Rahul Dravid is the man Indian cricket is looking at today. Never has a coach of the junior India team received so much attention as he is getting after India won the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand.
A victorious team will have a lot to talk about its success just as a losing team has in trotting out excuses. That’s the difference between the Dravid-inspired India juniors and the senior team now in South Africa.
Dravid can give the Indian cricket board and the senior team a lot of inputs to prepare for the tours of England and Australia later this year and his template can do a world of good for the Kohli-Shastri combine as well as the national selectors.
Dravid’s is not the first India team to win the junior World Cup, three other teams, including one captained by Virat Kohli, had done it before. The record fourth triumph at Tauranga was a kind of tie-breaker as Australia had also won the cup thrice before the two teams met in the final.
The Indian cricket board, through its Cricket Advisory Committee comprising Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly and Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman, was willing to meet all the demands of Dravid for taking over as the national coach. He was the first choice, not Anil Kumble.
Dravid rejected the offer. Instead, he chose to mentor India A and Under-19 teams, and that on his own terms. Many were surprised at his decision, but he had a clear idea what exactly he wanted to do, he was looking to do something truly constructive. Also, perhaps, he did not want to coach a team which had players with whom he had shared the India dressing room.
Dravid’s hunch was proved correct, looking at the way his friend and teammate Anil Kumble was appointed and “sacked” to bring back his predecessor Ravi Shastri with the captain and a couple of senior players playing a part in the swapping. Only a couple of India captains had not only their say but also their way.
Dravid may not have had the kind of free hand he has as national junior coach if he had been manning the seniors. He insisted on a longish camp before the boys left and landed in New Zealand two weeks before the event started.
Even the usually tight-fisted board did not have the courage to question him. The whole exercise cost quite a bit and at the end of it all it was money well spent.
Quite in contrast, the senior team did not think or fight for such an elaborate plan before they embarked on their tour to South Africa. They hardly had the time for acclimatisation or could study the pitches before going into the first Test and the result is there for all to see, more so the way they lost the series straight, before fighting back to win the third and last Test, leaving them to rue their poor planning.
Dravid is not looking after only the juniors, he, in fact, keeps an eye on the requirements of the senior side. He quietly puts in a word to chief selector Mannava Sri Kanth Prasad on the juniors ready to join senior ranks, or at least a shot at.
The chief selector publicly acknowledged the timely advice of Dravid in the selection of the two wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yazuvendra Chahal, and top-order batsman Shreyas Iyer on the strength of their showing for India A.
Dravid is not easily forthcoming, yet he doesn’t avoid any question. Of all India captains in the last couple of decades, he is one who took pains to answer every question without getting irritated or putting the questioner down.
He would be the first one to accept the team’s faults and also his own. He gave up captaincy and did what he knew best, batting for the remainder of his career.
He is clear in his mind what the young cricketers require, himself having come through the rungs, and he did everything for his wards to blossom into good cricketers. His Under-19 World Cup team returned unbeaten and that also shows how disciplined the boys were, not taking any team or the victory for granted. He prepared the talented team and all he needed to do was to deal with the pressure of expectations with each passing game.
At the end of it all, Dravid also told the youngsters that their junior days are over and that they should be thrown into the deep end of the water. They have the talent to come through, though it is not easy to force their way into the India side. The next best thing, he told them, is to be in the reckoning as good first-class cricketers.
It is up to the young men to decide, whether they want to be successful India cricketers or happy to be the Indian Premier League (IPL) stalwarts.