Dubai: A seismic change has quietly taken place in Indian cricket. Hardly have the post-mortem for India’s league stage exit from the ICC T20 World Cup been done and dusted with as Rahul Dravid takes over as the new head coach of Team India, starting from their home series against New Zealand.
In the cricketing culture prevalent in India, the appointment of a new coach, not to speak of the captain, had been treated as a matter of ‘national importance’ - something which was speculated, debated for months till a final decision was taken. This time around, it was a foregone conclusion as Dravid’s arrival also heralded the announcement on Tuesday that Rohit Sharma was taking over the mantle of T20 captain.
There had been no dispute over the choice of ‘The Wall’ as the successor to Ravi Shastri. This is not the first time that Dravid’s name had come up for the hot seat, but getting him to agree to take it up had been the biggest challenge of the Indian cricket board bosses over the years.
It’s not only the head coach’s position that has undergone a change as the World T20 would also be the last assignments for Bharat Arun, the veteran bowling coach and a Shastri man, as well as fielding coach R. Sridhar. Paras Mhambrey, a trusted lieutanent of Dravid in the Under-19 and India A set-up as well as a long serving coach of NCA, has applied for the bowling coach’s position while Abhay Sharma - currently the national women team’s fielding coach - is tipped to take over from Sridhar.
The only position among the last support staff which could be retained is that of batting coach Vikram Rathour, who has just served his first term after succeeding Sanjay Bangar after the 2019 50-overs World Cup. There is, however, a school of thought which feels that with Dravid occupying the top post and his known hands-on approach to work with the batsmen, if a batting coach is necessary in the new set-up.
The first signs that Dravid could be eventually ready to taste the waters came about in July when with Virat Kohli’s Indian team away on a Test tour of England, he agreed to be in charge of the Shikhar Dhawan-led team to Sri Lanka after much persuasion from the BCCI (read: former teammate and captain Sourav Ganguly) for a white ball series. The tour was more about honouring a commitment to Cricket Sri Lanka and produced mixed results - as India won the ODI series but lost the T20 series after being forced to field a depleted squad with as many as eight players in isolation due to Krunal Pandya testing positive for Covid-19.
The deal was far from sealed though as Dravid came back and applied for an extension of contract as the Director of National Cricket Academy (NCA), prompting the BCCI to look for other options. It is believed that Dravid had finally agreed to the proposal for a two-year arrangement after another long discussion with Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah in Dubai when he was here among the guests to watch the IPL final on October 15.
Dravid had, of course by then, accepted another extension of his NCA role but once he said yes - Ganguly immediately got moving to find his replacement as the Director of the prestigeous NCA. The candidature of VVS Laxman, yet another member of the erstwhile Fab Four, was too good to resist for the master batsman from Hyderabad had actually put in the hard yards as a coach.
A player of immense stature and squeaky clean reputation, Laxman had been associated with IPL franchise Sunrisers Hyderabad for many seasons now, while Ganguly had roped in his services as a batting consultant for his state Bengal’s ‘Vision 2020’ plan while in his capacity as the President of Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB). Informed sources say that while Laxman was initially caught in two minds due to his TV commentary assignments, he has agreed to the proposal and a formal announcement may come through soon.
So far so good. The arrival of Dravid has already raised the expectations sky high - in terms of acceptability, respect from the players (the entire new generation had been virtually groomed by him at some point) and of course, his equation with the powers that-be. However, past experience says that coaching the senior Indian team, over a period of time, does become more of man management job than strategising and the pressure of expectations on Team India can really make life difficult for the man on the hot seat.
There is practically no time to build a team as they are expected to win all matches - be it a Test or a regulation bi-lateral T20 series. It will be interesting to see how Dravid, very much his own man, copes with this new demand as he is percieved more as of a team-builder with a long term vision.
The other leap into the unknown for Indian cricket is embracing the idea of split-captaincy on a permanent basis. I would stick my neck out and say that Virat Kohli could have been possibly the last Indian captain common in all three formats if the BCCI wants to treat the issue of ‘workload management’ and ‘bubble fatigue’ seriously enough for at least next two years.
Two captains could hence be a norm, along with a vigorous rotation policy if the players’ fatigue issue has to be addressed. In Kohli and Rohit, Indian cricket has two larger-than-life characters and best players of this generation - and it could be another challenge for Dravid to handle these strong characters.
Interesting times, then, for Indian cricket as it tries to turn a new leaf after the blip in the desert in the T20 World Cup!