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Monday, November 29, 2021

‘Will Rahul Dravid be comfortable with the idea that it’s okay to lose, in trying to win?’

The Long Read: Former opener, NCA batting coach and women's head coach WV Raman offers insights into what the coaching stint of the much-revered Rahul Dravid could look like, as a new much-anticipated era of consolidation of Indian cricket begins

Written by WV Raman |
Updated: November 14, 2021 8:42:53 am
Rahul Dravid, WV Raman, Indian cricket team coachRahul Dravid is the new head coach of Indian cricket team.

Rahul Dravid is not an egoistic person at all. Which means he understood the fact that he needs to learn the demands of the job first if he is to excel as a coach. Dravid is not going to take up anything without wanting to excel in it. He is not here to coast.

That’s why he realised he needed to learn through hands-on roles at junior level before considering taking charge of the senior team. He was sounded out about taking the job much before it was given to Anil Kumble some years ago. But he decided the right way to go about it. If a guy has that kind of modesty and willingness to learn, he is obviously going to excel.

During his stint with youth teams, he started to enjoy the company of youngsters; he also has a couple of boys who are younger than the U-19 players but it did give him a fair idea. I think as it went along, he started to quite relish the job.

He is the one who can gel with anybody. He is more of an observer and contributes where he needs to contribute. It’s easy for him to blend easily because of that trait. He is not a character who loves to hold centre stage, which will help him as you need to be in the background as a coach. That being his personality, it was easy for him. And he has the stature for youngsters to listen keenly to.

rahul-dravid “It is an absolute honour to be appointed as the new Head Coach of the Indian Cricket Team and I am really looking forward to this role,” Dravid said in a BCCI press release

Coaching U-19 can be a lonely job. It will shift now dramatically, as he scales up to the national stage. Having said that even as a coach of a senior team, it can get a bit lonely at times. Everyone is in their space, the players have their pressures, so do the coaches, it will be about finding a way and best possible outlet to find some distraction, some medium to switch off. He has the personality to handle that side of things.

He has now put in enough time as a coach and has handled elite players at junior level be it at U-19 or India A team. It has also given him an understanding about working with different stakeholders – selectors, NCA coaches, coaches of other state associations, and administrators. It will help him as the national role requires you to know how the dynamics work in an all-round way.

The Challenges

He will be filling the big shoes of Ravi Shastri, under whom the team has accomplished a lot. Would Dravid be as flexible and adaptable as Ravi was as a coach? That’s what the challenge would be. The biggest challenge would be if he can be flexible and adaptable to the different idiosyncrasies of adults in a team.

The question isn’t whether Dravid can inspire others to do something; of course he will. Can he also come to terms with others who are incapable of doing something he would like them to. For example, if someone says no to an additional responsibility saying that’s not my job, can Dravid handle that incapability or reluctance to do it and yet have him as part of the team. I think he can, but these are the challenges that will come up. Interesting times ahead. That will be the key to his success.

Rahul Dravid Indian cricket team head coach Rahul Dravid with Shikhar Dhawan during the team’s first training session in Sri Lanka on July 2, 2021. (PTI Photo)

The challenge also would be: can he take what he gives? Ravi could. Ravi would probably heavily lean on you as a player at a certain stage if he felt it was required. Say the strong stuff. But he could also take it if the player was to give it back, provided there was enough justification for that. The question would be can Rahul handle that. Does he like to be challenged by a younger boy. That’s what it is all going to boil down to. But since he is basically not a confrontational guy, he will know how to overcome it.

Would he get affected and upset with the way different people behave differently. That will come into the fray sometime. Some players might want to find their own way of handling pressure, which might not be in sync with the moral compass a coach might have.

These are adult men with various unseen pushes and pulls. Some would be vulnerable, some would be on the other extreme. Frictions can arise, just as it does in any environment you and I work in. The spotlight and glare in a high-profile team is different, though, and it comes with its own set of pressures. Individually, he has overcome many things as a cricketer, but here he can only say, convey things, suggest an option. If things don’t work, what does he do? That’s where his temperament as a coach will be tested. He has the experience and nous to handle it.

These are the things that will crop up and challenge Rahul but after being on the circuit for so many years and recently too, he has a whiff of what the younger lot are about. He has also been a part of IPL – as a player and a mentor and knows intimately how this generation handles stuff. It won’t be alien to him. He knows what the current trends are – of the ways and means how people spend time off the field. He is aware of all that. He is not going into unknown territory completely. He is ready for this, after all the hard yards he has put in.

