Rahul Dravid is a legend of Indian cricket of his own right. One of the greatest batsmen to ever play for the Indian team, Dravid has played a key role in the development of ‘Team India’ during early 2000. A team which started to compete outside home and Dravid was one of the key catalysts for that. His double centuries at Adelaide and Rawalpindi are the stuff of legends and memories cricket fans cherish forever. Post-retirement Dravid has played the role of mentor for Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils in the IPL and played a key role in the development of youngsters like Sanju Samson, Shreyas Iyer. During 2015-16, he was in a dual role where he used to look after the Under 19 and A teams in ten months of a year and another two months he used to mentor IPL teams. Dravid left the IPL role in 2017 sighting conflict of interest as he wanted to continue coaching the India Under-19 and ‘A’ teams.
It is now close to four years since Rahul Dravid was appointed as the coach of the India under-19 and India-A teams. A thoroughly methodical man, Dravid was a perfect choice as he could not only inspire the future generation but also bring the determination and mental toughness of his game to his pupils and make them prepare for the tough battles ahead. If we go by record it is a good phase under Dravid as in both 2016 and 2018 the Indian Under-19 team qualified for the Under-19 world cup final. Whereas the team lost 2016 final despite having some good players like Rishabh Pant, Ishan Kishan and Washington Sundar, the 2018 team was even stronger and clearly showed the gap in their quality with other teams when they won the tournament in a canter beating Australia in the final by 8 wickets. Players like Prithvi Shaw and Shubhman Gill looked already ready for the senior level cricket and after a successful showing in IPL both the players have already started playing international cricket. Although Gill had an indifferent start and will wait for his opportunity, Prithvi has already shown his worth by becoming the youngest Indian debutant to score a century in test cricket. And both these players have accepted Dravid’s importance in shaping their careers.
The Importance of ‘Rahul Sir’
“Rahul sir talks to me about the mentality you need to score big, and to score consistently. I try to follow his advice.” Shaw made this statement after scoring a hundred for India-A against South Africa-A just before his international debut. Shaw who had struggled for some time to keep his back leg in line with the ball, credited Dravid for encouraging him to carry on with his own style with some minor changes to keep scoring runs. Even the other bright star from India U-19 team, Shubhman Gill also was full of prise about the time he spent with Dravid as part of both Under-19 and ‘A’ team squad, "I am deeply influenced by Rahul (Dravid) Sir. He has been with us for the last two years starting with the Under-19 Asia Cup in Sri Lanka and then India 'A' tours. He understands my batting really well. He keeps on telling me that over a period of time, certain changes come in a batsman's style which is not evident to the player himself and can only be identified by the one who is watching from outside."
Not only the Under-19 players even the India-A team have also delivered quite a few successes in recent times. Even more importantly they have acted as a great stepping stone for young players before they get into the national squad. Players like Mayank Agarwal, Hanuma Vihari and Rishabh Pant are few names who have successfully transitioned from ‘A’ team cricket to international cricket and did not look out of place. Mayank Agarwal who had to wait for a long time before finally getting his chance to open for India did not disappoint. Making his debut on the Boxing Day test at the iconic MCG he scored a fluent 76 in the first innings and followed it by 42 as India took a 2-1 lead in the series. In his next test he delivered another brilliant innings of 77 and gave India the early initiative which was lacking as Prithvi was injured and due to the poor form of other openers like Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, and Shikhar Dhawan. In India’s next test series post ICC world cup, Mayank and Prithvi are expected to open and carry on the Dravid legacy. At the press conference after his 77, Agarwal explained the role of Dravid in his career, "Playing under him (Dravid) is good, we as batsmen speak a lot to him about our game and technique. And he is out there to guide us and help us climb the ladder. His advice has been very, very helpful. He told to me particularly think about how to manage my mental energies. And that's something that we've spoken about for four to six months. He's helped me go through that path."
Why ‘Only’ Rahul Dravid
There is a clear difference in coaching the age group and junior teams compared to the national team. In the national team most of the players are selected as they are performing at a level suitable for international cricket and may need some small guidance from time to time. At that level, it is more about man management. Whereas in U-19, it requires more intense coaching and preparation to bring you up to that level and that’s why coach plays a much more significant role. It is great that in recent times there is a steady flow of youngsters as both BCCI and state cricket boards invest heavily on the growth of young players but these players are coming from various backgrounds and from various coaching style.
The key expectation from Rahul Dravid and his team of assistant coaches is to find the gaps in their techniques and also give them the confidence to not bog down while playing against international teams. With Dravid around, the youngsters also learn discipline and manage themselves better. On the other hand, Dravid’s students have one thing to say in common that they always have access to Dravid Sir. As a coach this balance is important. Someone who can teach about techniques of cricket, give life lessons, handle strictly if required and also can take his team in his confidence.
Rahul Dravid is the first person to come out of the dressing room during practice. He is the one to pick all the empty water bottles and throw them to the bin at the end of a session. He doesn’t talk much but according to his students, he always says positive things and focuses on the good part. This is why probably there is no room for jealousy under Dravid’s coaching. Once Hanuma Vihari mentioned, “He says that learning is everything in India ‘A’. Even if one player scores a hundred, he may be rested in the next game.” Rahul Dravid believes in learning from every innings. He has always been vocal about how a player should give importance to the domestic level. Even when one is playing at the national level, he must play at domestic tournaments if he gets time or opportunity. Dravid believes in strengthening the base and that’s what he is doing intensely for the last few years.
Dravid’s journey as a coach is an excellent one till now and already there are calls from some corner to give him bigger responsibilities like coaching the national team. To some Dravid would be the best person to opt for the job and it looks like he enjoys his job. But as already mentioned earlier, a coach has a more important role to play at the grassroots. Also, a person like Dravid may not be the right choice for Kohli and Co. Already Indian cricket had a not so great experience with Kumble being the senior team coach. The differences between Kohli and Kumble were very much evident. Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble are almost the same kind of person when it comes to routine and system. Moreover, the base needs to be strong enough to supply talented youngsters regularly for the national team. For strong international representation, a country needs to focus on the roots. And only Dravid can do this regularly without any compromise to quality.
Video: Rahul Dravid Exclusive