In cricket’s new landscape centred around World Cups, which now happen every year, trophies matter more than ever before. Rahul Dravid, in his two-year tenure as India’s head coach couldn’t end India’s trophy drought at ICC events, but has been rewarded with a contract extension for the team’s dream run at the recent ODI World Cup where they won ten matches in a row to finish runners-up.

File photo, India’s head coach Rahul Dravid during the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023, in Bengaluru(PTI)

The Indian board, by not adopting a tunnel vision, has chosen to see merit in continuing with Dravid given that there are just six months to go for the next instalment of an ICC World Cup, of the T20 variety.

“The Head Coach has our full backing, and we will provide him with all the support needed for sustained success at the international level,” BCCI secretary Jay Shah said on Wednesday.

AIMING FOR WORLD T2O

Time will tell if Dravid and his support staff – batting coach Vikram Rathore, bowling coach Paras Mhambrey and fielding coach T Dilip, will stay on for the entire duration of the 2023-25 World Test Championship cycle and the 2025 Champions trophy. But a BCCI official confirmed Dravid’s contract extension, at least for next year’s T20 World Cup to be held in USA-West Indies was ‘always on the cards, if the ODI World Cup went well’.

Unlike England, which has separate head coaches and support staff for red-ball and white-ball cricket, the BCCI prefers to have a reputed coach to oversee all cricket. Besides, the prevailing sentiment in the board is that home coaches are better placed to deliver results. All of this made the decision to offer Dravid a chance to stay in charge, easier.

Before arriving at the decision, views of top players and the Chairman of selectors Ajit Agarkar were sought. Everyone wanted Dravid to guide the team in another attempt to take care of some unfinished business, after the semi-final defeat against England in the 2022 T20 World Cup.

“I thank the BCCI for placing their trust in me, endorsing my vision. As we embrace new challenges post the World Cup, we remain committed to the pursuit of excellence,” Dravid said in a statement.

On the face of it, under Dravid, India lost key away Tests. They lost the 3-Test series in South Africa 1-2. The rescheduled Test in England was also lost. India’s qualification for the WTC final was largely on the strength of their home dominance and a series win in Bangladesh.

In the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia, the Indian team mix as well as their cricket looked dated and unthreatening. When they were blanked by eventual champions England, it did not come as a surprise.

To Dravid’s misfortune, the team was rarely able to play at full strength, with continuous injuries to key players. Pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah was dearly missed. Even captaincy continued to change hands for the same reason. It was after the South Africa series that Virat Kohli gave up Test captaincy. In one of those three Tests, he got injured and KL Rahul had to step in. Regular captain Rohit as well as vice-captain KL Rahul missed the decisive Test in England and Bumrah became the last-minute choice to lead.

In fact, two months before the home ODI World Cup, there was no guarantee, if India’s middle-order would be at full strength. Dravid said it wasn’t for lack of planning, but simply because of injuries. “I could have told you 18 or 19 months ago, it was always going to be between Rahul, Rishabh and Shreyas (in the middle-order),” he would say. As India’s luck turned, it all came together in the World Cup. Other than Pant, everyone including Bumrah returned fully fit.

FUTURE PLANNING

Over the last year, even captain Sharma, who struggled for fitness in the first half of Dravid’s coaching tenure, found the wherewithal to change his game completely. He knew the team needed him to step up, improve his strike-rate and that was a message that was clearly communicated by Dravid as well. Still, it was a risk but Rohit took it with an eye on the big picture.

The gung-ho approach at the top was tried at the last T20 World Cup as well but it hadn’t worked then, however it was hugely successful in ODIs. Can the 36-year-old take the same approach to the T20 World Cup? Will Yashasvi Jaiswal and Ruturaj Gaikwad be better? Surely, you can’t drop Shubman Gill. And what about Ishan Kishan? Does India’s T20 cricket require a batting anchor in Kohli? These are complex selection riddles which Dravid will have to sit with the selectors to resolve.

It’s one area – man management – where Dravid excels. His handling of dressing room matters, with grace and tact, has been acknowledged by the players. From creating space for a Kohli to prosper as a player after being a long-time captain, giving injured players deserving opportunities on return to giving a long run to those he saw match-winning potential in. Not every move may have come off, but most would agree, he was able to build the dressing room which had great atmosphere.

“I am genuinely proud of the culture we have set in the dressing room. It’s a culture that stands resilient, whether in moments of triumph or adversity,” said Dravid.

Despite IPL offers, it may also have been the purist in Dravid to have coaxed him to try and create history in South Africa – become the first Indian team to win a Test series there. India departs to South Africa for an all-format tour on December 6. It was under Dravid’s captaincy that India won its first ever Test match in 2006 on South African soil.