Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari have seamlessly transitioned into Test cricket. All-rounder Vijay Shankar has made rapid progress and is knocking hard on the World Cup door. There’s buzz around 19-year-old batsman Shubman Gill. The India ‘A’ team are thrashing all and sundry, home and away. India U-19 are the defending world champions. What’s the common link? Rahul Dravid, as the coach, was instrumental in each of these successes.
A small story involving Ravi Shastri would capture how Dravid is the man behind the feeder system, the bridge from junior cricket or India ‘A’ to the national team. At the end of the second Test of the England tour, with India trailing 0-2, the Indian team management had heard speculations of new young replacements flooding in. Shastri didn’t want to be seen as pressing the panic button and even as various names were floated by a couple of members of the management and some journalists, Shastri said just one thing: if the situation arises and the selectors come up with any new names, he would call up Dravid and ask him if that particular player is ready to play for India. “He would give me a frank opinion. And I would listen to him.”
Almost immediately, all loose talk stopped. Such is the confidence that Dravid inspires. It was a feeling of emptiness that pushed Dravid to leave the cushy world of commentating and plunge into the anonymous world of teenage cricket and shepherding young talent for India. “I didn’t feel as if I was contributing something, you know,” he once said.
His legendary stature could have frozen teenagers but he won them over with his amiability, earnestness, authenticity – he cajoled them, encouraged them, joked with them, allowed them to back-slap him, and when needed, was stern with them. And once in a series against England Lions, when the Indian players felt hurt by the sledging, he told them to give it back without getting personal.
The best story from the U-19s came from the 30-member probables camp before last year’s World Cup. A player Mukhilesh wasn’t even in the race for the final squad. Even the cricketer didn’t think Dravid would waste any time on him, and was stunned when the coach took him aside and talked him through the mental and tactical mistakes he committed while batting in practice games. Dravid the consummate professional – and the man the boys trust.
Dravid is shepherding the next wave of cricketers who will form the crux of the national team. Following him like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, the wards — whose life, Dravid has helped guide onto the right track — pen their testimonials.
Helped me regain confidence after Nidahas Trophy
Vijay Shankar (India A)
The first time I met Rahul sir was before a TNCA club match (for Vijay CC) in Chennai in 2012, he was then my idol and I was so nervous that I literally froze in the dressing room. Two days later, we were batting together in the middle and like all youngsters I wanted to impress him. So I played a couple of extravagant strokes, and he immediately advised me: “We have plenty of time, so pace your innings and I want you to finish the innings.”
Years later, he told me the same during the 50-over matches against New Zealand A. I had lost a bit of confidence batting in limited-over matches, after the Nidahas Trophy final (where he laboured for 17 runs off 19 balls). But he put me at ease, told me that I have the shots and temperament to be a finisher. And he told me that he’ll send me at No 5, which he did in the first match, when we were chasing around 300 (311). I scored an unbeaten 87 (off 80 balls) and we won the match. The innings really cleared the self-doubts, and in the next match I scored a 59 in another chase of 300. Now I’m very confident about my batting in limited-over matches. I have better situational awareness and clarity of mind.
(As told to Sandip G)
He is a guy who will help those who need it the most
Sanju Samson (India A, Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils)
Rahul sir is a guy who will help those who need it the most. He likes people who perform but he gives more energy and time to those who are struggling for form. He takes a lot of care to keep the dressing room atmosphere very light. It is not like he is very strict about practice sessions or timings. He likes to give players the freedom. He knows that everyone is different.
For example, Kedar Jadhav practises in a very different way. He does a lot of slogging in the nets and gets out at least two to three times in a session. Any other coach would tell him ‘see you are preparing for a match you have to bat in a certain way’. But he understands and gives players like Kedar space to do what they are comfortable with. Another approach of his, which is different, is how he tells us to switch off when we are not scoring runs. He tells us you don’t need to practice at all and you need to keep your mind away from cricket. Go for a holiday and go chill and then when you come back you will be fresh to perform.
At one point, Karun Nair was struggling in the IPL. Before the IPL, when everyone was training very hard, Rahul sir told him don’t touch the bat for one month. Karun went for a holiday. He came back and became the highest scorer for Delhi Daredevils.
He has had a great impact on my career too. I was playing for Rajasthan Royals when he was coach. I had failed in three to four games at the start in 2015. I remember him calling me to his room and telling me what I should perhaps do while looking at my videos. He told me ‘you have changed your set-up, bat lift and stand’. In between the season, he helped me and I regained form and started scoring runs. He helped me change my grip, stance and balance and he gave me the confidence. Importantly, I was playing all the matches. I played a really good innings against Mumbai at the Wankhede in a crucial match, scoring about 70-odd in 40 or 50 balls (76 off 46).
When I was playing in Ranji Trophy about two years ago, I was not getting runs. So I called him and he really puts me at ease. Once when three players from the India ‘A’ side (team was playing quadrangular tournament) got picked to play ODIs for India, Rahul sir said: ‘I am very happy for you guys but I am more concerned about the rest of the guys who are still performing and waiting for their chance’. He said ‘don’t lose hope’.
