Ajinkya Rahane (left) has definitely taken a leaf out of Rahul Dravid’s book of adaptability © PTI
By R Vishal
As budding young cricketers in the nineties, spoilt for choice, submerged themselves in the mass hysteria that surrounded the Indian batting legends — Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, the local grounds were filled with youngsters visualizing a stance, poise and technique akin to the former Indian openers.
Rahul Dravid would often be dismissed as the ‘boring one’—for not being able to replicate the flair and dominance that symbolized Tendulkar and Ganguly’s immortal careers. In school cricket, however, Dravid was a cricket coach’s delight and aspiring strokemakers were asked to religiously follow The Wall’s videos to observe his balance, head position, footwork, temperament and knowing when to leave and above all, his attitude.
In the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2013, the budget team of the mega-event made the headlines for all the wrong reasons with S Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila being found guilty of spot fixing allegations.
The shameful episode prompted certain quarters to even question Dravid’s control over dressing room matters but the former Indian skipper brushed it off like he did to an overpitched delivery in his halcyon days and got down to cricketing matters, trying to galvanise a modest Rajasthan Royals team.
Dravid led the team admirably to the semi-finals before they bowed out to the eventual winners, Mumbai Indians but the tournament brought to the light an 18 year-old wicketkeeper’s exploits that belied his age. The rookie Kerala wicketkeeper-batsman, Sanju Samson showed remarkable application and maturity, under the captainship of Dravid. Samson has since gone on to do bigger things with India’s under-19 team and for Rajasthan Royals in the Champions League T20 as well. The youngster has widely credited Dravid and has man-management skills for his meteoric rise that earned him a place in the 30-man probables list for ICC World T20 2014 and Dravid has been Samson’s go-to man for all reasons since.
Another Indian success story came in the form of Ajinkya Rahane, who earned his first Test cap in India’s tour of South Africa in 2013-14 after warming the seats of the dressing room for two years.
Like Dravid, who found his groove away from more often than not against the very best, Rahane too, was not daunted by the hostile conditions and bowling attack that he was up against and passed the test with flying colours, even missing out on his maiden century in the 2nd Test in Durban by just four runs.
It has not been two years since his retirement but Dravid’s abilities to instill confidence and fine tune the technical abilities of players is not something too many former cricketers can boast of.
Like his Rajasthan team-mate Samson, Rahane too swears by the therapeutic effects that Dravid has had on his career and has been in sublime form since IPL 2013, despite being shuffled around in the batting order—epitomizing a word that the Indian great would often emphasize when asked how he multi-tasked like no other cricketer; adaptability.
In 1991, an 18 year-old batsman was looking to cement his place in the Karnataka set-up and veteran Indian all-rounder Roger Binny, who was in the final leg over of his cricketing days might have had words of advice to the gawky teenager. In a classic case of role-reversal, it was Dravid, in his last years of cricket overseeing Roger’s son Stuart’s all-round abilities. Stuart Binny has risen steadily to establish himself as a vital cog of the Royals’ and the newly crowned Ranji Trophy champions Karnataka’s set-up and recently earned his first ODI cap in the one-dayers against New Zealand.
The mental steel and the sound backfoot-defence that brought the connoisseurs to their feet were not just confined to the impressionable Indian fledglings who basked in Dravid’s aura. Australia’s go-to man these days, James Faulkner was an unheard name in the cricketing world in the summer of 2013.The Tasmanian had India’s former No 3’s full backing through the IPL with little experience behind his belt, but performed admirably for his captain, rising to the occasion with disciplined left arm pace.
However it is Faulkner’s batting that has made the world stand up and take notice of him with his astounding attack on Ishant Sharma in Mohali and a brilliant century in Bangalore albeit in a losing cause in the One Day Internationals (ODIs) against India in late 2013. His finishing abilities came to the forefront yet again after guiding Australia to an improbable win against England recently. The Aussie all-rounder had lavish praise on Dravid’s motto of keeping things simple and from the looks of it, it seems to have rubbed off on him and now Australia has great hopes from Faulkner for their future.
Sri Lanka too might have stumbled on a goldmine in Kusal Perera. In the CLT20 final against Mumbai, Dravid, sacrificing his own position up the order sent Perera to open, chasing a huge total. The Sri Lankan opener ran himself out after a couple of glorious shots. Since then, Perera has been given the vote of confidence from the Sri Lankan team management and has since gone from strength to strength in the one-day circuit with a style that is uncannily similar to his role model, Sanath Jayasuriya.
Karnataka recently won back the Ranji Trophy after a gap of 15 years and leading the charge was 21-year-old wicketkeeper batsman Lokesh Rahul. Dravid has been a father figure to the prolific Karnataka youngster and has regular conversations with his younger namesake. The humility and willingness to iron his technique is already visible, despite a stellar start to domestic cricket.
It has not been two years since his retirement but Dravid’s abilities to instill confidence and fine tune the technical abilities of players is not something too many former cricketers can boast of. Unofficially, many other cricketers would have also benefitted with the Dravid-effect but that is a thought best left to imagination.
Dravid is regularly called to coaching camps and clinics for pointers on different aspects of batting and given the selflessness and magnanimity of the man, and he willingly imparts knowledge and still remains oblivious to his iconic stature in India and world cricket history and his massive legion of fans.
Will team India toy with the Idea of having Dravid as the coach in the near future? Surely a mouth watering prospect but it has not been talked about in length and the Padma Bhushan awardee has also not been receptive with the idea for now atleast.
Dravid can now stake a major claim in the rise of many of the young Indians under his tutelage or even otherwise but one can bet he would walk away from the spotlight and let his ‘pupils’ do the talking for him, just like he did with his bat in his playing days—after all, that is one is of the true hallmarks of the Dravid-effect.
(R Vishal is a journalist and an alumni of the Asian College of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)