The silent fulcrum around which Indian cricket is set to pivot

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Rahul Dravid brings valuable qualities to the coach’s job — rigour, adaptability, an eye for the big picture, an appetite for the small details, and a complete lack of bombast. He will need them, for the challenge he faces is stiff — add to the country’s trophy cabinet while navigating a transition

In a world steeped in the meagre words of Twitter and WhatsApp status updates offering quick peeks into frenetic lives, Rahul Dravid is an anachronism. Not for him this rush to compress everything at the speed of light, he would rather marinate his thoughts. During his playing days, he tended to pause ahead of Tests, having slow lunches and just getting into the rhythms of the five-day format.

Even before magazines wrote about the slow-life, Dravid did that, living the moment and refusing to become a part of rush-hour modernity. He was his own man but equally remained a vital cog in a team-sport like cricket. Performance under relentless pressure and the measured word off the field defined him ever since he made the stiff upper lip at Lord’s quiver after walking in the 90s during his debut Test in 1996.

And now, as he eases into the role of being the senior Indian men’s team coach, he will bring those traits that defined him — rigour, discipline, team-values and the ability to also recognise that in the end this is just a sport. Dravid in the coach’s seat seemed pre-ordained ever since he moved away from the commentators’ box and chose mentorship, be it in the Indian Premier League or his eventual guiding role at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru.

Just like the hard yards he did in domestic cricket and in the TNCA leagues at Chennai (Madras then) before gaining his national cap, Dravid preferred the measured approach towards this eventual position of heading the Indian squad’s think-tank. Having retired from international cricket in 2012 as one of the finest batters to have ever graced the willow-game, he picked a few commentary stints, enjoyed dropping his two sons to school, toyed with the idea of a biography in tandem with a veteran sports writer and then plunged into the joys and heart-breaks of becoming a coach.

He knows the NCA and the larger campus — the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium — like the back of his hand. Once he turned up at dawn, gazed at the academy’s closed inner-gates and looked at the pictures of the cricketing greats adorning the walls, and when the apologetic staff opened the gym, Dravid, with no fuss, went for his workout. He would rather focus on his fitness while stretching his playing days into the late 30s.

Dravid’s phenomenal achievements drew in limelight, but off the pitch, he preferred the shadows. Once at a Bangalore University event honouring his mother Pushpa Dravid, a renowned painter, the son turned up. But when he realised that the media was training the cameras on him rather than on his mom, he did an Usain Bolt and sprinted to his car.

Now that he is the coach, the above-mentioned personality traits of getting the job done without seeking attention would obviously be infused into the dressing room. Dravid succeeds Ravi Shastri, who had remarkable success even if significant ICC silverware was missed. Shastri has an astute brain but was prone to hyperbole as he sought to wind up his team and boost morale. However, his successor would rather have a quiet word inside the change-rooms and perhaps issue a platitude to the press, preferring action on the turf to state some truths rather than strain his vocal chords.

Decades ago, when he carved his own path away from the shadows cast by luminous team-mates such as Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman and Virender Sehwag, this correspondent sought him out for an interview. The reply was quick: “Hey da, why not a piece on Viji [Vijay Bharadwaj], he is doing extremely well in the domestic circuit, he needs that extra push.” That famous ‘Dravid reticence’ was evident, but equally it also revealed his quintessential team-man spirit, seeking the spotlight for a fellow Karnataka star.

Being grounded is perhaps an attribute that hangs in the air around Chinnaswamy Stadium even if the grid-locked traffic on MG Road may throw up the odd expletive. As a lad, Dravid hitched a ride with Roger Binny to the stadium, and once he became a legend, he passed on the legacy traits to the subsequent generations. There is a wall erected in his honour at his home-ground, mimicking a nickname that became his second identity. Dravid never liked being referred to as ‘The Wall’; to his friends, he was always Rahul or Jammy, because his father, the late Sharad Dravid, had worked with Kissan Jam.

Among his Karnataka peers, there was enormous respect but home-truths were always delivered. Once after a training stint at the NCA, Dravid walked past a domestic match and got into his car and headed to his Indira Nagar home. Javagal Srinath immediately called his buddy and gently admonished him for not meeting his State-mates after the game. And in those minutes, another legacy-lesson was dispensed. These are vital clues that shaped Dravid’s persona and would come in handy when he deals with youngsters like a Prithvi Shaw or a Ruturaj Gaikwad.

Dravid steps into a dressing room that is used to the fragrance of triumphs but equally unnerved by the timidity in ICC events. Be it with Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma, the twin-skippers that India has, Dravid has a rapport, as he has played with the two during the tail end of his career. Over the next two years, while he keeps an unflinching eye on India's performance across formats, he would be aware that a chunk of his key players — Kohli, Rohit, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and R. Ashwin — are in their 30s and transition is a reality.

Equally it would also be about youngsters grabbing their chances. In his prime, Dravid was willing to don wicketkeeping gloves or open the innings. Adaptability for the team’s cause, allied with dignity, might be an enduring lesson he would love to bequeath to his wards. The former India captain has his hands full, but, in his understated way, he would prefer to be a silent fulcrum.

Big-ticket fixtures in the Dravid era

The challenges across formats come thick and fast. Dravid and the think-tank will also have to deal with workload issues, given the IPL and India’s packed bilateral schedule, which includes the 2021-23 cycle of the World Test Championship.

Three-Test series in South Africa, Dec 2021-Jan 2022

India hasn’t won a Test series in South Africa. Dravid, however, was captain when India won its maiden Test in South Africa (2006) and was a part of the side that earned the first series draw (1-1) there (2010-11).

Fifth Test in England, July 2022 (continuation of 2021 series)

India, which leads 2-1, will be looking to claim its first series in England since 2007, when Dravid’s side prevailed 1-0 in a three-Test engagement.

ICC T20 World Cup in Australia, Oct-Nov 2022

India hasn’t won the tournament since M.S. Dhoni’s side triumphed in the inaugural edition in 2007. The side also hasn’t clinched an ICC title since Dhoni’s men lifted the Champions Trophy in 2013.

Border-Gavaskar Trophy in India, 2022-23

India, which has won the three previous series (once at home and twice in Australia), will be keen to extend its proud record in one of world cricket’s most prestigious fixtures.

ICC 50-over World Cup in India, 2023

Dhoni’s iconic finishing hit in 2011 remains the country’s most recent joyous memory of the event, something the team will want to address when the tournament returns to India.

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