In Adelaide, on Dravid land

Nov 09, 2022 10:13 PM IST

2003 was unforgettable but can Rahul Dravid the coach script another epic for a different generation?

We will talk about Dravid’s Test. And then about Rahul Dravid’s test, two separate chapters of his life tied by the promising presence of the Adelaide Oval. One is etched in history, a trailblazing win the Australians never saw coming. The other is a classic in the making, gladiators pitted against gladiators in a format invented by one country and perfected by another. And you know destiny has played a brilliant hand when the man who carved India’s finest overseas victory returns to the same turf to oversee India’s bid to reach a T20 World Cup final for the first time since 2014.

India's cricket coach Rahul Dravid gestures(AFP) PREMIUM
India's cricket coach Rahul Dravid gestures(AFP)

The Dravid of 2003 was quietly resolute and a performer among stars who was grounded and boringly conventional. This, bear in mind, was two years after the miracle at Eden that should have already propelled him to the pantheon of greats. Not quite though, perhaps because 180 didn’t match up to 281 in numerical value as it did in grit. But Adelaide left no doubt about his greatness. Scores of 233 and an unbeaten 72 dismantled Aussie pride with exemplary courage and grace that only Dravid could have forged. That same courage and grace surfaced in myriad forms in the years to come—as India captain, IPL icon and coach before he moved on to coaching India at different levels.

With the World Cup-winning under-19 team, Dravid was a mentor and a coach, regaling the boys with stories and telling them that cricket isn’t life but just a part of it. With the IPL Delhi franchise, Dravid picked his drafts from the 2016 U-19 batch and gave them the freedom to play as they want. One of them is Rishabh Pant, who poleaxed the Australians at the Gabba in one of the most stirring Test victories ever for India last year.

As coach, Dravid keeps harping on the importance of process, of understanding the nuances of cricket and slowly adapting. Time is an important ingredient of success in his philosophy. Which is also ironic because time is what Dravid didn’t get when an India team in upheaval was handed to him in the aftermath of a harrowing T20 World Cup exit. Since then, the firefighting has been extensive and on multiple fronts. The captain had changed, a new approach had been ushered in, along with a long list of probables for this World Cup.

Dravid was bent on giving everyone a chance. And that meant constant chopping and changing that had to be synced with the need to find a core for this T20 World Cup. Players got injured, some had to be rested, some had to be rotated, hundreds of reports were glossed over and strategy had to be changed every time a big name had to be ruled out. You would think Dravid has done a fairly commendable job so far, reaching the semi-final without Jasprit Bumrah and Ravindra Jadeja.

That it has been a nervous but enlightening journey for Dravid is understandable the moment he is asked about the Pakistan match before the Bangladesh game. “A bit tense is an understatement,” he chuckled, before setting off on his chain of thoughts. Runs, balls left, possible scoring areas, who Pakistan could bowl next, Dravid rattled off everything till the moment he thought, “Well, I'm in this. Then you get a bit more tense.” You know he is being brutally honest here.

Part of his job is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. But then you also see Dravid slowly catching up with the worldly ways when he talks about the ‘outside noise’ and taking a dig at the media for looking for the next story. At the heart of it could be the nervous energy stemming from several months of audition and analysis that has given Dravid a squad quite different from what he may have envisioned. “If you were to ask me in November when I first took over and I had a list of bowlers in my mind, sure, Arshdeep was there, but he certainly hadn't had that kind of IPL,” Dravid said during the group phase. It was evident Dravid’s process involved a lot of risk, entrusting newer players with bigger duties, but he has gone with his guts. Or that is how it’s supposed to work. And strictly going by the results, India have at least bettered their 2021 record by reaching the semi-finals.

But now comes the trickiest pit stop—the semi-final—at Adelaide, where the Riverbank Stand towers gloriously over a ground steeped in history and Bradman. Only this time, Dravid isn’t sauntering down the track after piercing the gaps. This time he is examining within an inch the pitch that had once bestowed him with greatness. This was India’s promised land 20 years ago. Can Dravid script another epic, this time for a different generation?

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    Somshuvra Laha is a sports journalist with over 11 years' experience writing on cricket, football and other sports. He has covered the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, the 2016 ICC World Twenty20, cricket tours of South Africa, West Indies and Bangladesh and the 2010 Commonwealth Games for Hindustan Times.

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