Rahul Dravid hopes to sing a redemption song
The World Cup doesn't hold the fondest of memories for the India coach but he will hope to change that this time around.
Rahul Dravid knows a thing or two about disappointment at an ODI World Cup. He played in three of these tournaments and India did well in just one of them. The last of them -- the 2007 edition when India crashed out in the group stages after defeats against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka -- shook the very core of the game in the country.
Dravid was captain then and when he faced the media after the Sri Lanka game, his face was a picture of torment. India was shocked and so was he. He tried, in vain, to put things in perspective but at times like these, explanations mattered for little. "Nobody realises the enormity of the defeat more than the players," Dravid had said then. "Definitely there is a lot of introspection and disappointment in the dressing room. He added: "I am not sitting here and trying to shirk responsibility. I am the first one to stand up and say that we should have done better, and it starts with me."
But that was then and this is now. Sixteen years later, Dravid has been an integral part of another build-up. In 2007, he was the man calling the shots on the field. In 2023, as coach, he is the brains behind the scene. Will he have the opportunity to sing a redemption song this time around?
Dravid the builder
In his time away from the top tier, Dravid made his reputation as a builder; a builder of dreams, players and teams. He worked at the National Cricket Academy, the under-19 teams, the India 'A' teams -- trying to teach them all about success and more importantly, failure.
He had his ideas and his theories and unique insight gained by excelling in international cricket allowed him to pass on the tricks of the trade that only the very best possess. And he tried to tell them stories -- of Indian cricket, past and present. For there has to be more to playing this game than money.
During his Dilip Sardesai lecture in 2014, Dravid had talked about train journeys that the Karnataka team would take during the Ranji season. He took the meandering path but when the gathered crowd figured where he was going, they all nodded in unison. "We would travel 48 hours to go and play at Eden. We didn't have portable PlayStations or iPods or mobile phones to block ourselves out from our surroundings. We had dumb-charades, singing and anecdotes passed from seniors to juniors. What is missing currently in Indian cricket is the spoken word — the lack of historic knowledge that cricketers have," Dravid said.
In his time with the juniors, he did exactly that. He spoke to them and because it was Dravid, they paid attention.
The big gig
Dravid's success with the U-19 and India A squads made him the coach everyone wanted for the senior team as well. And for many, that dream came true in November 2021 when it was announced that he would take over from Ravi Shastri. Now, Shastri had a fair bit of success with the Indian team and the wins away from home were an indication of the direction that the management wanted the team to take.
Dravid was expected to continue the good work but the transition hasn't been easy. Injuries and poor form have held India back from playing to their full potential and only now, at long last, is the team back to full strength. The injuries forced India to go looking for options. There was workload management to be done as well and these factors combined to give the team an unsettled look.
"This word experimentation keeps getting thrown around a lot, without actually being thought through," said Dravid in August. "We are not experimenting for the sake of experimenting. Sometimes there are specific reasons why you have to experiment. Just to give you an example - the No. 4 and 5 spots got discussed a lot. There is an impression that we do not have clarity on who is going to be there. I could have told you 18 months ago who is going to play at No. 4 and 5 slots. It was always going to be between KL, Shreyas and Rishabh. There was no doubt in our minds."
Dravid added: "All of them had injuries close to each other and what were the odds of that happening? Nobody can calculate for that. All three of them were pushing for that spot had to go under the knife and all three of them had serious injuries."
But with KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer fit again and finding form, the going seems to be a little smoother. The duo has managed to jump through hoops and get ready ahead of the World Cup. It will allow the team management to focus on the bigger task of winning an ICC trophy.
Right from his days as a player, Dravid has always believed that the process is more important than the result. And with that in mind, the team has tried to change the way they play. If there was an over-dependence on the top order earlier, now there is an impression of depth. If it was felt that India's ODI approach was too old school, now the batters are being asked to be more aggressive. If wickets in the middle overs were a worry, India now has Kuldeep Yadav to address that query.
The changes and their results were not immediately apparent but they were a clear indication of the direction Dravid wanted the team to take. It was all about pushing the envelope and failing a few times while trying to do it was acceptable. But all these tweaks were designed with the World Cup in mind
India haven't managed to win an ICC Trophy since 2013 -- it is a goal that doesn't need to be set. The country knows it, the team knows it and so does Dravid. The expectations will be high... they always are. But Dravid will know that whatever needs to be said to the team has already been said. Now, will be the time to just let them play the game.
"If you try telling people something at the last moment, you know you have lost them," he told the official IPL website in 2014 and the words still ring true. "Last moment is not meant to say anything, but to just keep quiet and let them do what they want. A lot of the preparation happens a lot before. On the day of the game, honestly, we don’t do much. We just let people be and let them play their game. There is not much to tell."
"If they have prepared well and practiced well and if they feel confident about their game and they have got clear plans, clear roles and clear strategies, they will go out there and be able express themselves. You can’t give pep talks. I personally don’t believe in pep talks and speeches and those things... If anyone needs a pep talk and speech at the last minute, well then he is at the wrong place."