Sticking to the process and shelving egos was Dravid’s biggest achievement

Virat Kohli, Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma after ICC T20 WC 2024 Triumph
Virat Kohli, Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma after ICC T20 WC 2024 Triumph (PC: ICC)

We were in the commentary box in Dubai in November 2021 when news came in that Rahul Dravid had been formally appointed head coach of the Indian cricket team. Sir Clive Lloyd, one of the greatest captains the sport has seen, was on the microphone with me at the time. Soon after I had finished reading out Dravid’s quote, Sir Clive burst out in excitement, “Rahul Dravid will be a very successful head coach for India. Someone who has scored 13,000 Test runs will have the respect in the dressing room to tell anyone where they are going wrong. His personality is such that he will not want the limelight and yet get the job done. Wish the West Indies had someone like him to help the national team.”

There were huge expectations of Dravid from all around the cricket world. From suggesting that “India appoints the wall to rebuild” to making the point that the Dravid era would be more process-driven, there was a lot of talk on what Rahul brought to the table. And yet, till last Sunday, there were serious question marks over his tenure. There was no trophy except the Asia Cup win, and a World Cup runner-up position wasn’t considered a marker of success.

Sunday changed it all. It has made Dravid one of the most successful coaches with a world trophy next to his name, and all of a sudden, the Dravid era is a benchmark. Knowing Rahul, however, he will remain unfazed. While his celebrations were proof what the trophy meant to him, he will make sure it isn’t about him. Rather, it is about Rohit Sharma and the team and the process he has forever harped on.

Why are the players so deeply appreciative of Dravid? Why was Rohit insistent that Dravid stay on for this tournament?

While there are no easy answers to any of these questions, a deep dive into Rahul’s philosophy does leave us with some pointers. “When you play team sport, you need to do the not-so-glamourous things to be able to make a difference,” Rahul had said to me some time ago when I had asked him how he looked back at his stint as wicketkeeper for India.  “You are the one responsible for the environment around you and it is important you do the things that not many will want to do. That’s why it’s a team.”

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Team India players lifting Rahul Dravid after the victory
Team India players lifting Rahul Dravid after the victory (PC: ICC)

While he was outlining his philosophy, not once did I sense any regret. Not many would have wanted to keep wickets at the time, but for Rahul, it was a job that had to be done from the standpoint of the team. And he did so with no questions asked.

“I can tell you I was the most grumpy at the end of a day’s play if I had dropped a catch, which I believed I could have been taken,” he said. “Much more than getting out for zero, dropping a catch made me really upset and grumpy. Getting out early was more a personal disappointment. Yes, the runs were for the team and all, but still it was more personal than anything else. But dropping a catch meant I was not able to do something for a teammate and that upset me more. A catch allows you to enjoy as a team, and be happy at someone else’s success and, may I say, that’s what team sport is all about.”

From the above words, two things are clear. First, Dravid tried his best to ensure that individual egos and fancies didn’t take precedence in the dressing room. Second, he pushed the boys to do things that may not have got them the headlines the following morning, but could result in India winning the match.

Under Ravi Shastri, Indian cricket reached great heights by winning a Test series against Australia in Australia in 2018, and again in 2021. To beat Australia twice in their backyard was a huge achievement, and that was the role that Dravid stepped into. India also led the Test series against England 2-1 when Covid stopped play. But when it came to ICC championships, India fell short under Shastri. Semi-finals, finals and yet no trophy.

During his playing career, the closest Dravid came to winning a World Cup was in South Africa in 2003 when India lost to Australia in the final. While he won a world title with the U-19 team, winning it at the senior level is very different. Now, Dravid has steered the team to a world title and that’s what will define his legacy as coach. The Indiranagar ka Gunda has helped India win a major competition for the first time since 2013. To do so, Dravid had to ensure there were no cracks in the wall, even in a big final. Well done, Rahul. Enjoy being unemployed, as you said jokingly!

Also Read: A Dravid legacy that Indian cricket will benefit from for a long time