Rahul Dravid, a fresh beginning with new challenges

Rahul Dravid’s appointment as head coach of the Indian team may see new leaders and a seam-bowling all-rounder being groomed for the future.

The comfort level of India’s players with Rahul Dravid will be a bonus as Dravid tries to steer the team to new highs.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

Most of the youngsters in the Indian cricket team have a Rahul Dravid story to share. The players treasure his words like a bedtime story before a game. It helps them visualise, set goals and achieve perfection. They know that hard work and discipline will eventually lead to success - it’s a Dravid way of studying life.

Dravid has been one of the most loved cricketers and an erudite coach. He is a man with a good heart, good habits and clarity. He likes challenges; very few international Test players jump to the rigours of U-19 coaching after a 15-year-career as a top-order batsman.

The former India captain’s return to the senior team as head coach will be a reunion on many fronts. The U-19 graduates, who are now proven international players, will get a chance to work with their ‘Rahul sir’ again. And the veterans will be happy to consult him for planning and strategy.

Seamless transition

It is a seamless transition post the Ravi Shastri era. Former India cricketer M. S. K. Prasad, who worked closely with Dravid during his tenure as the chief national selector, highlighted the importance of the appointment. “Rahul is an ideal candidate. The majority of the players from the U-19 and India A who are coming into the senior side are all groomed by him for this level. It becomes easy for him to get acquainted with them in the dressing room. I think it is the best time for him to take over since we have two World Cups coming up,” he told Sportstar on Wednesday.

Dravid polished players such as Prithvi Shaw, Ishan Kishan, Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer, Mohammed Siraj, Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Avesh Khan, K. S. Bharat, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Hanuma Vihari and many more who are now part of the international setup.

Challenges ahead

But there will be challenges ahead. The biggest of them all is to fine-tune two more players to form a leadership group. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma will not be around forever, and the former has already stepped down from white-ball captaincy. K. L. Rahul, Iyer and Pant could be next in line, and the Dravid touch could help them.

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Scouting for a seam-bowling all-rounder is another job since Hardik Pandya is not bowling regularly due to his recurring back injury. All eyes will be on Venkatesh Iyer, who delivered the goods for Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League.

Chasing an ICC trophy will be the ultimate goal - the T20 World Cup 2022 in Australia, the World Test Championship and the ODI World Cup in 2023. And Dravid will be keen on rotating the players to manage their workload and keep everyone involved.

‘Perfect pipeline’

Former India batsman and selector Jatin Paranjape echoed Prasad. He said the comfort level of the players with Dravid was a bonus. And it can help overcome the challenges. “Since he was in charge of the India A team, there will be a confluence between his thinking and the players. The difference between an India A coach and an India head coach is outcome-based. India A’s outcomes are differently defined. An Indian team’s outcome is to win. Since Rahul has worked in India A, it helps him understand the players’ psyche. That will help them become outcome-focused because he knows how the players think. It is the perfect pipeline built by the BCCI,” he said.

Jatin Paranjape...“Since Rahul has worked in India A, it helps him understand the players’ psyche.” - VIVEK BENDRE

 

Shastri has been a motivational figure in the dressing room. The players, including the captain, have always spoken highly of his skills. They will need a solid man-manager to maintain calmness in a packed cricketing calendar. “Like Ravi, Rahul embodies what Indian cricket stands for and where it wants to go eventually. Having been there and done that, he will be close to how the players feel. There is so much cricket right now that it is important to understand the players,” added Paranjape, who has known Dravid from his playing days.

“Indian cricket wants to be the best in the world in Test cricket, and Rahul has always held Test cricket close to his heart. At the same time, he is a contemporary coach like Ravi. Sometimes, the best options just present themselves. Rahul has been mad enough to take it upon himself.”

All-format master

Former India wicketkeeper Nayan Mongia agrees that Dravid is the best choice as nobody knows the player pool better. “He has been there in the National Cricket Academy as Director of Cricket for some years. He has been in the scheme of things. His discipline, dedication and focus will help the players,” he said, adding that man-management is the sole challenge in a senior dressing room. “Every cricketer knows their weak and strong points. It is about the finer points and strategies. The coach and the captain are as good as the team. If the team performs, they are good. If the best players who are available don’t perform, they can’t do much.”

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Dravid is an all-format master. He has been part of the IPL as a player and coach for Rajasthan Royals, and mentor for Delhi Daredevils (now Capitals). Iyer bloomed during his tenure. He is aware of the demands of T20 cricket and the unorthodox side of batsmanship. The experience will hold him in good stead to identify format-based game-changers and leaders.

The man with 24,208 international runs pushed the U-19 boys to two finals, in 2016 with Kishan as captain, and in 2018 when Shaw lifted the trophy. He ensured the teenagers represented their respective States in Ranji Trophy to toughen up as players.

The BCCI made his appointment official on the eve of Diwali - the auspicious festival of lights. But the fireworks have to wait for two more weeks when India takes on New Zealand in the home series. The Indian players will be happy to collect more anecdotes and stories from their favourite teacher, who will be itching to turn their dreams into reality.

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