Rahul Dravid, the backstage hero of World Cup 2023, has unfinished business with Indian cricket
While Rohit and the rest of the squad vented their emotions in the dressing room, Dravid arrived for the post-match press do, one of the toughest assignments.
As a player, Rahul Dravid never shirked responsibility. He took on all the difficult, demanding, arduous tasks, be it opening the batting (reluctantly) in Test cricket, keeping wickets (more agreeable) in the 50-over game or slotting in as Sourav Ganguly’s replacement during the most tumultuous period in Indian cricket in the last two decades.
Dravid didn’t shy away from off-field responsibilities either, making sure that as captain, he fronted up to the media after every setback while allowing the others to bask in the warm afterglow of success.
So, why would Rahul Dravid, the head coach, be any different?
Dravid’s toughest day as captain came in Port of Spain on 23 March 2007, when India were humbled by Sri Lanka in the World Cup by 69 runs. Following a crushing loss to Bangladesh in their opener, the pre-tournament favourites were bundled out at the first hurdle. Shattered beyond words, Dravid quit the captaincy less than six months later.
On Sunday (November 19), memories of Queen’s Park Oval might have flitted through his mind when, after mounting a campaign for the ages, his wards came unstuck at the final hurdle of the 2023 World Cup, outplayed by Australia. Rohit Sharma’s team had showcased exhilarating cricket for the preceding ten games but on the night that counted, the Indians came unstuck, extending their title drought in ICC tournaments to ten and a half years.
While Rohit and the rest of the squad vented their emotions in the dressing room, Dravid arrived for the mandatory post-match press do, one of the toughest assignments in the immediacy of such a debilitating development. You could see he was hurting, terribly so, but the 50-year-old was neither testy nor impatient. Except for a flash of annoyance – or did one imagine it? – when an insensitive scribe asked if India had been ‘fearful’, he maintained his composure, occasionally making a feeble attempt at humour. The two dominant phrases during the 30-minute interaction were ‘extremely disappointed’ and ‘proud of the team and the support staff.’ Nothing else needed to be said, really.
The World Cup final was Dravid’s last hurrah as India’s head coach, a role he performed for two years with total commitment, as is his wont. Having spent the preceding six years as coach of the India ‘A’ and Under-19 teams as well as the head of the National Cricket Academy, insiders assert, it is unlikely he will return to the national set-up any time soon in any formal, long-term capacity, though he still has plenty to offer Indian cricket.
Dravid leaves with India perched on top of the ICC standings in all three formats, an exceptional achievement, but with an asterisk – there was no joy in global tournaments. India were bested in the final of the World Test Championship and the 50-over World Cup and bowed out in the semifinal of the T20 World Cup in Australia last year.
Having inherited crack outfits from Ravi Shastri, Dravid has left his successor – who that is, will be of great interest and significance – with a job to do. Not long from now, India will enter the transitional phase in the two longer formats. The process of rebuilding will have to start almost from scratch, given that especially in the five-day game, not too many newcomers got a chance to present their credentials in the last two years. India have almost the entire WTC league cycle to contend with – they have played just one of six series – and South Africa next month in their own backyard will offer a stern challenge of the kind India failed to overcome at the start of 2022.
Who after Dravid? Logic might train the finger on VVS Laxman, Dravid’s successor as NCA head honcho. The equally significant half of the 376-run partnership with Dravid at the Eden Gardens in 2001 has been India coach on an interim basis during Dravid’s tenure and is currently in charge of the T20I side playing Australia in a five-match series starting on Thursday (November 23), but the Hyderabadi must have unfinished business at the academy. Appointed for a three-year term in December 2021, Laxman has more than a year of his tenure left to take the plans he formulated two years ago to their logical conclusion. Whether it is worth disrupting those feeder-level plans, and whether Laxman is keen on a long-term coaching role, are both up for debate.
The BCCI must zero in on the next head coach soon, what with a five-Test home series against England beginning in late January. Dravid again, potentially? Hmmm. Interesting times ahead, without a doubt.
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