WE WERE IN the commentary box in Dubai when news came in that Rahul Dravid had been formally appointed head coach of the Indian cricket team. Sir Clive Lloyd, one of the greatest captains the sport has seen, was on the mike with me at the time. Soon after I had finished reading out Dravid’s quote, Sir Clive, now 77, burst out in excitement, “Rahul Dravid will be a very successful head coach for India. Someone who has scored 13,000 Test runs will have the respect in the dressing room to tell anyone where they are going wrong. His personality is such that he will not want the limelight and yet get the job done. Wish the West Indies had someone like him to help the national team,” he exclaimed.
There are huge expectations of Rahul Dravid all around the cricket world. From suggesting “India appoints the wall to rebuild” to making the point that the Dravid era will be more process-driven, there has already been a lot of talk about what Rahul brings to the table. Why is he the man for the job at the moment? Is he really the best choice for not always do great cricketers make great coaches? Can he translate his success at the age group level with the senior team and do so quickly?
While there are no easy answers to any of these questions, a deep dive into Rahul’s philosophy does leave us with some pointers. “When you play team sport you need to do the not-so-glamorous things to be able to make a difference. You are the one responsible for the environment around you and it is important you do the things that not many will want to do. That’s why it’s a team,” Rahul had said to me some time ago when I had asked him how he looked back at his stint as wicket-keeper for India. While he was outlining his philosophy, not once did I sense any regret. Not many would have wanted to keep wickets at the time but for Rahul it was a job that had to be done from the standpoint of the team. And he did so, no questions asked.
“I can tell you I was the grumpiest at the end of a day’s play if I had dropped a catch which I believed could have been taken. Much more than getting out for zero, dropping a catch made me really upset and grumpy. Getting out early was more a personal disappointment. Yes, the runs were for the team and all but still it was more personal than anything else. But dropping a catch meant I was not able to do something for a teammate and that upset me more. A catch allows you to enjoy as a team and be happy at someone else’s success and may I say that’s what team sport is all about,” said Dravid during the same conversation.
From those words, two things are clear. First, Dravid will do his best to ensure individual egos and fancies don’t take precedence in the dressing room. Second, he will push the boys to do things that may not get them the headlines the following morning but could result in India winning the match.
Two things are clear. First, Dravid will do his best to ensure individual egos and fancies don’t take precedence in the dressing room. Second, he will push the boys to do things that may not get them the headlines the following morning but could result in India winning the match. With Dravid, there is always a sense of acceptance
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With Dravid, there is always a sense of acceptance. As a player he was brilliant and yet had to contend with a Tendulkar in the dressing room. Had it not been for Sachin, Dravid could well have been the greatest batter ever for India. With many, this could have led to jealousy. A sense of missing out on something. Losing out key endorsements and more. Tendulkar was always the Pelé in the dressing room while Rahul was more Garrincha. To accept it and score 13,000-plus runs is testimony to what Dravid brought to the table. A look at the Indian batting line-up when Dravid played at No 3 helps answer some of these questions. As opener, India had in their ranks Virender Sehwag, a man who redefined the contours of Test-match batting at the top. With Sehwag, you were always the second fiddle. In fact, if you tried to match him, you would lose out. Dravid says it nicely, “All I did was enjoy. I knew I couldn’t play the shots he did so I just kept doing what I knew well. Kept batting!” At No 4 was Tendulkar, arguably the greatest batter after Sir Donald Bradman. At 5 was VVS Laxman whose artistry with the bat was second to none and one who played some of the greatest second-innings gems the world has seen. Finally, at No 6 was Sourav Ganguly whose offside elegance is still talked about in world cricket. To be a standout performer in this batting line-up was difficult and to do so time and again was near-impossible. Dravid did so with huge success, without ever craving the limelight. He was able to do so, I would argue, for two reasons. First was his attention to detail and second because of his commitment to the process.
Even the CRED advert that he has done and one that had taken the media world by storm was an extension of the very same philosophy. “You see when they first mentioned it to me I was a little anxious!” Dravid laughed when I asked him about the Indiranagar ka gunda story. “But then, the two people who spoke to me are well-established professionals. I decided to trust the professionals for they knew what they were doing. I always believed things are best left to the men who know and told them if it did not go well I would give them a call. And if it did go well I would still call them and they would know from my tone what I felt! I did give them a call and said it had worked out okay,” laughed Dravid.
In the Dravid regime the one thing he has to achieve is help India win a World Cup. Under Ravi Shastri, Indian cricket reached great heights by winning a Test series against Australia in Australia in 2018 and again in 2021. To beat Australia twice in their backyard is a huge achievement and that’s something Dravid will have to match. India also led the Test series against England 2-1 when Covid stopped play and much will be expected of Dravid’s team when they line up for the fifth and final Test of the series next July. But when it comes to ICC championships, India has always fallen short. Semi-finals, finals, and yet no trophy. During his playing career, the closest Dravid came to winning a trophy was in South Africa in 2003 when India lost to Australia in the final. While he won a world title with the U-19 team, winning it at the senior level is very different. It is certainly an unfulfilled dream and something that will drive him in the next two years as head coach. India will play the World T20 in Australia in 2022 and the 50-over World Cup on home soil in 2023. Should Dravid steer the team to winning one of these tournaments, it would define his legacy as coach. Can he be the Indiranagar ka gunda and help India win a major competition for the first time since 2013? To do so, Dravid will have to ensure there are no cracks in the wall, even in a big final.