India head coach Rahul Dravid has a wall to climb

Many summers ago, when social media was yet to strike deep roots, propagate free speech or reveal fangs, under the deep blue Bengaluru skies, a phenomenal batter took guard. This was nets at the KSCA (B) Ground adjacent to the National Cricket Academy (NCA) campus.

Rahul Dravid was at work, finessing his bat-swing, the movement of his feet, the forward-press, lining up deliveries and equally aware of his immediate environment. He was wary of any loose ball accidentally striking anyone nearby, waved off those getting a wee-bit close while his dad Sharad Dravid sat on a plastic chair at a distance and son Samit Dravid at the far-corner, used a miniature bat against throwdowns from the family driver.

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Except for the thud of the red cherry into the bat, there was largely silence in the air. It was a private moment for Dravid, away from the crowd, just him and his batting while his immediate family kept a watch. By then a legend with 10000-plus runs in Tests, he still remained loyal to his craft and equally glad that there were no cameras around. This was a man, who besides his cricket, would rather read a book or have a quiet meal at Sunny’s on Lavelle Road.

A perfect mentor: Be it Prithvi Shaw, Ruturaj Gaikwad or a Sanju Samson, Dravid has been a perceptive mentor to the young crop. It is an attribute that he will carry in his kitbag while being the India coach.   –  Getty Images

 

Despite being a high-profile member of the cricketing fraternity, Dravid prefers being anonymous. The paraphernalia around celebrities makes him wince though he has made a tenuous peace with it. But cricket remains his driving force and it wasn’t surprising that after he retired in 2012, assured of his place in the pantheon of batting greats, he maintained his links with the willow-game, first as a commentator and then through coaching forays be it in the Indian Premier League or with the junior India sides — both under-19 and the ‘A’ teams.

Just like in his playing days when he did the domestic hard yards before making his Test debut at Lord’s in 1996, Dravid the coach too preferred to climb his way up at a steady pace. Not for him the elevator greased with his batting reputation or the fact that he was a former India captain. One step at a time would do and he bided his time, helming the NCA as its director, fine-tuning its systems and sharpening its rules, keeping it the same be it for a rookie or an established star.

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It was but inevitable that one day he would coach the senior Indian team and his latest appointment in the hot seat was no surprise. Groomed by the late Keki Tarapore, Dravid always had abiding respect towards coaches. He never took his skillsets for granted and kept maximising his potential. And now as the coach, he would obviously try and instil those traits among his wards. He has also witnessed the seamless transitions that Indian cricket has made since his retirement. In fact, in his last Test — Adelaide, 2012, Virat Kohli struck a hundred and subtly the baton was being passed from Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman and Virender Sehwag to the subsequent generation that also had Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. And by being in touch with the game, Dravid has kept abreast of the latest trends and further evolutions in coaching methods.

Be it Prithvi Shaw, Ruturaj Gaikwad or Sanju Samson, Dravid has been a perceptive mentor to the young crop. It is an attribute that he will carry in his kitbag while being the India coach. He inherits a seemingly well-oiled unit from his predecessor Ravi Shastri. The Mumbaikar has had a remarkable tenure, forging a bond with skipper Kohli, and overseeing two-Test series triumphs in Australia. ‘India-travelling-well’ is a template that Dravid would love to replicate, and readers of a certain vintage would remember that under him, India won away series in England and in the West Indies.

The man, who along with Laxman, staged one of cricket’s greatest Houdini Acts in Kolkata’s Eden Gardens against the ruthless Aussies in 2001, is never short of self-belief. Indian cricket’s current shape owes a lot to that seminal moment back then, and it is a thread that Dravid would be keen to extend. Yet Dravid would acutely know that coaching the senior outfit has its share of angst.

The correct approach: Dravid the coach preferred to climb his way up at a steady pace. Not for him the elevator greased with his batting reputation or the fact that he was a former India captain. One step at a time would do and he bided his time, through coaching forays be it in the Indian Premier League or with the junior India sides – both under-19 and the ‘A’ teams.   –  SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

 

Having worked through the tumultuous Greg Chappell phase as a coach and then seeing his illustrious Karnataka-mate Anil Kumble being ambushed by Kohli, Dravid knows that the trust and backing of the dressing room are non-negotiable. Due to his stature, the limelight may trail him, but he would be the quintessential stay-in-the-shadow strategist much akin to how John Wright and Gary Kirsten operated.

Staying in tune with the demands of the game is not new to Dravid. In the past, when the Indian One-Day International squad needed him to keep wickets so that extra space could be created for a batsman or an all-rounder, he readily agreed. It is this team-first philosophy that he would propagate within the ranks and obviously good behaviour. He is not averse to an intelligent sledge but not for him obnoxious behaviour fuelled by ego and a lack of respect for the game.

The Test batting core of Kohli, Rohit, Pujara and Rahane are all in their thirties, Dravid would be mindful of that. An imminent transition is not on the cards, but he would know that sometime in the future, successors need to be identified. The gradual infusion of fresh blood, the arm around senior players and a long-term vision should goad Dravid on in his latest task.

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This team has its building blocks in place while Dravid would be mindful of the fact that India has not won any ICC silverware since the 2013 Champions Trophy. And if you want a bigger tournament, jog all the way back to 2011 and remember M.S. Dhoni’s World Cup-winning six in Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium. The latest implosion during the ICC Twenty20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates has further extended the title drought.

A vital member of Sourav Ganguly’s team that finished second in the 2003 ODI World Cup, Dravid as captain had also shed tears when India crashed out of the 2007 edition. He knows what an ICC heartbreak is, and it is one wound for which he would seek a balm through the men under his watch. And it is time to say, ‘go well Ravi’ and ‘welcome aboard Rahul’ while the limited-over duels against New Zealand beckon.

After 48 summers, a new challenge awaits Dravid, and he seems more than ready to deal with it.

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