Good beginning, but Dravid’s real test lies ahead

Rahul Dravid’s entry, as the new Team India chief, is sure to bring a positive change in the Indian team, but winning ICC trophies in the coming years will be his real test

It’s hard to determine his impact yet. The victory in the first three T20 internationals against New Zealand, after the premature shock exit from the T20 World Cup, has opened up a fresh debate on “how long the BCCI will persist with him and how long will he want to persist with his role”?

Yes, the new Team India chief coach Rahul Dravid has taken up the crucial role of nurturing the young talent at a time when the duo of Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli are splitting, after ruling Indian cricket for nearly five years. If for Dravid or the BCCI, this is a temporary or part-time arrangement, it will largely be decided over the next year when Team India will travel Down Under for yet another T20 World Cup.

One cannot ignore Dravid’s contribution in building up bench strength for Team India by guiding India A and Under-19 squads during the last couple of years. He gained tremendous recognition during his just-concluded stint as the head coach at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru. He produced quite a few promising young talents — Ishan Kishan, Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer, Sanju Samson and many more — during his stint as the coach of India A and India U-19.

There has been no doubt that Dravid’s coaching or managerial skills have never been tested at the highest level. But then there can hardly be a debate over who is the best person to nurture Team India’s young talent. Being a keen observer of the game, Dravid has the right temperament to take Indian cricket forward. 

 

No talk, only work

During his playing days, Dravid was known for his solid technique. 

There were instances when he was blamed for playing too slow in white-ball cricket. But there has never been an instance when fingers were raised over his commitment to the team. Post his retirement, Dravid remained a keen follower of domestic cricket and knows what’s going on and who’s doing well. 

Anyone who follows Indian cricket closely, understands that getting Dravid ready for this new role was never easy for BCCI officials. Dravid had apparently made it clear that “he is ready to take over once this present generation of senior players would fade out”. It was obviously a hint towards Kohli or for that matter Rohit Sharma and others, with whom Dravid had shared dressing room as a player in Team India, domestic or in the IPL. 

That’s how Dravid’s role was confined to managing the India A, Under19 and running the National Cricket Academy. And the ugly spat between Karnataka giant Anil Kumble and Kohli in 2017 was another reason why Dravid avoided stepping into the big shoes. He was happy earning handsomely (approximately Rs 7 crore annually) by sitting at home and spending quality time with his family (including two kids).

Dravid’s entry will bring different work ethics and professionalism to the dressing room. Given the reserved nature of The Wall (as Dravid is known in the cricket fraternity), there may be less lecture like Shastri and more work and strategy that is expected to be seen during the practice sessions. 

Rahul Dravid’s commitment to the team shone through when he donned the wicket keeper’s gloves in the 1999 World Cup to replace the injured Nayan Mongia Photo: Getty Images

Dravid has been a team man to the core and that’s how he even agreed to don the wicket-keeping gloves during the 1999 World Cup to give a better balance to the team when an injury to regular keeper Nayan Mongia ruled him out. But that was not all, Dravid did suffer later on many occasions when he was kind of adjusted in the team’s playing eleven only on account of playing as a wicket-keeper batsman, which he never liked.

That’s why many believe that Dravid would never take any such cricketing judgment to extremes as Kohli has done in the case of the world’s top spinner, Ravichandran Ashwin. By leaving out Ashwin, first in England and then on the slow pitches of UAE during the T20 World Cup, where many other teams were playing with three spinners at a time, the  Indian team management had opened itself up to suspicion. 

 

No time to waste

Even if Team India was outplayed by better teams in the T20 World Cup, Dravid and team management soon needed to find the best template for the team going into the next edition in Australia.

That’s why a bunch of fresh faces have been picked for the New Zealand series including Venkatesh Iyer and Ruturaj Gaikwad. Star all-rounder Hardik Pandya has been dropped due to his inability to bowl regularly. And Dravid has already made it clear in his talks about “what is required from Hardik to make a comeback into the squad”?

Looking at the team’s performance in the T20 World Cup, fresh faces like Venkatesh Iyer have been picked up for the upcoming series in New Zealand Photo: Getty Images

Dravid has to ensure that he continues to groom the young talents getting a chance in the team through domestic and Indian Premier League (IPL) performances. While he has always believed in giving every debutant an opportunity in a series, he has to continue the trend, which was not so regular under Shastri’s reign. 

Dravid has been hinting that his focus would be on all-rounders because the white-ball cricket, especially, is getting more and more competitive with each passing day. Young Venkatesh Iyer has been given a chance to showcase his talent. But Indian team management needs to focus on grooming all-rounders like Lalit Yadav, Shahrukh Khan, Rahul Tewatia, Shreyas Gopal and Mahipal Lomror in the coming days for stability and consistency in the shorter format.

 

ICC titles over everything

Last but not least, Dravid will have to ensure that he is expected to help Team India win the global cricket title (ICC trophies) in the coming years. 

Despite having a solid team since 2015, when Kohli took over the captaincy in Test cricket, India failed to win any ICC trophy during this period. That’s why despite Team India performing exceedingly well in bilateral assignments (especially overseas Test victories in Australia), no such good news came from big ICC tournaments under the Kohli-Shastri regime. 

That’s why Dravid’s first big test will be the T20 WC next year in Australia, followed by the ICC World Cup 2023 in India. There is no doubt that Indian cricket needs Dravid more than ever, and his success as a coach-cum-mentor would be vital in instilling a new belief for the future.

(Cover: After the departure of Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli from leading positions, Rahul Dravid’s appointment as the new Head Coach of Team India promises to bring about a positive change Photo: Getty Images)

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Chander Shekhar Luthra
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