match scenarios. The top three, for example, would be needed to be comfortable playing a grafting role if early wickets fall, as well as be able to score freely on a pitch and attack conducive for attack.

The veteran Dinesh Karthik has excelled as a finisher in the IPL and is likely to be tried out in that role again for the national team, revealed Dravid.

“He’s made a comeback based on the skills that has been shown in a particular phase of the game. At the back end, Dinesh has really been able to show skills over the last two or three years. We’ll pick him for that kind of position and see whether he can replicate those kind of performances for India as well.”

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