By GAUTAM CHINTAMANI
The news of former test captain and cricket legend Rahul Dravid set to coach India during the Sri Lanka tour is the kind of right decision that has no wrong time. The current India coach Ravi Shastri's unavailability for the tour led to Dravid coaching the men in blue.
This development could be a progression of sorts for Dravid to fill Shastri's shoes if the former so desired when the latter's stint is over by the end of 2021. It wouldn't be entirely incorrect to imagine such a scenario even though nothing is official. Moreover, the signs have all been there.
In 2014, Dravid worked as a batting consultant to the team during the tour of England, and in 2019, he took over as the head of the National Cricket Academy. In the interim, the batting great worked closely with the youngsters at the Under-19 level and the India A team.
When Dravid made his debut for the Indian team, it was a period of great flux for the sport in India. The team had lost a high-profile World Cup semi-final to Sri Lanka, and churning was in the making.
Interestingly, the call for Rahul Dravid to be on the national side was first raised during the classic India-Pakistan World Cup quarter film match in Bangalore, where a banner questioned - where is Rahul Dravid?
Dravid's test debut in Lords saw him get out on 96, and a few years later, he was dropped from the one-day side as well. Dravid not only made a memorable comeback in the 1999 World Cup, where he ended up as the tournament's leading run-scorer: 461 runs, 8 matches, strike-rate of 85.52.
For a country such as India, where cutting the national eleven is a dream that dies a million deaths daily, instilling a sense of confidence to take whatever comes along the way is one of the most significant factors that separate the regular coaches from the great ones.
Dravid is someone to whom the concept of coaching seems to come naturally. Dravid suggested the name of John Wright as the national coach to then captain Sourav Ganguly and even pushed the skipper to meet Wright while they both were playing county cricket in England.
Legend has it that when Wright met some opposition to his fitness methods from the 'superstars' in the Indian team, he challenged them to compete with him, and if they gave up before him, they'd not question him. A few minutes later, John Wright and Rahul Dravid were the only ones running while everyone else had given up.
When it comes to coaching, perhaps Dravid has the one tool that can make a big difference in abundance. His go-to setting is offering the slightest of guidance that can make the most significant impact.
He is cut in the classic mould (read Test cricket) but is also readily adaptable - he retired with over 10,000 runs in the shorter format. This ability to shift gears also came in handy when he decided to keep wickets during the 2003 World Cup to have greater flexibility in picking bowlers.
As the senior player in Rajasthan Royals and later the skipper of the franchise, Dravid nurtured young talent. He also recognised the time to make bold decisions. Dravid decided that T-20 was a young man's game and pushed MS Dhoni to lead the team while Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, and Anil Kumble sat out the maiden T-20 World Cup that India won.
Unlike some of his more illustrious contemporaries, such as Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Ganguly, Dravid did not settle for a cushy administrative job. Instead, he chose to work with youngsters and went on to take the reins of the NCA.
Dravid also brings to the table what Anil Kumble, someone he also looks up to, did as a coach. Kumble's stint might have ended on a sour note - captain Virat Kohli reportedly preferred Ravi Shastri over Anil Kumble - but he did install new confidence in players.
Traditionally, players who become coaches or managers in India also have to deal with a generational gap as their players are much younger. This is what happened to Bishen Bedi, Anshuman Gaekwad and Ajit Wadekar, and although Kapil Dev's stint featured former teammates, the communication gap persisted.
In this aspect, Dravid doesn't seem to mind the style in which certain players conduct themselves. On Virat Kohli's attitude, Dravid said, "Virat sometimes comes across as outrageous and I cringe on reading his statements before a series. But if he can bring the best out of himself by needling the opposition, so be it."
An exceptional cricketer, Rahul Dravid has been through the ups and downs both on and off the field and with his kind of mental make-up, it's just what Indian cricket needs to not only be the best but remain at the peak.