Rahul Dravid is one of the biggest reasons why India are a top tier all-format team brimming with talent and the ability to win against any team anywhere
When India lifted the Border-Gavaskar Trophy at The Gabba last Tuesday, Rahul Dravid was there. He wasn’t there in person of course, but he was there. He was there in Subman Gill’s tone-setting innings to Rishab Pant’s counterattacking batting that won a rag-tag India the final test and the series. Gill and Pant are just two of half a dozen players who left their mark in one of the best test series of all times. They are also Dravid’s Boys.
Cricket has many superstars, but few leave a lasting impact off the field. Imran Khan, the cricketer, shaped the next generation of players. But he did that as a captain, not coach. Javed Miandad is arguably the greatest Pakistani batsman and Waqar Younis the sharpest of spearheads. Both coached Pakistan yet there are no Javed’s Boys and there certainly are no Waqar’s Boys. In Australia, Ricky Ponting has helped his friend Justin Langer as a coach and mentor but there are no Ponting’s Boys of Langer’s Boys. Dravid stands unique in the world of cricket.
In the 16 years that Dravid represented India, he was one of several stars. He wasn’t a once-in-a-generation prodigy like Sachin Tendulkar nor was he a confident, natural leader like Sourav Ganguly. He was Mr Dependable. He was The Wall. A Team Man. With 24,000 international runs, 48 centuries, he rightly belonged in cricket’s Fall of Fame.
Tendulkar now revels in the glory of his status as god of Indian cricket. Ganguly, not surprisingly, took to the cut and thrust of India’s politically charged cricket establishment. Dravid dabbled in T20 cricket but his calling lay elsewhere. Dravid is also is different from his equally famous contemporaries. He is - in equal measure - a master of and a student of the game, one who knows and yet yearns to learn more. Last year, Kevin Pietersen revealed that when he was struggling to play spin, he approached Dravid for help. Ever willing to help cricketers no matter the team, Dravid wrote to Pietersen:
“One good practice is to bat....without pads or with just knee pads...When you have no pads, it will force you, sometimes painfully, to get the bat forward of the pads and will force you to watch the ball,” Dravid wrote.
On Dravid’s 48th-birthday last week, Inzamam-ul-Haq heaped praise on Dravid. The first time he faced Pakistan, Inzi was convinced, Dravid was special.
What makes Dravid even more unique is his gift to pay forward, to distil that wisdom and transform the next generation of cricketers. He doesn’t have a YouTube channel nor is he on Twitter. After retiring from all formats, Dravid took a road hardly ever travelled by a player of his stature. In 2016, he took charge of India’s U19 and A teams. So unglamorous, yet so Dravid. Away from the glare of the national team, he got to work building the future of Indian cricket.
His impact was immediate. That 2016 U19 World Cup produced five players who made it to the national team, including Pant and a then-16-year-old Washington Sundar. Pant was the team’s vice captain, opening batsman and wicket-keeper. He came through the ranks and played attacking cricket, scoring the tournament’s fastest half century - a 24-ball 78 - and a 96-ball 111. Dravid had faith in him and against then-consensus bet that he could bat according to the situation. The precursor to the Sydney and Brisbane innings were games with the India A team where Pant showed he can bat with the tail and could build partnerships in the 4th innings to win games.
India lost the U19 World Cup final to the West Indies but in 2018, they emerged the clear winners, beating Australia in the final. Prithvi Shaw and Gill were the standout players of the tournament with Gill scoring a blistering century in a high-pressure semi-final against Pakistan. Gill is blessed with the ability to see the ball early; Dravid taught him how to play along the ground for his talent to be more effective.
India has an abundance of talent. Dravid identified the raw product and polished it for the international stage. Gill’s 91 runs at The Gabba set the tone for India in a high-pressure game; just as his 102 against Pakistan did in 2018 U19 World Cup. Pant’s 97 in Sydney set up the draw and the match-winning 89 in Brisbane were classic counter-attacking cricket that he played as a teenager. Yet what set the Brisbane innings apart was something quintessentially Dravid: Stay cool under pressure.
Competent coaches build and improve technical skills. There is no shortage of such coaches and the list in Pakistan is long. But great coaches go well beyond. They respect the talent and polish it; they are simultaneously tough and encouraging; they communicate not dictate; they motivate; they ignite the hunger to win and they turn individual players into a potent team.
India is now a top tier all-format team brimming with talent and the ability to win against any team anywhere. Their bench includes players who would be automatic picks in any other team. This outcome is a result of India investing in players, facilities, structure and process. Dravid was central to this process. He no longer coaches and now heads the National Cricket Academy. No glamour. No YouTube channels. No Twitter. Just a laser sharp eye on the future.
Pakistan is brimming with talent too - Shadab Khan and Shaheen Shah Afridi represented Pakistan in the 2016 and 2018 U19 World Cups - and Babar Azam, Imad Wasim, Sarfraz Ahmad also came through the age-group system. Yet the list of wasted talent is far longer. It is no surprise Pakistan is now a team on the decline.
Is there a Pakistani Dravid around to inspire a turnaround?
Hasan Jafri is a cricket fan.