Dravid’s last bow; opportunity to shed nearly-man tag

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

Between March 2001, when he scored 180 against Australia at Eden Gardens in India’s greatest-ever Test win, and 2006, Rahul Dravid was the best batsman in the Indian team. He was even better than Sachin Tendulkar during that phase. The dressing room tipped its collective hat to the great batsman, who was an inspiration even to Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. But the personality-obsessed Indian fandom saw him as an accumulator. Sometimes, the fans even cheered loudly, when he got out. They celebrated Tendulkar’s arrival in the middle.

Dravid is an educated, intelligent and well-rounded person. He has the ability to put things in perspective. Never did he complain about being second fiddle to Tendulkar in the Indian team. Rather, he saw the funny side of it. He would jokingly say: “The whole of India becomes ecstatic at the fall of my wicket, for they know, Sachin is coming next.”

Maybe, it was Dravid’s destiny to play second fiddle as a cricketer. Even after dishing out a superlative performance, he would see someone else steal the limelight. VVS Laxman did it via his magnum opus, 281, in that Eden Test. Ganguly did it, scoring a sparkling century, as both he and Dravid made their Test debuts at Lord’s in 1996. The Dravid’s brilliantly composed 95 didn’t account for as many column inches. And these are just a few examples.

In terms of winning silverware as a player also, Dravid was destined to be one of the game’s nearly men. Sunil Gavaskar won the World Cup in 1983 followed by the World Championship of Cricket two years later. Tendulkar eventually went on to win the World Cup in 2011. Dravid won Test series in England, Pakistan and the West Indies. He played a pivotal role in India drawing a Test series in Australia. But a winner’s medal at a global event remained elusive.

In 2000, India were done in by a Chris Cairns masterclass – 102 not out off 113 balls – in the ICC Champions Trophy (ICC KnockOut back then) final in Nairobi. Three years later, they were hammered by Australia in the World Cup final at Johannesburg. Dravid was part of the team on both occasions and missed out on winning the Cup.

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Dravid stepped into the role of head coach in November 2021. (Source: BCCI/X)

His trophy luck barely changed after he became the India coach. In 2021, when the final Test of a five-match series in England had to be postponed due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the Indian camp, the tourists were leading the series 2-1. A year later, India returned to Old Blighty to play the fifth Test. By then, Dravid had taken over as coach from Ravi Shastri. India looked set to win the game at Edgbaston after taking a 132-run first innings lead. But they couldn’t defend 378 in the fourth innings and lost the match. The series ended 2-2.

The defeat in the World Test Championship final last year was down to IPL fatigue and unpreparedness. To make matters worse, a wrong playing XI was picked, as Ravichandran Ashwin was made to cool his heels. The loss in the World Cup final against Australia in Ahmedabad was heartbreaking. As the Aussies kept a 4-5 field without a mid-off and choked India in the middle overs, Dravid and the other members of the Indian think-tank didn’t have a Plan B.

Dravid is revered in the Indian dressing room. Even during the IPL, Virat Kohli spoke about him and how he tries to follow Dravid’s philosophy. “Famously, Rahul bhai in the change room nowadays says exactly the same to us,” Kohli had said. “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.”

As Dravid steps down as India coach after the T20 World Cup, he will have best wishes from all the cricketers. At the same time, this is his last opportunity to shed the nearly-man tag. Whatever happens, the great man will display equanimity.

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