A cruel thing about the World Cup is that not every great cricketer gets to win it. AB de Villiers never did. Neither did Dale Steyn. Dennis Lillee, Ian Botham, Martin Crowe, Curtly Ambrose, Brian Lara, Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Jacques Kallis, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene all came close, but no cigar, not in the 50-overs one anyway. Of those left standing in the current competition, Kane Williamson, Trent Boult, Quinton de Kock, Rohit Sharma, all deserve to have one before they finish up. To these I would like to add a name: Rahul Dravid.
Yes, thanks, I know he’s not actually playing and so technically even if India win he won’t be et cetera. Don’t @ me his strike rate, either. Although in Dravid’s defence I’ll say that it is only two points lower than his frenemy and celebrated one-day player Sourav Ganguly’s. Indeed, in their triple-century stand in Taunton, 1999, it was Dravid with his grounded drives who got them flying before Ganguly began lofting sixes into the River Tone, as Viv Richards used to for Somerset.
One could also point to Dravid’s 10,000-plus runs in the format; him topping the tournament run-charts in the 1999 World Cup; his fine showing as batter-keeper in India’s run to the World Cup final in 2003; his 22-delivery fifty, just one ball off the Indian record.
But, no, the reason I’m rooting for Dravid is the train wreck that was the 2007 World Cup. He ran that burning, derailing rake. As someone reporting back then, I can confirm it was ghastly. The coach did not want half the team he got; half the team did not want the coach they got. In fairness to that half, bearing names like Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan, the coach plotting their ends with collaborators in the media was probably not a stratagem listed in Carnegie’s ‘How To Create A Harmonious Cricket Dressing Room and Gain Everlasting Loyalty’.
Greg Chappell’s last act as India coach was coming into to a hostile press conference while muttering into a lapel mic. It was, you see, a scene in his documentary “Guru Greg”. I mean!
Dravid, although aligned with Chappell, gave the impression of man caught in a crossfire he could not control and so decided to walk through it with a squint and a grimace, hoping for the best. India crashed out in ten days of a six-week tournament. The cricketers, wishing for absolution, or at least anonymity, were left consoling themselves with the phrase, “Nobody gives an eff in China”.
For Dravid, 16 years later, to helm from the backroom this splendid, effervescent World Cup campaign, to have him pop up on our screens during over breaks with a comic Mr Dependable shtick, feels… just lovely.
He didn’t just turn up for the big post, of course; this is Dravid. He coached India Under-19s (and famously declined a higher bonus than the rest of support staff when they won a World Cup). He coached India A. He directed the National Cricket Academy. There he was key in designing systems that distilled, with due rigour, the vast pool of talent across the country into 50 who would be paid special attention.
His philosophies were geared towards making players rather than victories. “I tell them upfront, if you come on an A tour with me, you will not leave here without playing a game,” he told Sidharth Monga in The Cricket Monthly a few years ago. “I’ve had that personal experience myself as a kid: going on an A tour and not getting an opportunity to play is terrible.”
The considerate nurturing could be accompanied by – and this came as a surprise when I heard – salty language when necessary.
Most of the young players in this team have passed through Dravid’s hands at some stage – Mohammad Siraj, Ishan Kishan, Shubman Gill, Kuldeep Yadav, Shreyas Iyer. One imagines there is trust, mentorship, in these relationships, not to mention expertise. At the nets Dravid is a quiet presence, not a legend looking to impose himself. He attends to the details, as ever. Team practice or not, in each city he goes around to the ground as soon as possible for a pitch inspection. That gives him the chance to think about combinations, strategy.
This team exudes fun and joy. It is a function of nine wins on the bounce, no doubt. But here too, one senses a touch of Dravid – not the intense captain Dravid, but the creative coach. Consider this story Ishan Porel had told ESPNcricinfo, about the day before the Under-19 World Cup final in New Zealand.
“Just as we entered the meeting, we saw the Australians milling around the lobby. And as our meeting started, they started making so much noise that we couldn’t hear ourselves. Rahul Dravid sir then told all of us, ‘guys, for the next five minutes, we’re all going to laugh the loudest we can’. And then suddenly our laughter boomed out of the meeting room. And as we started laughing, there was stunned silence from outside.”
It is a sophisticated, humorous brand of gamesmanship that psyches out opponents by turning athletic teenagers into laughing-yoga super-seniors.
India, apne ke gaadi ke liye, I’d say, have a very good engine oil, a World Cup-deserving one even.