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Rahul Dravid and Rohit Sharma’s India was an IPL all-stars team, not a balanced unit with T20 skills

Coach Dravid should have learnt his lesson. The last time India was so unsure about their playing XI was in 2007 ODI World Cup when he was captain. That was when the seniors were found wanting. Like at this World T20, Dravid didn't take the tough calls.

Team India head coach Rahul Dravid with captain Rohit Sharma. (File)

India has had a long-standing infatuation for Rahul Dravid. He has a face that draws out kindness. His awe-inspiring body of work is the reason why neutrals add “arguably” when calling Sachin Tendulkar the greatest ever Indian batsman. His flawless public conduct, refined articulation and the overall good-boy image gives him concessions in most post-defeat inquisitions.

Stubborn has been a convenient adjective to describe Dravid’s various roles in Indian cricket. Stubborn summed up his resolute batting. It also couched the criticism about his mostly conservative captaincy and, in the wake of the World T20 semi-final loss, his unreasonably obstinate coaching approach.

Like all greats, Dravid has a mind of his own and unflattering conviction. As a coach and captain that’s not always a healthy trait. In the lead-up to the World T20, there were questions about the selection choices that the team management had made. The Top 3 spots were occupied by batters with an ODI mindset, there was ambiguity over the finisher’s role and in Jasprit Bumrah’s absence there was no Plan B. He forgave the failures of the proven T20 mis-fits, and continued to defend his choices.

There were reasons to doubt Dravid, the captain. He hasn’t been a successful IPL coach. Rajasthan Royals under him could never relive that inspiring fairytale of the first season. The majority of the 30-plus players that travelled with him to Australia – Suryakumar Yadav (32) being the lone exception – had their best T20 years behind them.

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A playing XI with Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, R Ashwin and Mohammad Shami has an aura of intimidation, but only on paper. No self-respecting IPL analysts, or even the wise punters, would bunch them together for a T20 game. These are exceptional world beating white-ball cricketers. Come 2023 and the ODI World Cup and the world can fear them again. In the game’s shortest format though, they looked old fashioned. Times have changed, Jos Buttler and Alex Hales are the new Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.

India’s captain Rohit Sharma, left, listens to head coach Rahul Dravid as they watch players train during a practice session ahead of the first Twenty20 international cricket match between India and Sri Lanka in Lucknow, India, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Surjeet Yadav)

India, under Dravid and Rohit, built an IPL all-stars team, not a unit that was a rainbow of the T20 skill-set. It was glitzy Galacticos that could sell the WorldT20 but were not equipped to win it.

It’s not that T20 doesn’t have a place for old-school thinkers. Chennai Super King’s consistency in a notoriously unpredictable format is a tribute to the simplicity of their Super Skipper MS Dhoni’s cricketing engagement. While stringently following tactical conservatism, Dhoni, for years, gave optimum importance to the balance of the team.

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In the 2021 final when CKS won, the veteran Faf du Plesis had the new-age young opener Ruturaj Gaikwad as his opening partner. If Deepak Chahar could swing the new ball, Josh Hazlewood would hit the deck. Left-handers Ravindra Jadeja and Mooen Ali would be floating all-rounders with very different skill-sets. There was the ageless Dwayne Bravo. Dhoni’s team didn’t have the sameness of the Indian squad at this World T20.

Like Dravid, Dhoni too was stubborn and even age-agnostic. Back in the day, during an IPL winning campaign, he backed Shane Watson despite the world reminding him of his age and lack of runs. He delivered in the knockout games and CSK became champions.

Dhoni, unlike Dravid, knew who could deliver. At the 2009 Champions Trophy, Watson had single-handedly won the Aussies the semi-final and final. Dhoni’s India had been knocked out early. Dhoni had Abhishek Nayar in his side. During one of the games, the skipper took off his pads to bowl seam. It was his way of shouting from the roof-top that India lacked a quality pace all-rounder. At every opportunity he would underline this limitation. In years to follow, India would discover Hardik Pandya and he would make his debut under Dhoni.

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India will have to look for players with a big-match temperament. They will have to spot their own Watsons pretty early, give them opportunities, groom them and then be patient. IPL top-performers lists, ICC rankings or brand equity can’t be the data to put together teams for World T20s. The eternal faith in those with the habit of repeatedly freezing in knock-out games of important games has been the reason for India’s trophy cabinet getting no new addition since 2013.

ENG vs IND 2nd ODI Live Cricket Score Streaming Online Today. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Dravid should have learnt his lesson. The last time India was so unsure about their playing XI was in 2007 ODI World Cup when the present coach was the captain. That was when the seniors were found wanting. Dravid didn’t take the tough calls. Many felt he couldn’t defy Chappell. Sachin Tendulkar didn’t bat the number he preferred, Sourav Ganguly had strike-rate issues. Back then too it proved that a team of 11 stars couldn’t be collectively seen as a formidable playing XI.

Years later Greg Chappell in his book would sum-up the spectacular implosion of the Dravid-led team. “Our heavily-marketed ‘Dream Team’ was just that: a figment of too many imaginations,” he wrote.

Next he would state something that’s true even today.

“I thought it would take a miracle for us to get through to the semifinals and final, and was dismayed that the selectors had stuck with their beloved ‘brand name’ players rather than go for the potential of youngsters such as Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma. But this team had shown it was capable of surprising me, so I felt hopeful, if less motivated than I would have been with a team of the younger players who had enjoyed some success with their enthusiasm.”

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This team did need a miracle to reach the last four. Kohli’s magical sixes against Pakistan had the rarity of hole-in-ones in successive rounds on a golf course. Even that once-in-a-lifetime event wasn’t enough to take India past the finishing line. They would also gain from a magical rub of the green too.

When was the last time a ball bowled by a left-arm spinner hit the stump, trickled exactly between a keeper standing behind and fine gully to reach almost near the boundary. This stroke of luck allowed Indian batters to scamper for those three crucial runs in the final over.

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Luck favours the brave only once, but the timid keep banking on it to be disappointed.

Send your feedback to sandydwivedi@gmail.com

First published on: 12-11-2022 at 09:02 IST
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