For most part of his playing career, Rahul Dravid was happy for his performances to stay in the background with teammates hogging the limelight. Yet, a quiet firmness also made him one for new beginnings in Indian cricket.
When Dravid took over as India head coach following the T20 World Cup debacle late last year, he was seen as the ideal man to ring in the changes. The outgoing Ravi Shastri had guided the team to great heights, but India had not won an ICC trophy during his tenure. The Indian cricket board thus persuaded Dravid as it saw him as the one to end that wait.
India went into the Asia Cup as favourites, with the build-up all about their final against Pakistan. The tournament was a perfect opportunity for Dravid to infuse fresh talent; victory would have vindicated such changes. Being eliminated before the final will bring Dravid under pressure now heading to his biggest challenge yet—the T20 World Cup in Australia starting next month.
Everyone had agreed that India needed a dynamic batting approach in T20s after the flat performances in last year’s World Cup. It after all had enough talent thanks to IPL to try and match the approach of new champions Australia and England. With a year in hand, there seemed enough time to build a new-look side.
Two things were in Dravid’s favour. He had guided India’s young talent as junior and India A coach and National Cricket Academy head. Acknowledged for his cricketing intellect, Dravid was the skipper in 2007 when he chose to sit out, with Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, to let young MS Dhoni lead the team to a momentous victory in the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007.
He also put team above sentiment and individual landmarks as skipper. He led India to their first Test victory in Pakistan in 2004 after declaring with Sachin Tendulkar on 194 in the push for a win.
This Asia Cup debacle though showed India are still struggling to kick old habits by adapting a dynamic approach. Defeats to Pakistan and Sri Lanka that eliminated India showed top-order experiments were confined only to help KL Rahul and Virat Kohli regain form rather than help new talent settle down.
On the UK tour, Deepak Hooda showed he can be a great top-order option. Sanju Samson’s power-hitting can be a useful tool on bigger Australian grounds. Rahul, back after surgery, took time to find rhythm. An all-out attacking batter in the middle-order, his conventional approach as opener is a disadvantage as it helps bowlers exploit his weakness against the incoming delivery. Kohli has never been a power-hitter. India need to tee off at the top if the middle-order has to cash in. Suryakumar Yadav has an excellent strike rate of over 170, but a start is crucial for him to get going. The confusion over Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik and the below-par middle and lower-middle order batting too suggested India are far from settled.
The T20 World Cup will be Dravid’s biggest assignment. There will be focus on how India regroup in the two bilateral series, versus Australia and South Africa, which they have before the premier tournament.
Dravid though denied it is about experiments and backed Kohli.
“I’m not really experimenting. I don’t really know why people feel we’re experimenting. If people get injured, I have to try out other guys, no?” he asked before the Asia Cup Super 4 phase after Ravindra Jadeja’s injury. “We’re not actively going out and looking at this as some kind of experiment.”
Though the win over Afghanistan was inconsequential, Kohli hitting his first century in three years was a big positive. Dravid said Kohli’s value can’t be judged in numbers. “For us, it’s not really about how many runs he makes… It’s about the contributions he makes at different phases of the game. It doesn’t have to be in 50s or 100s or a stat for us, even a small contribution means a lot for us in T20s.”
Indian fielding too needs to find energy, though focus was on Arshdeep Singh for dropping a sitter in the Super 4 loss to Pakistan.
Before the Afghanistan tie, Dravid allayed concerns. “We lost a couple of games on a pitch, on a ground that has not been easy to defend on. Just because (of that) it doesn’t mean we are a terrible team. We do not need to overreact to things.”
Dravid knows all about pressure in the India set-up. It will be intense if the team doesn’t stamp its authority Down Under.