The Greg Chappell era (2005-2007) of Indian cricket is widely considered as the most tumultuous period. The working equation between Chappell and Sourav Ganguly, then senior player, was at its nadir. It was perhaps the most demanding time for then captain Rahul Dravid — mainly because he had a good rapport with Ganguly going back to their Under-19 days, and Chappell was his favourite as a coach.
Dravid managed both Chappell and Ganguly well during that precarious period of Indian cricket which saw fans and players divided into two camps.
I met a distraught Ganguly in a Delhi hotel after he was dropped from the Test squad against Sri Lanka for the third Test in Ahmedabad in 2005. The former India skipper kept wondering about then chief selector Kiran More’s motive. He did not have kind words for Chappell, but never once did he doubt Dravid’s motive. Ganguly was unflinching in his regard for Dravid even when it was being said in hush voices that such an important decision (to drop Ganguly) could not have come without the consent of the captain.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Dravid has now come back to the Indian cricket team as a coach when Ganguly is the president of the Board of Cricket for Control in India (BCCI). They go a long way, and have managed to keep their differences between themselves.
With a 3-0 clean sweep against New Zealand in the T20 series and a near win in the Kanpur Test, Dravid might have got a positive start as India coach, but he would know that the real challenge will start from the tour of South Africa when both Virat Kohli (Test captain) and Rohit Sharma (T20 captain, and also likely the new ODI captain) will be part of the squad. Handling this unique transition phase of Indian cricket will be Dravid’s toughest task at the outset of a very challenging two-year tenure in which Team India will be playing in a T20 World Cup (in Australia in 2022), and an ODI World Cup at home in 2023.
That Kohli still harbours the ambition to lead the ODI side, and Sharma hopes to lead a Test side, adds complexity to Dravid’s role as a coach.
What will work in Dravid’s favour is that he is respected by all the players (the superstars included), and none can blame him of having a hidden agenda in the decisions he takes.
Dravid’s accomplished career is the testimony of dedication to the team’s cause first and foremost; where it is the team and not the individual that matters. This was seen in 2004 when India was playing in Pakistan. Dravid was the stand-in captain for Ganguly when during the Multan Test he made the important (many would say controversial) call to declare the innings when Sachin Tendulkar was just six runs short of a double century. More than individual glory, Dravid focused on the larger goal for the team. That Dravid could take tough calls even as a stand-in captain speaks volumes about his management, and leadership skills.
Of course, there are other challenges beyond the field, as the BCCI is full of administrators who are political heavyweights, and the lone support of Ganguly will not suffice. Yet, very few would have the audacity to make life difficult for Dravid considering that it was the board which approached him to become national coach. It’s not a secret that Dravid was not too keen on the role, but, eventually, relented in the larger interest of the game.
If there is one sobriquet besides ‘The Wall’ which has stood good with Dravid it is ‘crisis man’. This was true for him as a batsman who used to stand up when his team needed him the most. This is not the first time the BCCI has looked up to Dravid — after they have run out of options.
A Different Ball Game
Dravid has earned plaudits as India’s Under-19 and India A coach over the last few years, but coaching the national team is an entirely different ball game. One of Dravid’s favourite book is Phil Jackson's Sacred Hoops, the story of how Jackson built the Chicago Bulls team, and managed superstar player Michael Jordan. Once when a young Mohammad Kaif approached his captain Dravid to discuss some problems, Dravid is said to have given Kaif a copy of Sacred Hoops. While Dravid’s intention was noble and refreshing, it definitely did not have the intended result. Dravid would have learned a lot from such experiences, he would have realised that the biggest strength of the Indian cricket team is its diversity, and that all players needs to be treated in a different manner.
A lot has also changed since his playing days as far as handling media pressure is concerned. At a time when almost every players has a social media presence (and some even have a team to handle their social media presence), Dravid has chosen to stay away from it. In that sense, he is an odd man in a social media savvy team; but after Ravi Shastri’s friendly approach with the players, this would be a good time to bring down the tempo.
Over the decades Dravid has worn many hats in cricket, but this new innings will be by far his toughest. Not many leave this job unscathed. Let’s wait and see.
Vimal Kumar is a senior sports journalist who has covered multiple cricket world cups and Rio Olympics in the past two decades. Vimal is also the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.