'Hardik has turned his career around' - Dravid

Hardik Pandya tucks the ball behind Associated Press

Hardik Pandya has "turned his career around" by playing situations smartly, according to India A coach Rahul Dravid. It's a template he hopes players from the current India A set-up emulate.

Last year, Dravid was Pandya's coach on an India A tour of Australia, where the allrounder first showed signs of being able to temper his naturally free-stroking approach when the situation demanded it. Since then, Pandya has continued to demonstrate this adaptability, most recently in the ongoing ODI series against Australia, where he has scored two match-winning half-centuries of varying moods.

In the first ODI, he revived a floundering innings with MS Dhoni before launching into Australia's spinners to make a match-turning 83. In Indore on Sunday, he was sent up to No. 4 after the openers put on a century stand in a chase of 294. Pandya sustained the tempo while scoring 78, and fell with India only 10 short of their target.

"A good example about Hardik from my perspective is, he's willing to play situations and not just the natural game we often speak about. Credit goes completely to him. He's the one who has actually turned his career around." Dravid said on Monday, on the sidelines of India A's unofficial Test against New Zealand A in Vijayawada. "It's not about playing just the one way you want to play.

"If he bats at four, he bats in a particular way. If he bats at six, he bats in a particular way. Tomorrow, he may bat at 80 for 4, like he did in the first ODI with Dhoni. That shows maturity and that's what you want to see. This concept of 'play your natural game', which I hear all the time, frustrates me because there's no such thing in my belief as 'natural game.'

"It's only about how you play different situations. Are you good enough to play when the score is 30 for 3, or 250 for 3? Are you good enough to bat when you go in first over or are you good enough to go in first ball after lunch? You have to learn to bat differently in different conditions, and if you can do that like Hardik is showing at the moment, those would be signs of a developing cricketer, someone who can make consistent contributions and not someone who is a one-off, who can produce brilliance once in a while. The aspiration and challenges set for a lot of India A players is to be all-weather players, all-situation players, all-condition players."

Pandya's coming of age is an example of how exposure to the India Under-19 and India A teams, which Dravid has coached for over two years now, has helped players to make a smooth transition when called up to the senior team.

Rishabh Pant is another player who has come through this pathway. The 19-year old who made his international debut earlier this year against England after graduating from the Under-19s in 2016, comes with the reputation of being a big hitter. However, his over-aggression has cut short a few of his promising innings.

The first unofficial Test against New Zealand A was one such example. Pant, who had already hit nine fours and two sixes in his 67, seemed to be on course to make a hundred. Fields were spread out, runs were available if he just pushed the ball into the gaps, with the bowlers looking to get him off strike and target the lower order. But he fell trying to hit out.

Dravid, who has worked with Pant for over two years now, said it was important to recognise the ability of certain players and allow them a learning environment that makes them comfortable while still holding them accountable.

"I think it's a balance," Dravid said. "It's recognition of the fact that someone like Rishabh will always be an attacking player. You don't want to take away his attacking instincts, but you want to inculcate a certain sense of smartness to be able to read situations and recognise situations where the time is hot for you to make it count.

"I think [in the first four-day game] he got stuck with the tailenders. Again, it is part of his learning experiences and that is the conversation I've had with him. When you're young, you think you have to hit every ball when a tailender is around you. It takes time and experience to learn [to bat] with the tail. That's what he is learning. It's not going to happen overnight.

"Experiences like these are good for him even if it doesn't come off. If he goes back and thinks, 'were there any other options I could have used rather than the ones I took, that may have helped me play better?' he's an improved player. These are the chats we have. He's a talented kid and good at what he does; he has exceptional skill and exceptional ability. He'll learn with more opportunities, and more games. That's what these matches are about. I'm not too stressed about results. For me, it's about if they're learning from different situations."

While looking to get players to feature regularly in A tours, Dravid also said it was important to not undervalue the Ranji Trophy. "The board has been open to scheduling series but it's difficult to balance out, especially the A tours become difficult because we do understand the stress players face with the amount of cricket played," he said. "They're required to play for their state associations, which we are conscious of. The last thing we want to do is pull them out of Ranji Trophy matches to play A series. I believe Ranji Trophy should be given as much importance, playing for states should be important."