(As told to Nihal Koshie)
Learnt to be judicious with aerial shots
Shubman Gill (India U-19)
My association with Rahul Dravid began more than two years ago. As a youngster, I would always watch his batting on television and discuss the same with my father too. As a coach, he understands my game well. The good thing is, if you want to discuss something with him, he is always available. Since my childhood days, I have practiced aerial shots and I like playing those. In 2017, when we were playing ODIs against England Under-18 in Mumbai, I got out cheaply in the first two matches after playing aerial shots. I made 35 and 37.
Rahul sir told me to use the aerial shots judiciously and to hit them only once I am well set. I followed his advice and made 138 and 160 in the next two matches. What I have learnt from him is how to be patient and calm. At times he gives inputs with regards to batting if he sees something. But at the same time, during tours I constantly talk to him. He never speaks about his knocks or his feats.
(As told to Nitin Sharma)
I was able to counter the moving Dukes ball
Karun Nair (India A, Delhi Daredevils and Rajasthan Royals)
I first met Rahul sir during my IPL season debut for Rajasthan Royals in 2013. Over the next five years, I have managed to strike a great rapport with him. I found that he is really good at communicating with his players. He lets you know what you have to do or what he thinks you should be doing. Contrary to popular belief, he is not someone who gets militant about tweaking your technique too much. He just allows you to be yourself and helps you develop your own technique. In the process, it gives you the confidence to express yourself as a player. Most cricketers want such assurances from their coaches, and that’s what he provides in abundance.
He also emphasises on the mental aspect of the game, which many coaches and mentors tend to ignore. Back in 2015, I was really going through a low phase mentally. I was scoring heavily in the domestic circuit, but there were apprehensions about my inability to take my career to the next level. During the India ‘A’ tri-series featuring Australia and South Africa, I sat down and had a discussion about my game, where I asked him whether I need to alter my game. He said that at this stage of my career, it would be foolish to bring about any drastic changes. His mantra was simple: “Just play the way you are, keep working hard and don’t doubt yourself, and I’m sure that things will fall in place. I strongly believe that you have the game to play international cricket.”
Those words really gave me the confidence, more than anything, and helped me calm my nerves and remain patient.
The last six months have really been rough for me, but once again it was Rahul sir’s calming influence that helped me tide over this crisis. Before the Test series in England last summer, he had told me to get a bigger stride forward to counter the swinging Dukes ball. On much flatter tracks in India, you can get away with a smaller stride because there is hardly any lateral movement on offer, but in England it can get really unnerving for a batsman. Thankfully, I got selected for the India ‘A’ tour, which was the precursor to the five-match Test series, where I had managed to get decent starts. Even though I did not have a big three-figure score against my name, I scored a half-century and a couple of 40s and felt confident about my game. As per Rahul sir’s advice, I was getting that confident stride forward while batting, and I felt I was able to counter the moving Dukes ball.
(As told to Vishal Menon)
Told me not to focus on big scores and to stay in the present
Abhimanyu Easwaran (India A)
During the New Zealand tour (A tour) in November, I was getting starts, but wasn’t converting them. In the first two games of this season’s Ranji Trophy I scored 76 and 86. I was getting out in the 70s and 80s. That is when he told me not to focus on getting big scores and advised me to remain in the present..
I was batting really well in New Zealand, so he told me to enjoy my batting and focus on the process. He advised me to take it one ball at a time, or one over at a time. That really helped me. I realised if I bat the whole day, I will get a hundred. He keeps motivating me and tells me to trust my game. He says we have done well in domestic cricket and we belong. He would never try to overhaul your technique unless there is something which is majorly wrong.
After coming back from New Zealand, I scored 186 against Hyderabad and 183 not out against Delhi in the Ranji Trophy. The confidence of playing for India ‘A’ and my interactions with Dravid sir helped me.
We know at any point of time, we can go and talk to him. He is always calm and collected and puts things in perspective, like saying that ‘cricket is a sport’.
He has seen it all, so he knows not all 11 players would perform well in a match. If someone has a bad game, he would give him the confidence for the next game. Just sharing the dressing-room with him and learning from his simplicity help us become well-rounded individuals.
(As told to Shamik Chakrabarty)
If I have any issue, I can go to him and he will be frank with me
Shreyas Iyer (India A, Delhi Daredevils)
He is very passionate about his work and I know he wants to win every game even though he says that everything is a ‘learning process’. Rahul sir is the one who sets the benchmark for us.
When it came to my batting, he told me one should know how to build an innings and not to go out there and blindly go for the shots. He told me to play my natural game but also look for singles. It’s not just about going with the flow, he said.
He loves talking about how important temperament is. I am trying to apply it in my game as well by trying to take sometime to settle in at the start, I know that eventually, I can make up (strike rate). Moreover, after a practice session he gives good inputs and that helps during a game.
Another aspect of my batting, which he told me about was my trigger movement. He didn’t like my initial movement.
So I tried to change it but it didn’t work. So I went back to doing what I am used to doing. He accepted it when I told him that it was not working for me. That way he is very transparent. He then told me that follow whatever I feel suits me because finally I have to go there and score runs.
I have hardly seen him angry. There maybe times when he is frustrated but he doesn’t show it.
He loves it when batsmen make runs in difficult conditions or against tough opponents. When he praises players he tries not to do it individually but focuses on the team. When I was made the captain of my IPL team he sent me a message which said ‘keep it up’. I know if I have any issue, I can go to him and he will not hesitate to be frank with me.
(As told to Devendra Pandey)