If there is one appointment in Indian cricket as the head coach of Indian cricket team which was universally accepted and applauded wholeheartedly, it was the much-awaited entry of Rahul Dravid. From John Wright to Duncan Fletcher, from Greg Chappell to Gary Kirsten or from Anil Kumble to Ravi Shastri, regardless of the nationality or the pedigree, no Indian coach has had it so easy to be given the responsibility of the most high-profile cricket team of the world. Literally and figuratively, the former India captain had to be cajoled in a way like a bride or groom had to be persuaded for a seemingly great future association in some of the traditional match-making exercises which often happens in a typical arrange marriage set-up.
However, the Dravid script as a new coach has now got some very interesting twists and turns in just a short span of time. So much so that the coolest cricketer and the crisis man of Indian cricket had to deal with not one or two but five captains in less than six months! That is more captains than he ever encountered as a player in his nearly decade and half long career. In July 2021, Dravid had the company of Shikhar Dhawan for the tour of Sri Lanka even if he was yet to become the full-time coach of the team. He had Ajinkya Rahane for the Kanpur Test and Rohit Sharma for the T20 series against New Zealand besides of course Kohli and KL Rahul in South Africa.
After India's defeat against a depleted South African side in the three match ODI series, now questions will be asked from the coach as well. Even if the tone may be modest and words less harsh than what Ravi Shastri used to frequently encounter. Can Dravid transform this Indian team in white-ball cricket radically in such a short span of time with two back-to-back World Cups (T20 in October 2022 and ODI in October 2023)? Is coaching a senior team with such big egos in the dressing room going to haunt him the same way again as was the case during his captaincy which he eventually gave up?
The sense of desperation was palpable on Dravid’s face when the TV camera during live coverage of the third match of the ODI series focussed on the coach’s body language during the tense chase in Cape Town when Deepak Chahar was miraculously trying to win the game on his own with the bat. The former India captain is not known to give much clue with his facial expressions (he is not as enigmatic as MS Dhoni though) but his ‘come on’ shouts to Chahar told a different tale. Perhaps, Dravid too realises that his honeymoon period as coach was also getting over in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
As a player, it was evidently clear that Dravid was always more aware than most of his illustrious team-mates. Perhaps none in Indian cricket was more aware of one’s limitations as acutely and still made a fortune by what he had in abundance. His staggering success as coach with the Under 19 teams and India A teams were not surprising because like Chappell, any youngster can be spell bound by the knowledge and aura of his personality. However, the unfulfilling stint of Chappell must serve as a precautionary tale for Dravid that in Indian dressing room, handling super stars with big egos has never been easy. It can be very topsy turvy if a captain is not allowed to settle in the dressing room. Dravid had faced this kind of environment in his tenure as captain of the team when Sourav Ganguly was unceremoniously sacked. As the proverbial wheel has taken a full circle, this time Virat Kohli had to quit captaincy under very unusual circumstances. Of course, none in Indian cricket has raised this question but could Dravid have played the role of a peacemaker between Ganguly and Kohli? He shares an excellent rapport with the BCCI president and Kohli has enormous regard for Dravid and yet he didn’t do anything? Or that is what we know so far. Or is it that someone who is never known to take sides just deliberately avoided getting himself indulged in such a hot water which could have created obstacles in his path in future? The non-controversial and the image of always-a-fine gentleman has worked wonders for Dravid the player as he always managed to be neutral and unaffected even during the heightened tension between the Ganguly and Chappell camp in 2005-07 phase of Indian cricket. Incredibly, noone has blamed Dravid ever for one of the most tumultuous periods of Indian cricket despite him being the leader of the team at that point of time.
Anyway, it is time to focus on the future. More so for the head coach now. There will be a two-month break for Dravid during the IPL (April-May) window and he can think about long-term goals and strategy for team India but what he needs to immediately address in white ball format is that India can’t be going with almost the same kind of three anchors in Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli in the top order. However, it is going to be the toughest task for the coach to deviate from the triumvirate and disassociate them in some way or other. Of course, Rohit Sharma and Kohli are untouchables and the guy who could have been easily pushed out has now emerged as the best batter in South Africa! In fact, Dhawan’s strike rate in ODIs since March 2019 is better than both Rohit and Kohli and in fact he averages better than the former India captain!
How Dravid will solve this top-order problem is his biggest challenge in ODIs. Be it the 2015 World Cup or 2019 World Cup or in between the 2017 ICC Champions trophy, India’s domination was largely dependent on massive contributions from two of the three in almost every match and they would invariably failed together in a crunch game like semi-final or final. Too much dependence and too many overs consumed by the trio often left the middle-order and late order under-cooked for pressure cooker situations.