The coaching style

In terms of tactical and technical suggestions, Shastri is definitive. He would tell you that this is what I would like you to do. Dravid is a guy who would give two-three options and say it’s finally up to you. How these two things work for different players we can’t get into a conjecture about, now. We will have to wait and see.

When Dravid talks to a player, he would talk about the positive side of things. Just like Shastri. Lets say ‘x’ can’t play on leg side, Dravid would say these are your strengths. Wait for the bowlers to bowl there. Generally bowlers will bowl on the off side. So wait.’ That’s how he would say. He isn’t the sort who would say, ‘oh you aren’t good on the leg side, you will be caught out if you don’t improve’. He won’t feed negativity like that.

He does believe in inclusive leadership. He won’t be dictatorial with other coaches in his set-up that this is the way it has to be done.

Rahul Dravid, Rahul Dravid team India coach, Dravid interim coach, India vs New Zealand series, sports news, latest cricket news, Indian express Rahul Dravid has been the in-charge of the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru. (File)

The relationship that Bharat Arun, the bowling coach, had with Ravi was entirely different. Even though Paras Mhambrey (who is likely to be the bowling coach) and Rahul have worked together a lot, it remains to be seen what kind of medium they strike. Individually, of course, they have a very good rapport and that’s why Dravid has opted for him in the set up. But tactically where is it they meet? Arun and Ravi have been contemporaries, friends from age of 19. That’s a very, very long time. Both had temperaments to look at various ways of doing things.

Under Shastri and Kohli, India have tended to go with a five-bowlers attack. I don’t see why Dravid won’t continue with a similar set up. Generally coaches tend to leave it to the captains as bowlers have to be handled by the captains on field.

Here we will have two captains. So Dravid will sit and discuss to arrive at a point to understand each other’s thinking and the entire team’s approach as a whole. The sooner that’s done, the better for everybody. Dravid would undertake that process, for sure. He won’t let that important aspect drift.

The all-out focus on win approach

Shastri had set the template in alignment with Kohli that in a situation of 50-50 or even 40-60 (60 being the chance of a loss), the team will push for a win. If you lose while going for a win, it was alright with Shastri.

Would Dravid resort to gambits in a similar 60-40 situation? Would he be comfortable with the fact that it’s okay to lose, in trying to win. That aspect defined Shastri’s reign. When you even do it in an odd Test, it percolates to the players. It’s in their mind now when they are faced with that situation again. Then they take brave calls on their own. Tease it out, see if the game can be wrested by piling on the pressure. Like they did in Brisbane, like they did in Adelaide before the injuries and couple of wickets forced them to shut shop. These are interesting little things that we.- certainly not me – can say that Dravid will go this way or other. I simply don’t know but it would be fascinating to track which way he goes. We have to wait and watch.

Wanting to excel is his way. He is aware of the fact that winning and losing is part and parcel of the game. So I am sure that he won’t be flustered if the team loses. He is not going to lose his bearings or come down heavily. He understands that more than most. Shastri too had the approach where he would let the players breathe, relax after losses. At this stage, they know what’s at stake. So, Shastri would just let them cool down, take the edge off the loss. Dravid would be similar in that he won’t be too flustered and panic after occasional losses. So, the handling of the losses isn’t a concern.

In Paras, he has a good ally. Someone he knows pretty well. Paras would be stepping into the big shoes of Bharat Arun, who has done a fantastic job. Paras has a similarity with Arun, who had spent time with NCA before he took up the bowling coach job. So has Paras, now. He is also a keen learner and keeps watching lots of videos and keeps analysing bowlers and finds methods to give inputs to the bowlers to make them better. Sincerity and hard work isn’t in question at all.

Additionally, he has the advantage that he can have a word with Arun now and then on how to go about stuff. Arun has been there, done that. It can only help Paras. This is the job you get better at as you do. Arun didn’t have a reference point to get feedback or whatever but Paras has that now with Arun. Arun is a terrific teacher, apart from being the coach, he used to conduct a lot of coaching courses at NCA. Paras can draw from that well of knowledge. We shall see Paras having a good working relationship with the bowlers in the years to come. His communication skills are good, he can speak in the language of a player. Not just throw jargon. One of the key things in Shastri’s success was the confidence he had in Arun’s abilities. Rahul too has that in Paras, which is vital.

Wanting to excel would be the theme of Rahul Dravid. It’s how he has lived his life and career. This coaching stint shouldn’t be any different in the way he is likely to approach it. Else, he wouldn’t have taken it up at all and done all the hard yards. He is ready.

(As told to Sriram Veera)

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