An unstable teamquestion marks over senior players and an ICC event around the corner. Rahul Dravid has navigated this maze before – first as captain ahead of the 2007 World Cup and now as team coach exploring options for the T20 World Cup in a few months.
At the time, by many accounts, he was the reluctant enforcer of Australian coach Greg Chappell’s stubborn ideas. Now he’s the mastermind working with a mild-mannered captain Rohit Sharma. A change of role or era does not make life any easier for a Team India locker room decider.
Fate would surely have a sly smile on its face as it managed to trap a man known for avoiding controversy like Covid in a greenhouse of intrigue where he will again be called upon to make unpopular decisions.
Last time, Dravid did not shine. He made selection errors and his team was eliminated early from the 2007 World Cup. His players faced scathing criticism, their houses were stoned. Coach Chappell, and subsequently even Dravid, had to resign.
Why talk about it now?
The obvious reason is to emphasize the cliché about the dangers of ignoring history. The other most interesting concerns the common cast of characters. Dravide and Sourav Gangulythe main actors of the most watched Indian cricket melodrama of the Chappell era, will have the chance to learn from their past mistakes.
To know what happened during the World Cup, a look at the scoreboard of the defeat against Sri Lanka would suffice.
The batting order in this do-or-die tie went like this: Robin Uthappa, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. In a team with too many opening batsmen, to the surprise of the world, it was Uthappa who secured the Chappell-Dravid vote over two of India’s greatest cricketers – Sehwag and Tendulkar.
Ganguly would score a 6 from 23 on a 30 strike. In the previous game against Bermuda, he had scored an 89 from 114, but his tournament strike rate was only 60. He would face wrath fans, and also ludicrous claims that his Puma sponsors were paying him based on how long he was at the Fold.
It’s still yesterday in Indian cricket. Dravid-Rohit faces the same pre-World Cup dilemma as Dravid-Chappell in 2007. India are top heavy again and there are more than one ‘slow coach’ senior with strike rate issues .
KL RahulRohit, Ishan Kishan are real openers, while in the colors of the RCB, Virat Kohli becomes a budding opener. After his test match heroics following the IPL crisis, cricket pundits believe that Rishabh Pants should ideally come out first. Then there’s Sanju Samson, the killer hitter capable of diluting big chases or giving a winning edge in Powerplay.
Throughout the IPL, Rohit, Rahul and Kohli were repeatedly criticized for playing ODI-paced T20s. But they are still expected to be India’s 1, 2 and 3 at the T20 World Cup – a safe choice, but not a wise one.
The statistics and common logic of cricket agree that the three clustered at the top is a liability for any team. These pages have repeatedly mentioned that no sane franchise would prefer the Big 3 in the XI even if they were available at bargain prices.
But does Dravid have the conviction to push for the non-inclusion of one of them, to read Kohli for obvious reasons, at the selection committee meeting or perhaps to change their positions in the playing eleven?
A possible answer to this million dollar question can be obtained by studying how the former captain once handled a similar situation. While the world eagerly awaits Dravid’s memoir, for now we must settle for Chappell’s version of events.
Guru Greg in his book ‘Fierce Focus’ discusses how the Sehwag-Tendulkar pairing was split and forced down a flight on the batting ladder. It wasn’t nice and Dravid couldn’t do it, writes Chappell.
“Rahul and I told Sehwag that we wanted to try him at number four. To say he was less than excited is to underestimate him a thousand percent. We explained the need very patiently and the We tried at number four, but he just wasn’t interested. It became self-destructive. There was no point whipping a dead horse. Rahul discussed it and decided that Sachin was the only other man who could do it.
“Rahul thought he would resist and was hesitant to push him. But we went to Sachin in Nagpur and he agreed to try, but without much enthusiasm. The next day before practice, he told Rahul that he had changed his mind.
I said to Rahul, ‘Did you push back? We’re not going to do any good in the World Cup if we just think we can just belt the new ball like we do at home. Rahul said he tried but had no luck.
The story goes that later it was the trainer who kissed the cats.
Chappell, according to a delightful chapter in veteran Pradeep Magazine’s book ‘Not Just Cricket’, tried to plant a story in the media about Tendulkar, Sehwag and Laxman dropping out for the ICC event. The magazine writes that the coach, wishing to remain anonymous, told a young reporter that the three “were not good enough to play in the 2007 World Cup and should be dropped and a new group of players prepared in their place. “.
Although, in his book, Chappell is subtle, he does not name names. With the profound wisdom of hindsight, the Australian coach hints that he would prefer a younger squad and hints that in Indian cricket market forces have a say in selection.
“I thought it would take a miracle to get us through to the semi-finals and final, and I was appalled that the coaches stuck with their beloved marquee players rather than aiming for the potential of youngsters. such as Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma. But this team had shown they were capable of surprising me, so I was hopeful, if less motivated than I would have been with a team of young players who had had some success with their enthusiasm.
The likes of Kishan, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Deepak Hooda could trigger similar feelings in Dravid. Without the towering presence of the dominant Chappell around him, Dravid this time will be at peace while making a decision that could impact the fate of Indian cricket. In Chappell’s account, Dravid is portrayed as a peace-loving status, never eager to rock the boat. But the coach’s sketch doesn’t do justice to the other layers of his captain’s character.
Another book, another Dravid arises. This one is from his old friend Ganguly and is called “A century is not enough”. Here, Dravid appears as an objective and ruthless skipper. There’s this touching scene, which has unlimited cinematic potential. It is Dravid who transmits to Ganguly that he is abandoned.
“Rahul came back from the selection meeting. He took me aside in the locker room and said, ‘Sourav, sorry, you’re out of the team.’ I was appalled. Still? I expected the worst because I felt the plot thicken around me. But I didn’t expect it to be done this way. I went back to the hotel and started packing.
In these delicate transition times for Indian cricket, many will be returning to hotels and packing their bags in the coming days. Dravid could be the messenger of fate. Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have already gotten that dreaded handshake in the test team.
But the white ball weeding process might be more difficult. The prospect of a World Cup without Kohli can break fans’ hearts and lead to heart complications for broadcasters and advertisers. But 2007 taught Indian cricket that a team full of big names does not guarantee the Cup. The champion teams have the right combination and the right line-up.
Dravid should bear in mind a caustic comment by Chappell from the book. This is the Class of 2007, that star-studded playing XI that imploded spectacularly.
“Our heavily commercialized ‘Dream Team’ was just that: the figment of too many imaginations,” writes the Aussie oracle.
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National Sports Editor
The Indian Express
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