Defensive tactics, not building second line hurting Dravid's coaching legacy
Not being assertive with tactical calls, unable to show mirror to seniors, and a failure to build a feeder line are some of the glaring inconsistencies of Rahul Dravid's tenure as Team India coach
Not being assertive enough with tactical calls, unable to show mirror to some of the seniors, and a failure to build a good feeder line are some of the glaring inconsistencies of Rahul Dravid's tenure as India head coach.
He is unlikely to get an extension if things go awry in the ODI World Cup later this year.
May be he will himself not seek an extension as the pressure of not being able to deliver is writ large on his face.
In Indian cricket, it is an open secret that Dravid, a gutsy, fearless player of fast-bowling in his playing days, is someone who resorts to obfuscation when faced with probing questions as a coach.
It is quite a contrast compared to his predecessor Ravi Shastri, who would take questions head on and give a direct answer whether you liked it or not.
The irritation refused to leave the contours of Dravid's facial expression as his former teammate Sourav Ganguly asked a pointed question on air minutes after India had comprehensively lost the World Test Championship final to Australia.
"Rahul, you have been a legend but why do you think some of our top-order batters (Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma) have struggled outside sub-continent most of the times?" the former India captain asked during an interview on Star Sports.
"We have experienced players in top five and they have set high standards. These are the boys who would be called legends in future. They have won two series in Australia and won Test matches in England. We are doing the best we can," Dravid's answer couldn't have convinced Ganguly one bit and neither did the millions who were streaming in.
But that has been the case with Dravid during his near two-year tenure with the senior Indian team. He has never looked convincing as a tactician and all the fanfare that was associated with his elevation, and the notion that everything that is wrong with the team would be fixed, turned out to be an illusion.
The seeds of India's defeat against Australia were sown in Nagpur, Delhi and Indore where the team played on under-prepared tracks just to rake home WTC points.
Neither the batters gained enough confidence nor the pacers came into operation for the better part of the series as Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja did what they do best -- scare the daylights out of the opposition.
The short-term gain was another WTC final but the long-term loss has been the lack of form of top batters and very little match time for the premier pacers.
As Harbhajan Singh rightly pointed out, "If your games are ending in two and half days, the pacers will never come into play. You are even killing reverse swing as option because the matches aren't lasting that long. We are not having tracks where our batters could score 500 and bowlers would have to work hard to get 20 wickets."
Dravid's defensive mindset started in 2021, just after taking over when the Indian spinners couldn't bowl out New Zealand on the fifth day on a low and slow Kanpur track. Ashwin and Jadeja couldn't get out the last pair for close to 10 overs and the match was drawn.
Dravid knew then and there that he can't play on good or slow batting tracks if India have to qualify for the finals and the raging turners did dent the confidence of his batters.
If Jasprit Bumrah's injury and Rishabh Pant's accident are two unlucky events that had had its impact, one can't deny that Dravid is a coach who is averse to taking risks. He is also someone who is not keen on hauling up the senior players when they aren't executing the plans perfectly.
An example was Ravindra Jadeja consistently bowling over the wicket to Jonny Bairstow at Edgbaston in 2022, when England were chasing a stiff target. Over after over, Jadeja was bowling on Bairstow's leg on the final afternoon of the match and it ruled out the possibility of a leg before.
There was no such incident to suggest that Dravid had sent a message for first-time skipper Jasprit Bumrah, asking him to change the tactic.
There are two types of coaches -- one at the academies and pathways level (U-16, U-19, A team) and the other at the senior level -- where man management and tactical tweaks rule the roost.
Dravid was an exceptional head of Cricket at NCA where he prepared a successful India U-19 and A tour programme, which has suddenly gone off the boil in the last one year.
The problem is that from India A tour programme, most of the performers aren't expected to get an elevation unless they have an exceptional season like Mayank Agarwal did in 2018, or a talent like Rishabh Pant, who needs to be blooded.
Dravid did take tough calls when he pulled the curtains down on the career of Wriddhiman Saha and Ishant Sharma as he wanted to groom Kona Bharat and Prasidh Krishna in those roles. A specialist keeper and a tall hit-the-deck fast bowler.
But Prasidh got injured and hardly played while Bharat's batting showed that Saha, even at 40, is a better choice.
Saha, considered a Test specialist, was preferred at his IPL franchise Gujarat Titans franchise over Bharat by Ashish Nehra, who goes more by instincts and less by match-ups and analytics.
There is a gutsy India A keeper in Upendra Yadav, who is a better batter than Bharat but he has not even been considered. Ishan Kishan could have been a risky but out-of-the-box choice who could have been more successful as a batter. At least he could have been tried, but it was not to be.
Playing Umesh Yadav, who was injured for a better part of IPL and is not among the top three choices of pacer even in overseas conditions, is another example of how the India A system is flawed.
The bowler ideal for English conditions was Mukesh Kumar, a terrific performer at India A level and a potent seam and swing exponent.
When it has come to selections, India have gone back to Cheteshwar Pujara because of his English county performance in 2022 and 2023, but for the record, all those who track county cricket would swear that the Division 2 where he plies his trade for Sussex isn't exactly an indicator of good form with very average bowlers in most of the sides. None of the top English Test players play in Division 2.
India will be travelling to the West Indies in a month for the start of next cycle of WTC. Will Dravid be able to crack the whip and prepare a team for next two years as some like Rohit, Kohli and Pujara are no longer the force they used to be and are at the business end of their careers.
Can Dravid take the risk of building a new team at the expense of a WTC final berth or he would think that in 2024 India will play 10 Tests against England (home) and Australia (away) and retain the tried and tested faces?
Only Dravid has the answers.