Rahul Dravid, born January 11, 1973, turns 40 today. Arunabha Sengupta writes that even though the maestro has walked away from the international arena, he can play a sterling role during this transitional phase of the Indian side.
For a decade and a half, Rahul Dravid had shepherded the Indian top order, establishing sanity in the face of crisis and turmoil.
Now, as he celebrates his 40th birthday, he may have moved away from his timeless presence at the batting crease and in the first slip; but given the current condition of Indian cricket, there are many ways in which his serene sagacity and cricketing common sense can be of immense use.
If we look at the present scenario with detachment, stripping the plethora of loud voices that ring out of the associated frustration, agenda, emotions and – in some cases – retribution, Rahul Dravid indeed emerges as someone who can play a pivotal role in transforming the fortunes of Indian cricket.
No, not as a miracle man. With Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Dravid himself and Anil Kumble in their primes, miracles had been daily affairs and easy to perform. Times have changed. Dravid is one man who understands that the team is going through a transition and expectations need to be rationalised based on the availability of talent and experience in the playing eleven.
Dravid himself can be an excellent candidate to facilitate this transition.
Voice of reason
Dravid does his job as a commentator and analyst with a difference. While he has his views about tactics and decisions, he is the first – and may be the only one – to admit that the suggested ploys could go wrong as easily and it is always easy to criticise in retrospect. Perhaps the green fields he has walked on, for so long and with such dignity, have left a lasting honest stain on his boots. Or perhaps his playing days are too recent for him to wallow in a manufactured ideal past. But, he has kept his feet firmly on the ground, and the antiseptic air-conditioned environment of the commentary box has been unable to delude him into becoming a divine voice that can utter no wrong.
Amidst the turbulent calls for chopping and changing, the bloodthirsty demand for important heads to roll, Dravid’s voice has rung out balanced and sensible, following the same glorious way his bat had done the talking over the years.
While from all possible nooks and crannies of Indian cricket voices have clamoured for the head of MS Dhoni, Dravid has backed the skipper firmly.
There have been arguments for Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir getting the top job, important voices have claimed that Dhoni does not merit a place in the Test side. If these suggestions had been put under a rational microscope, eggs would have landed conspicuously on the faces of these backseat drivers.
Not only have Sehwag and Gambhir struggled to justify their respective places in the side, Dhoni, a wicket-keeper batsman, has had a better run with the bat in Test cricket in the recent past than the two openers. And the day an ex-selector came out all guns blazing, proclaiming that Dhoni did not have the technique to play Test cricket, the Indian captain batted through a full day in Nagpur on a difficult wicket. However, riding on the waves of fanatical emotions, the unreasonable voices have transcended logic and enjoyed heady popularity.
Dravid, however, has a much more realistic view of the situation. He understands that Sehwag and Gambhir have not performed for a long time, and cannot take up the reins in these circumstances. He is aware of the figures – a trait curiously uncommon in an Indian ex-player turned critic.
He is also pragmatic about Virat Kohli, and rightly says: “I believe it’s a little early for him. At the moment, he is a growing, developing cricketer. I would love for him to get the job after India has played another 15 or so Tests, which means after the England tour, in September 2014. If he can keep his form and develop till then, it will be a good time for him to take over. He is a long-term prospect as batsman and captain, but giving him the Test captaincy at this stage might be risky.”
In Dravid’s vision – pleasantly long term – the next 15 Test matches, consisting of the home series against Australia, the tour to South Africa, New Zealand and the English summer of 2014, are crucial for India, and this period can see the transition coming along. And he believes that Dhoni can lead this transition fully, before leaving the reins in the hands of an able successor.
He speaks highly about Dhoni’s ability to lead from the front. “We saw this in the Nagpur Test match – and not merely from his 99. Because the wicket was slow, Dhoni came up to the stumps to Ishant Sharma, who was bowling at 140kph. To do that was gutsy, because it had ‘break your finger’ written all over it. Dhoni was willing to take that chance, and to me, in some ways, that shows leadership.”
While these views, aired across the media by someone of Dravid’s stature, do work wonders to apply a layer of reason on the tumultuous thought-space of Indian cricket, perhaps his contribution to the transition can be more direct.
Dravid as coach?
With the faith that he has demonstrated in the Indian captain, he can be the ideal candidate for the role of the coach, or at least a close advisor in any designated role that can be created to involve him with the team.
“It will require from Dhoni a change in the way he captains, a recognition that he can’t do everything all the time, and the willingness to ask for and accept help,”Dravid has gone on record voicing. By a logical extension, Dravid himself can be the one to advance the required help as and when required.
For the captain too it is easier to work with the supportive Dravid than some others who have hacked away at his credentials with a relentless sense of purpose.
Tactically, Dravid was the most brilliant skipper India ever had since Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. He has played alongside Dhoni for a long, long time. The two have been the only captains since the eighties to have won major Test series outside the subcontinent. Collaboration between the two can result in the perfect captain-coach combination to turn around India’s fortunes.
If we look through the annals of cricket history, the side that comes closest to the sudden depletion India is currently experiencing is perhaps Australia of the 1980s, when Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh left the scene together. It took a while, but Allan Border did turn things around. In the first four years, he won three Tests while losing nine. But, he managed to win the World Cup, and then convert the Australians into a world beating unit in Test cricket before passing his baton into the deserving hands of Mark Taylor. Close at hand, he had the wisdom of the canny Bobby Simpson to fall back on.
Dhoni’s case is slightly different. He had taken India to the pinnacle in both Test and One-Day cricket, he has already won a World Cup apiece in both the short formats of the game. The transition has affected the side in the very middle of his tenure. However, with Dravid playing a crucial role, the two can combine into a Border-Simpson like combination to guide India into becoming a winning force yet again.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix