Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli
India’s captain Rohit Sharma (right) and Virat Kohli pose with the T20 World Cup after beating South Africa by seven runs in the final at Kensington Oval in Barbados on June 29, 2024. Rohit and Kohli retired from T20 Internationals after the match. Image Credit: ANI

Rohit Sharma has retired. So has Virat Kohli. Ravindra Jadeja too. Head coach Rahul Dravid also has stepped down. It’s a change of guard in Indian cricket. Time for a rebuild.

Look back a few years, you will see that the rebuilding had already begun. In white-ball cricket, India have sent second-string teams to Zimbabwe and Ireland. Even the series in the West Indies and South Africa didn’t include some superstars. All these tours helped India blood youngsters in international cricket.

If the matches in the runup to the 2024 T20 World Cup are any indication, the captaincy should go to Hardik Pandya. He’s widely tipped to succeed Rohit, although Shubman Gill, Suryakumar Yadav, and Jasprit Bumrah are among the contenders.

The next generation

Rinku Singh has emerged as a classy finisher with several high-voltage innings. Tilak Varma has shown during the West Indies tour that his rescue acts are not limited to the Mumbai Indians. Sanju Samson’s debut ODI century in South Africa confirmed that he can temper his game according to the situation.

Even bowlers have stepped into seniors’ shoes when the situation warranted. A classic case is T. Natarajan, who went to Australia as a net bowler and ended up playing the Tests and white-ball games with success. So did Shardul Thakur.

Hardik Pandya
India’s Hardik Pandya in action during the ICC men’s Twenty20 World Cup 2024 final against South Africa. He is tipped to succeed Rohit Sharma as India’s T20 captain. Image Credit: AFP

Mohammed Shami is the best fast bowler in India after Bumrah. An injury kept him out of the tournament in the USA and the West Indies, only for young Arshdeep Singh to fill the breach.

These are just glimpses from the recent past that illustrate India’s vast talent pool. The Indian Premier League is generally credited for the abundance of young talent in the country. That’s not entirely true.

Through the National Cricket Academy, the Indian cricket board — the Board for Control of Cricket in India, BCCI — has built a reservoir of talent ready to take over from experienced stars. So when the board finds Wriddhiman Saha too old to keep wickets in Tests, it turns to K.S. Bharat. And when Bharat doesn’t score enough runs, the board picks young Dhruv Jurel, who played two vital knocks against England in Rajkot and Ranchi early this year.

How talented players are picked and trained

That’s just one example. And that has been possible due to the cricket academy in Bengaluru. Dravid helmed it before handing over the duties to VVS Laxman to become the India coach. The academy oversees the development teams — the Under-19 and A teams.

Here’s how young talents are picked and trained, according to a report in The Cricket Monthly. The junior selection committee and the academy experts pick 150 players from Under-19 and Under-16 tournaments. They are divided into six groups of 25, and each group is sent to a camp at a Zonal Cricket Academy, where they train under experts.

Over a month, data on each player’s fitness and performance is collected and used to trim the group to 50, who are sent to two national camps of 25 each for more training and assessment. They also play plenty of matches, which yields enough data for the coaches to assess the players’ progress.

Rahul Dravid
India’s head coach Rahul Dravid celebrates after the win over South Africa. Dravid was the director of the National Cricket Academy before he became the India coach. Image Credit: ANI

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Some make it to the India Under-19 team, which means the academy is not the sole route to the national squad. Players outside the system might be selected based on their performance in domestic tournaments.

The A team concept works differently. It provides long-term replacements for players in the national team. It’s pretty much the second string. This does not eliminate the chances of a state player going straight to the India team based on his displays in the Ranji Trophy or other domestic tournaments.

The A-team players get the same facilities and coaching as senior players. They also go on international tours to play against cricketers who will represent their countries soon. The learning is very focused, with coaches closely monitoring their cricket and fitness.

The pool of 60 players

Much of it happened during the tenure of MSK Prasad and his band of selectors. The Cricket Monthly report said Prasad had pointed to Greg Chappell’s influence, at a lunchtime chat at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 2018. During his stint as India coach, the Australian great insisted on a pool of 10-15 fast bowlers to be monitored centrally. That led to a formidable talent training system.

“Through India A cricket, we shortlisted some 60 to 80 players that we wanted to follow in domestic cricket... [We looked for] consistent performers who will be the ideal successors for players who, four years down the line, might get superannuated in the senior team,” Prasad was quoted saying.

The IPL too has played a vital role in developing young cricketers. Rishabh Pant, Samson, Washington Sundar and Mohammad Siraj are some fine examples.

When young Indian players turn out for franchises, they face the best international players. A youngster who had bowled to Jos Buttler in the match against the Rajasthan Royals will be unfazed when he dons the India colours to play England. A batsman who had faced Mitchell Starc in the Kolkata Knight Riders’ match won’t be overawed when he faces the fast bowler in an Australia match. 

The world’s best hold no terrors for young Indian cricketers. They are ready to take on the world.