Under Rahul Dravid, India lost Asia Cup 2022, Test series in South Africa and T20 World Cup 2022.
When Rahul Dravid’s predecessor Ravi Shastri left his job post India’s horrendous outing in the 2021 World T20 held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the primary task at hand for the new head coach ‘The Wall’ was to inculcate a winning mentality in the team members, especially in ICC knockout matches, to lift India’s first title since 2013.
Ever since India won the 2013 Champions Trophy under MS Dhoni, and till Dravid took over the role of coach, India had lost one World T20 final in 2014, were knocked out once from the World T20 semis in 2016, and failed to make the second round in 2021 World T20. They also lost a Champions Trophy final in 2017, and faced two exits from the 50-over World Cup semis. And also, India ended runners-up in World Test Championship (WTC) 2019-21.
But over a year since Rahul Dravid took over the coach’s role, the performance sheet of Indian cricket in ICC championships since 2013 has not changed at all. They lost yet another World T20 semis in 2022, failing to make it to the 2022 Asia Cup final, lost the ODI series in Bangladesh, and struggled to win a Test series there, albeit by a margin of 2-0.
To sum it up, Dravid’s first year as coach of the Indian cricket team makes for a poor resume that he himself would not be proud of. It could be argued that the team is in a transition phase, but the truth is Dravid has not been able to create a brand of cricket that would work for India. And hence, the lack of a winning mentality to win crunch knockout games continues under Dravid’s tenure as coach and speaks volumes of Indian cricket’s plummeting fortunes for a decade now.
Let’s take a look at things going wrong under Dravid.
India still searching for their brand of cricket
Since Dravid took over, all team selections, experiments and style of play revolved around the 2022 World T20. In fact, India were so obsessed to get their team sorted that they didn’t even consider winning Asia Cup ahead of World T20 even as a short-term goal, as they were too engrossed in aiming for the bigger picture of winning the coveted ICC title. On the other hand, Sri Lanka showed great competitive spirit to lift the Asia Cup after losing their first match to Afghanistan.
What was more appalling is that India gave away the aggressive style of play they so advocated throughout the build-up to the World T20 during the event itself, and adopted a totally cautious-build-explode approach that was completely outdated to match the grind of T20Is. The new approach was butchered by a rampaging England who restricted India to 168/6 in the semis, and then achieved the target with 10 wickets in hand which really personified their style of aggression in T20Is. Needless to say, England went on to win the 2022 World T20.
Post the debacle, the whole Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) selection committee was sacked, but the coaching staff managed to save their jobs. And no one dared question coach Dravid and his terms of reference as regards his association with the team. Currently, India are still searching for the brand of cricket they should follow across formats, making them vulnerable even against lower-ranked teams. This lack of clarity, muddled approach and no sense of direction have to be borne by the coaching staff led by Dravid.
Lack of aggression missing post Virat Kohli’s exit as captain
It cannot be denied that Virat Kohli brought his aggressiveness as a batter into his captaincy as well. During Kohli’s reign as Test captain, India enjoyed great success and had an almost invincible record against all teams at home, and also won consistently overseas. But post his release as Test captain, India have struggled to find a reliable captain to bring the same aggressiveness and winning mentality in the longer version. It has not helped that Test captaincy too has been a game of musical chairs. Kohli-Shastri had a great relationship as captain and coach, and they ensured India remained on top of Test cricket. But under David, the Test team has not fared well or rather been below expectations so far.
Under David, the team has lost to South Africa 2-1 after being 1-0 up, survived a scare of losing their maiden Test against Bangladesh, and drew 2-2 against England after being 2-1 ahead in the series.
The worst decline of the Indian Test cricket team can be seen from India’s struggle to get on top of Bangladesh bowlers during the recent Test series. If not for Ravichandran Ashwin-Shreyas Iyer’s record undefeated 71-run stand for the eighth wicket to win the Test in Mirpur, knives would have been out to find the scapegoats. The bad habit of ‘lack of winning mentality’ in white-ball cricket has crept into India’s Test team as well. This was not the case when Kohli was captain as he led with aggression, with the sole job of winning matches.
Dravid’s questionable tactics
Moreover, the coach’s tactics have been questionable throughout his tenure. The decision to not field a wrist-spinner at all in the 2022 World Cup backfired as India struggled to contain the rampaging England openers in the semis.
The decision to send two nightwatchmen back-to-back in the Mirpur Test is another poor tactical decision by India’s team management. Additionally, the decision to drop Kuldeep Yadav from the Mirpur Test also drew a lot of criticism from observers of the game.
The lack of a brand of cricket, and its subsequent implementation in white-ball cricket has also been a disadvantage for India. The change of style of play during the World T20 was also another shocker as India just gave up the idea of aggressive cricket after their top-order failed in the first game against Pakistan. All this prove to be glaring black dots in Dravid’s coaching career so far.
Given newcomers a chance, but…
Under Dravid’s tenure as coach, newcomers such as Umran Malik, Kuldeep Sen and Ishan Kishan got their chances on the field. But no newcomers, except a few, were given a long rope to establish themselves. They were selected and dropped without any rhyme and reason, and it has had demoralising effect on the cricketers as the coaching staff finally went for experience ahead of young blood.
Players such as Sanju Samson were deprived of chances, despite performing well in his previous games. Hence, apart from Arshdeep Singh, who has guaranteed himself a place with a few brilliant performances, no other young cricketer has established himself in the playing XI.
Ishan Kishan made a great statement to be given regular chances after his double ton in the third ODI against Bangladesh, but will India take the chance of playing him ahead of an experienced batter? So far, India has employed strange selection practices, and it would be no surprise if Kishan is made to wait for his chances again.
The solution: Dravid has to reinvent his coaching career
Guiding youngsters to Under-19 World Cup glory is a different ball game as compared to coaching the men’s cricket team. There are many things to balance such as the ego of star players, giving youngsters a chance and guiding them, and strategising for each series across formats. There is perhaps too much on Dravid’s plate. And the results have not gone Dravid’s way either. In fact, Indian cricket has been in slow decline since Dravid took over as coach.
A few things that Dravid can do is find a brand of cricket that could work for India across formats just like how the England team is doing currently under two different coaches in white-ball and red-ball cricket. He also has to take tough calls regarding players who need to be phased out for the future of Indian cricket. No player is bigger than the team. Currently, Dravid’s style of coaching is passive, and in the background. He has to reinvent his coaching career to not only save his job but bring laurels for Indian cricket, while eyeing success in the WTC final and 2023 ODI World Cup. The ball is in Dravid’s court now.