Indian cricket has been in the news lately – whether for the acquittal of players accused of spot-fixing, the banning of two T20 teams, the no-coach philosophy after Duncan Fletcher or the ignominious loss to Bangladesh in the ODI series. The Zimbabwe tour went virtually unnoticed, but it was a good opportunity for a few fringe players – none of whom made an impact. It was only Rayadu who stood out, but he is already in the ODI scheme of things. Rahane captained well, but failed to prove his opening abilities.
But possibly the most significant thing to have happened to Indian cricket lately is the appointment of Rahul Dravid as the India U-19 and India A coach. This is perhaps the best decision made in many years, if one considers the future and direction of Indian cricket. The future is here, and as of now, except for an unusually solid performance in the World Cup, it looks a bit bleak overall. There seems to be no motivation for youngsters to play in tournaments other than ICC ones. This would be a ‘vice’ any South African team would trade a leg and an arm for, but this Indian team is mentally fragile. A lack of experience and international match practice seems to reflect in their ability to let series’ situations and oppositions get on top of them against the run of play. They also know no limits – this promotes fearless and exciting sessions – but in phases that are a few and far in between. And sparks of brilliance aren’t enough anymore in an era where every other team seems to be improving and evolving; take a look at England now, or Bangladesh, or even Pakistan. Sri Lanka seems to be in the same phase India is in, which is why it’s only appropriate that both teams play each other next month. It will give us a better idea of who can adapt faster, or of who wants to adapt sooner.
In an era where India’s bench strength is negligible, and even the first-choice team is struggling to establish its credibility, Dravid is the tonic future Indian cricketers need. That most of them will have to get to the national team under his tutelage, under his watch, mentored briefly by him before they blossom into stars, is a massive boon for the nation. More than his technical expertise, it will be the littler traits that he will pass on to these youngsters – his simplicity, stoic calm, fierce concentration and a disciplined attitude- that most kids will do well to inherit. In these days of round-the-clock T20 cricket and social media, it’s easy for budding cricketers to make a quick buck and forget about test cricket.
While T20 leagues have produced some very competent ODI cricketers for India, the same can’t be said about what it’s done to test cricket. Dravid brings back that traditional approach, and just a quick glance at his face in the nets will remind cricketers why they took up the sport. With India A having just played against Australia A at Chennai in a 4-day match, there already seems to be a different kind of attitude prevalent in and out of dressing rooms. The cricketers speak of Dravid as their first and only coach, and many of them will be out to impress him first; a word of recommendation or praise from him would go a long way in pushing their own status. But they will have to work hard to earn it, and they’re probably ready to do so. Here’s a man who’s seen it all as a batsman; he was labeled a specialist test cricketer, and against the odds, he established himself in ODI cricket, excelling in both forms. This will sound familiar to Cheteshwar Pujara, the captain of India A, who found himself in the same situation early in his career.
Perhaps Dravid is what Pujara needs. Till not too long ago, Pujara was a confirmed no. 3 for the new Indian test line-up, and was the next ‘Wall’, as he piled up runs in tests at home. Among all the newcomers, he seemed to be the most sorted and most promising. Even in South Africa, his innings at Jo’burg was immense, and that sealed his status as a future great, even in his own mind. Things went downhill after that tour. Pujara averaged 24 over the next 3 series, all away from home – to New Zealand, Australia and England. He was finally dropped in Australia for the last test match, and wasn’t picked for Bangladesh either. Similarly, KL Rahul – who proved his temperament and mettle with a century in the final test against Australia in Australia – lost his opening spot back to Dhawan after an unfortunate illness. Despite earning his spot at the top, he is out of the team, and there’s nobody better to play under than Dravid during such a complicated phase.
Rohit Sharma has been given the responsibility of the new number 3, replacing Pujara, but one doesn’t know how long that will last. Rohit has been a favorite among Indian captains for a while now, but has done nothing notable of late in tests to earn this spot. Rahane seems to be the only player, along with Kohli, who seems to understand the intricacies of test cricket. But his ODI credibility is at an all-time low now.
Hence, Kohli, who has been the only player to adapt to both forms, has made quite a statement by choosing to play under Pujara for the second match against Australia A. He wants practice before his first full tour as Indian captain against Sri Lanka, and one suspects that his decision has a lot to do with Dravid coaching the side too. After all, he does need to sort out some mental demons; he hasn’t scored an ODI fifty since the first World Cup match against Pakistan back in February. But he has excelled as a test cricketer over the last year, which is why he has taken over from Dhoni as leader. There had also been talks of a rift between Pujara and Kohli last year, so it should be interesting to see how well they function under Dravid.
One can be sure of the fact that none of them will hesitate to declare on 194, if the team needs it.