CHENNAI: Hours after being announced as the chairman of the junior national selection committee, S Sharath has started planning for his role. The former Tamil Nadu captain feels his job will be a challenging one because of the ongoing pandemic.
Apart from Sharath, Pathik Patel (West Zone), Ranadeb Bose (East), Kishan Mohan (North) and Harvinder Singh Sodhi (Central) complete the five-member committee.
India were runners-up in the last Under-19 World Cup in South Africa and Rahul Dravid was in charge of the team. Sharath said he is likely to meet with Dravid, who is seeking a reappointment as the National Cricket Academy director, in the next few weeks.
“I am planning to travel to Bengaluru and meet Dravid. He has been working with the kids for some time now and knows talent when he sees one. He will be our guiding light. We are planning to have a lengthy discussion with him and chalk a roadmap,” Sharath told TOI.
For over a year since the onset of the pandemic, there has been no age-group cricket being played in the country. It’s only during the last couple of months that states have allowed players to start practising.
With the Under-19 World Cup scheduled to be held in the West Indies next year, Sharath feels the selection committee would be running against time to pick the right players for the Indian team.
“It will be a challenging task but we shouldn’t be in a hurry. We need to understand that the kids have not played cricket for over a year. In fact, their movements have been restricted due to Covid. So they will take time to press the restart button. As selectors, we need to give the young players the space and freedom where they find their feet again. We need to take one step at a time and remain patient,” Sharath told TOI on Friday.
As a first step to select the team for the World Cup, Sharath, along with the other selectors, will be travelling to watch the Vinoo Mankad Trophy games starting from next week. While skills and character used to be the main criteria earlier for selecting a team, Sharath said that mental toughness will be equally important under the Covid circumstances.
“We will be watching the games with an open mind. Any player can surprise us. What I would personally want to see in a player is their mental toughness. Earlier the focus was on attitude, concentration level and skill. But things have changed drastically after the pandemic. A player needs to remain in a bubble for a long time and it’s not going to be easy for young players. So mental strength will be the key," the 48-year-old said.
"We won’t judge a player by seeing only a few games. If a player impresses us, we would keep a track of him and see how he copes up with a lot of things. We want to see the players go through the drill in plenty of matches and tours and then make our final selection.”
It’s not only the Under-19 World Cup which is on Sharath’s mind. The former Tamil Nadu southpaw, who has scored 8700 runs including 27 centuries in his 15-year-long career, said he wants to build a pool of players for each category.
“There should be 30-40 cricketers in each category of under-16, under-19, etc. They should be groomed in a way that they can go on and represent their state in Ranji Trophy and other formats. That should be the process and we shouldn’t jump the gun,” Sharath concluded.