Rahul Dravid the mastermind behind Indian team’s culture shift

Rahul Dravid addressing a press-conference
Rahul Dravid addressing a press-conference (Source: X)

Sachin Tendulkar was startled. The press box in Multan was stunned. Rahul Dravid had called time on India’s innings, with Tendulkar batting on 194.

In his autobiography, Playing It My Way, Tendulkar wrote about the incident in detail. In milestone-obsessed Indian cricket, it was almost a sin, denying the game’s biggest superstar the chance to score a double century. But Dravid, who was the stand-in captain in that Test against Pakistan, stood his ground. The match had to be won and he put the team above individuals. Two decades later, as Dravid is saying fare-thee-well as India coach, the entire team is talking about how it has moved on from falling for personal milestones.

The T20 World Cup final between India and South Africa on Saturday would be Dravid’s last as India coach. And he is walking into a golden sunset as someone who, along with Rohit Sharma, has changed the team culture. This is his biggest contribution, more than the numbers, which in any case are very impressive.

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Rahul Dravid, Team India coach
Rahul Dravid, Team India coach (PC: X)

Early into his job as India coach, Dravid had made it clear that his philosophy would be different. He put emphasis on building a culture that embraced a more holistic approach. Apart from helping the cricketers become better players, he encouraged them to be well-rounded individuals as well. His stature as a cricketer helped him earn respect. His behaviour as a coach made him popular in the dressing room. He showed empathy.

“Famously Rahul bhai in the change room nowadays says exactly the same to us,” Kohli told the host broadcaster after an IPL fixture this year. “When you play, you play your heart out because you are going to miss these times when you are with your friends in the change room playing in front of fans.”

Rohit urged him to reconsider his decision after Dravid decided not to re-apply for the coach’s job this time. “I tried convincing him to stay, but obviously there are a lot of things that he needs to look after as well,” the India captain told reporters ahead of his team’s T20 World Cup opener against Ireland. “I personally enjoyed my time with him. I’m sure the rest of the guys will say the same. It’s been great working with him.”

A few years ago, when he was the coach of the India U-19 and India A teams, this correspondent had asked Dravid about the pathway to player development in India. “(In domestic cricket) focus should be more on producing players who can go on and play for India rather than winning the Ranji Trophy,” he had said. “There’s no point preparing dust-bowls in domestic cricket, where spinners are bowling darts and taking truckloads of wickets.” His observation offered a different perspective that called for looking at the bigger picture. His vision, as he coached the Indian team, was the same — focus on the larger goal.

Jay Shah and Rahul Dravid
Jay Shah and Rahul Dravid (Image: BCCI)

Under Dravid, India played a World Test Championship final, a World Cup (50-over format) final and qualified for the 2022 T20 World Cup semi-final, although the hiding in Adelaide — it was eventually avenged in Providence — would remain a blot. But that was also a blessing in disguise, as it prompted the team management to bin an outdated method and usher in a new approach in white-ball cricket that would thrive on playing selfless cricket. Over the last two-and-a-half years, India became consistent across formats. The ultimate success, though, has remained elusive.

And this is India’s biggest chance to end their decade-long ICC trophy drought by beating South Africa in the final. From a personal point of view, title triumph at this T20 World Cup would be atonement for Dravid. As India captain, he had to endure the low of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean. This time, back to the West Indies as India coach for a world event, he has the chance to sign off on a real high.

Is Dravid thinking that way? Unlikely. “Fondest memories will be the connections I have built,” he said, as the BCCI released a promo video ahead of his final game. The great man is talking about things that are more cherished than mere wins and losses.

Also Read: India or South Africa, who will end the trophy drought?