Prithvi Shaw (L) and Rahul Dravid (R)  © PTI
Prithvi Shaw (L) and Rahul Dravid (R) © PTI

Getting rid of the myths first.

Rahul Dravid questioned his INR-50-lakhs reward when other members of the coaching staff received INR 20 lakhs and the players INR 30 lakhs each after India won the Under-19 World Cup for a record fourth time. In cricket, with due respect to the support staff, no one takes more sheen than players who execute all the hard work. It was prudent of a man of Dravid’s aptitude and sobriety to express his displeasure for the same.

The social media timeline buzzed about Dravid being a true gentleman. What’s a false gentleman anyway?

 (Note: Dravid earns a pay-check of INR 5 crore for his services as India U-19 and India A coach)

Dravid enjoys an iconic status in Indian cricket, and rightly so. He is perhaps so trapped in the brand-painted portrait of an ideal gentleman that the perceived goodness eclipses his tactical acumen and other achievements.

What were his other achievements?

The best Indian captain discussion often ends with a debate of divided opinions between Sourav Ganguly and MS Dhoni, while Dravid is viewed a parallel of Sachin Tendulkar as a batsman and of course, the perfect teamman (were his colleagues imperfect teammen?) and epitome of goodness.

Dravid taking up wicketkeeping or off-spin (yes, Ganguly made him bowl serious off-spin early on) is more to do with adding balance and maximising a player’s potential. Wasn’t the captain being as teamman?

For that matter, Virender Sehwag was forced to give up his comfort zone of batting in the middle-order and Ganguly dropped himself down the order in ODIs and Tests to positions he enjoyed less. A senior Anil Kumble relentlessly helped youngsters prepare from sidelines despite being not preferred over Harbhajan Singh. Wasn’t everyone being a teamman?

What, then, were his achievements we do not talk about?

As captain, Dravid masterminded a record 17 chases in ODIs. He became the first Asian captain to win a Test series in West Indies in 35 years; the first captain to win a Test in both Pakistan and South Africa; and the first Indian captain in 21 years to win a series in England. He was also brilliant as captain of Rajasthan Royals in IPL. These aren’t widely spoken of.

No, Dravid wasn’t as good a batsman as Tendulkar. There is no debate around it. Statistics are a clear indicator. Tendulkar was a superior batsman. Dravid struggled against quality pace in Australia and South Africa, and his numbers dwindled against good spinners, especially in Sri Lanka. Having said so, Dravid was exceptional against swing bowling, perhaps the greatest in Indian history. Tendulkar, on the other hand, conquered injury to regain the No. 1 spot in his mid-30s, and finished with averages in excess of forty in all ten Test-playing nations.

Now to Dravid’s goodness…

What is goodness? Isn’t it subjective? What makes Dravid good but Virat Kohli not? Dravid is sober, articulate and humble. These are definitely admirable qualities. Kohli, on the other hand, can be brash and abrasive, attributes that typically do not go down well with us.

Gautam Gambhir epitomises the supposed brashness of Delhi. He is fiery, often angry and abusive too. Is he bad? He donates lot of money to nation’s causes. Now what’s the equation?

Most of us do not think highly about the loudmouths. But then, what does behaviour have to do with their greatness as cricketers? And even if it did, aren’t behaviour and character two entirely different things?

Had analysing human psychology been mathematical, one could have reached to a conclusion or two. But unfortunately…

Dravid was a convenient walker. Does that make Adam Gilchrist superior? But Gilchrist implied in his autobiography that Tendulkar lied during the Monkeygate.

Hansie Cronje would never do something against the spirit of the game. He once recalled Ganguly who was run out after accidentally bumping into his players. But despite his immaculate behaviour…

Dravid, in contrast with Cronje, had appealed for obstructing the field against an unsuspecting Inzamam-ul-Haq and got him dismissed. Does that make Cronje a better person than Dravid?

Dravid explains what the world terms as goodness. It’s Dravid being Dravid. Nothing bad but nothing selectively good but admirable

The latest hullaballoo is around Dravid, the coach, who guided Indian Under-19 to the World Cup title. Is it about the coach Dravid? He has performed the mentor’s role well with India A and U-19 sides but at the same time, having him around did not yield results for Delhi Daredevils in the IPL. His role as batting consultant on India’s 2014 tour of England was not too fruitful either.

As coach, these are probably his early days. And for the same reason, India Under-19s did not win the World Cup because Dravid wasn’t brash like Ravi Shastri or he asked his players to be good boys and follow it. They won because they played well under Dravid’s mentorship, just like the 2000, 2008 and 2012 batches had done under Roger Binny, Dav Whatmore and Bharat Arun respectively.

Humility has very little to do with performances. Planning, organising and honing of skills do. Unlike Ravi Shastri, Dravid won’t let the world know why Prithvi Shaw’s team is the greatest junior team ever to have walked on the surface of the earth.

