First Vikramjeet Malik, then Pravin Tambe and now Rahul Shukla.

Rahul Dravid’s knack for surprising opponents by selecting little-known bowlers has served Rajasthan Royals well throughout the Champions League Twenty20 group phase.

The skipper, though, is quick to point out that he does not possess a magic potion.

“Look, we can only select a player. I could think of various strategies but the players have to execute the skills. If I place all my fielders on the off-side and the bowler bowls on the leg, then (laughs)…

So, the credit should go to the players who have performed well. Since we don’t have many big-names in our team, our youngsters have to make a significant contribution.”

Well-oiled setup

Yet, Dravid is aware of the benefits accrued from a well-functioning team setup.

“Players get good facilities and guidance here. Paddy (Upton), Zubin (Bharucha) and Monty (Desai) have worked well behind the scenes to ensure the youngsters are ready to perform when called upon.”

Having begun his career in cricket as a physical trainer and mental conditioning coach, Upton knows a thing or two about optimum preparation.

As RR’s head coach, the South African has established a “robust learning environment” within the team.

“We not only invite all the players, young and senior, to contribute to winning on the field, but also off the field.

“We have really inclusive team conversations where everybody is able to contribute and understand what the strategy is.

“It’s up to Rahul to make the call in the field, but he’s got ten other people who are all looking out and thinking, who have all been part of the strategy devised.”

While the genial team spirit is as much a consequence of good results as it is a contributor to further success, it has provided freedom and confidence to the young and experienced.

Skipper praises Tambe

Dravid, no stranger to the challenges posed by the final stages of one’s career, is especially pleased by 41-year-old Tambe’s development in recent months.

“Tambe has not played much at this level but his skills and attitude are impressive.

“He has really worked hard on his bowling and fitness, after playing twice for us in the IPL. It’s heart-warming to see that he earned his chance to play after so many years.”

Persistence flows through the RR squad, be it a consequence of long-running rejection or short-term absence.

As Shukla commented upon winning the man-of-the-match prize against Otago Volts on Tuesday, he wanted to prove himself after being dropped for two matches. Just like his team-mates.

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