Dravid as coach can swing calmness, method, purpose in Team India's favour
Rahul Dravid’s elevation as head coach of the Indian team is in the natural order of things. From when he took charge in 2015 as coach of the ‘A’ and -19 teams, it was a question of when rather whether he would make the next step up. Initially reluctant following the end of Ravi Shastri’s successful tenure, Dravid allowed himself to be convinced by his former captain Sourav Ganguly, now the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), and secretary Jay Shah that this was the opportune time for his steadying hand to take control of the wheel of the national team ship.
Indian cricket isn’t quite at a crossroads, but it isn’t long before the throes of transition across formats will be upon it. A plethora of seasoned names in the Test side is flirting with the mid-30s, and at some stage in the next couple of years, could be lost to international cricket through a combination of form and fitness. The limited-overs sides have a greater infusion of fresh blood and young legs, but the bogey of a lack of global title since 2013 hangs heavy.
From all accounts, there isn’t anyone better suited to tackle these twin challenges. Dravid doesn’t come as a messiah, as someone who can work magic with a wave of his invisible wand. He doesn’t come on the back of a wing and a prayer. Like a player working his way through the ranks before breaking open the door to international selection, he has done the hard yards at the junior level – unthinkable for a player of his stature in an idol-worshipping milieu as exists in India – and is now in a position to reap the rewards of the systems he put in at the developmental levels, considering it is his wards in those ‘A’ and Under-19 sides who will become more regular fixtures in the national team.
Shastri’s four-and-a-half years since succeeding Anil Kumble in 2017 were marked by notable successes across formats. India began to travel in Test cricket with greater felicity, assurance and results, evidenced by their exploits in Australia and England this year alone. They were also excellent in bilateral white-ball series, winning home and away against all-comers. From all perspectives except one, the Shastri-Virat Kohli era was an unqualified success. If it falls just short of the combine to beat, it’s because of India’s inability to go all the way in World Cups of both the 50 and 20-over ilk.
Under Shastri and Kohli, the culture of Indian cricket was redefined. The accent on pace was distinct, with bowling coach B. Arun a principal mover in this regard. Arun has left his successor Paras Mhambrey and Dravid with an embarrassment of riches to pick from, handy given that in his first press conference as head coach, Dravid stressed both on workload management and the mental well-being of players in these days of bio-bubbles and burgeoning match-play.
With pace as the preferred weapon of destruction, India embarked on a radically reformed ideology in Test cricket. Safety-first tactics were shelled in the nearest bin; the accent was on victory, no matter if in the process, the odd defeat came calling. ‘Play to win’ became the abiding mantra. Dravid belongs to a different school; what that means for the existent team culture remains to be seen. It’s unlikely that the former India captain will encourage conservatism and a defensive mindset – lest it should be forgotten, India’s tryst with five specialist bowlers started when he was the Test captain – but whether he will even contemplate courting defeat in the quest for victory is open to debate.
The Karnataka batsman’s personality is diametrically opposite to the gung-ho, rambunctious Shastri. Dravid will bring calmness, method and purpose to the dressing-room. It isn’t that during the Shastri age, these traits were conspicuously absent. The latter was primarily responsible for keeping morale afloat in the immediacy of 36 all out in Adelaide late last year with his infectious positivity and mercurial presence. Dravid will employ different methodologies, something the newcomers will be familiar with considering how much time they have spent alongside ‘Rahul bhai’ in ‘A’ dressing rooms.
Wednesday will mark the start of a new dawn in Indian cricket with Rohit Sharma debuting as T20I skipper in his own right – by January, he could also have replaced Kohli as the 50-over captain – and India beginning preparations for the next T20 World Cup, in Australia in October. Much has been made of India’s batting philosophy in the early part of this year’s tournament in the UAE. Their old-fashioned approach of keeping wickets in hand and exploding later came unstuck against Pakistan and New Zealand, triggering a clarion call for a complete shake-up in mindset. For all his reputation as a defensive batsman, Dravid showed a remarkably aggressive bent of mind as captain and it will come as no surprise if that percolates to his coaching stint as well.
Dravid is at once a master tactician and well-versed with the use of data which has become such an integral part of T20 cricket, especially. He is a big believer in analytics and backroom work and is contemporary enough in that he was an active player until less than a decade back. His trysts with the IPL as mentor and with the junior Indian sides as coach have exposed him to modern trends and strategies. He will make the most of his familiarity with those aspects as well as his deep grounding in and understanding of basics to mould his charges into fighting-fit units that will be well prepared to carry the legacy of the Shastri days forward.
The one thing Dravid must be prepared for is being judged by results alone. At the Under-19 and ‘A’ grades, his focus was on providing opportunities and identifying players that would take Indian cricket forward. Those luxuries won’t be available to him anymore, but when has Rahul Dravid ever blinked in the face of pressure?