At his level, he doesn’t need to. Dravid’s persona is different, and over-praising teenagers is probably not a good idea anyway. What matters are his concerns, intention, sharing of experience, focus on meticulous process, helping improve, backing and ability to instil responsibility in the players.

Breaking those aforementioned keywords:

Concerns: Dravid openly spoke about age forging in junior cricket and expressed genuine concerns about junior cricket. He urged BCCI to pen down strict guidelines to what a child does in academy: “I sometimes see nine-year-olds being made to bowl 22 yards which is terrible for them — in terms of the load on their bodies and the short cuts they take to get to the other end. The BCCI must publish a Minimum Standards guideline which academies must adhere to. If they fail, they must be pulled up,” Dravid famously told at the MAK Pataudi Memorial Lecture in 2015, shortly after taking up the role.

He also spoke at length about how parents create a cricket obsession: “Sometimes parents give up their jobs and careers to follow and track their kid’s progress at every step. Imagine the kind of pressure the child will feel, now that he thinks his family’s future is depended on his cricket to an extent? These kids grow up with cricket and only cricket. While they can climb up the ladder, there is every chance, with complete emotional investment in the game, the child may struggle handling the pressure at the top.”

Prithvi Shaw’s father Pankaj, a single parent, gave up his business to focus on his son’s career.

Dravid also lashed out at the system and cited that it pains him when he reads young bowlers being banned at Under-19 or Under-22 levels for suspect action. Blaming the system, Dravid asked: “What were the coaches doing until the boy got to that age — 17-18-19? Did his faulty action begin at the age of 10 years old because his coach had him bowl the full 22 yards? Then, as he grew up, did his next bunch of coaches just let it go because the boy kept getting wickets and winning tournaments?”

Here is an experienced former cricketer in Dravid, who understands the emotional turmoil and plights, and the importance of employing a meticulous process from grass-root level. He can make the youngsters believe that he can relate to them, the budding cricketers.

Dravid has time and again cleared his intention that wanted to contribute to the setup of moulding raw material into finished product and handing it to the senior level. Calls for Dravid being the coach of senior team is baseless because that would drive away the whole purpose in first place.

Dravid played 509 international matches, the eighth-most in history of the game. He has led India quite successfully. The experience he shared helps Prithvi and co. formulate strategies. Despite his own orthodox techniques, Dravid has made it clear that he does not interfere with playing styles. A Rishabh Pant is given the license to free flow where as a Kamlesh Nagarkoti is allowed to express with pace.

Situational experience in relatable ways does make a difference. Even at Under-19, you won’t teach them how to play; you mentor them on how to adapt.

Backing: Ishan Porel entered the tournament with a reputation. Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi shone from the first game but Porel got injured. Dravid did not send an injured Porel home. He backed the pacer and got the physiotherapist and trainer to work hard on him. The Bengal pacer was snubbed in the IPL auctions.

“I was a bit disappointed but Rahul-Sir told me IPL will keep coming but the World Cup is a lifetime experience. It really motivated me to give my best,” confessed Porel.

Once back, Porel got a four wickets against Pakistan in semi-final and two more against Australia in the final.

Players have often cited that how Dravid keeps an eye on them and keeps realising them about their strengths.

Last year, during the England series at home, Indian side were on the receiving end from verbal volleys of the visitors. Dravid permitted the players to go after the oppositions (yes, he did that), to “give them lip service without abuses.”

Dravid had made it clear that though he is happy with the team’s eagerness to win everything, he also mentioned that at this level, it is not about winning. It is more about the exposure, experience and getting to learn about oneself.

“I’ve always maintained that this level is not about results,” he said.

He does not want the players to hang around U-19 levels but graduate to First-Class cricket. In fact, he played a role in elevating Shaw to First-Class. A word with Dravid convinced Mumbai selector Milind Rege to pick Shaw in the semi-final of the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy. Shaw repaid the faith with a hundred on debut, and scored 5 First-Class hundreds in all in 2017.

That is the reason Dravid ensured that players did not appear in U-19 World Cups more than once. Improvement is the key.

Team wants to win but not at all cost.

On the sidelines of Hong Kong T20 Blitz, I met Alan Wilkins, who closely monitored India’s domination in the U-19 World Cup in New Zealand: “India were, by head and shoulders, the best team in New Zealand. The team was disciplined, well led and that has a lot to do with Dravid, who instilled in all of those players a sense of responsibility,” observed Wilkins, one of the most recognised sports voices.

You often have the skills but the tendency is to hold back and wait for instructions or play second fiddle. Owning up and being responsible is important and that’s not just restricted to cricket. This team has found individual match-winners.

Dravid deserves the credit, as does the entire support staff (especially bowling coach Paras Mhambrey) and BCCI (who often find themselves at the receiving end) for putting a system in place that helped prepare players who were much ahead of their contemporaries.