Dravid says it is time for transition
Rahul Dravid has said it is time the Indian team goes through a transition and a new group of leaders emerges to act as a link between his generation and the next. Dravid said it was the responsibility of players like MS Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan, who have been around for long enough, to shepherd the successful transition of India's Test team and "set the tone" for their younger team-mates. Dravid announced his retirement from international and first-class cricket earlier this month, and India's other two senior batsmen, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, are both in their late 30s.
In his first interview after retirement, Dravid told ESPNcricinfo that the next lot of senior players needed to "step it up, not only as players, but as spokesmen, as people who decide the culture of the team, the way the team is run, the image they want to project and which form of the game is important to this team." The Indian team, he said, has "got to move on from being the team that was led by my generation."
While he has already seen part of the transition between generations take place, Dravid said India's challenge would be to understand how Twenty20 and the IPL impacted younger players.
"It's not something we need to be fearful of but something we need to recognise: that Twenty20 has an impact. We have to decide how we deal with it, what are the steps we need to put in place to ensure that the transition is smooth on and off the field.
"It would require a whole new level of thinking, a whole new level of leadership, to decide how the team is going to project itself. I'm not saying the seniors need to be replaced, they will be the sounding boards. But the direction and the culture of the team over the next ten years will have to be decided by this capable group of young players."
In Dravid's opinion, all stakeholders in the team, the players and the administrators, needed to be involved in managing the change instead of letting things "flow".
He said, however, that he was not worried about the situation Indian cricket finds itself in at the end of a disastrous eight months of Test cricket. He said the challenges India faced now were not new ones.
"Some of these challenges are not challenges of today. These are challenges that have always been there. Whether it is finding quality fast-bowling allrounders, opening batsmen or fast bowlers, these are issues we have had. They have to be addressed and it's no point worrying. I don't worry about things. There are a lot of positives about Indian cricket."
India's previous generation of seniors, who adopted leadership roles post the match-fixing purge of 2000, featured Dravid, Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, Javagal Srinath and Laxman. The group turned out to be an influential and successful one.
"We were going through a rough patch," Dravid said of the time. "We had come out of this match-fixing thing, we were not good travellers, it was said we were scared of fast bowling, we were arrogant, rude, or that because of match-fixing you can't trust anyone. Those were the sort of things that were around then, but you can change that. Ten years later, now there's another challenge."
He said that following the recent 0-4 defeats in England and Australia there was pressure on the players to ensure they did not get branded as a good ODI team but an ordinary Test outfit, and to answer doubts about how seriously the team and the administration takes Test cricket.
"You keep hearing talk about what impact the IPL might have, how everyone will only want to play IPL and how it might affect our Test cricket. Hopefully these guys will go on to challenge that notion, to show us that it is not the case [that Test cricket will suffer]." Dravid said serious thought needed to be put in about "how we want to see the Indian team, not today but ten years ahead."
The rise of Virat Kohli as a matchwinner and a potential replacement for Dravid at No. 3 in the Test team has given India hope. But Dravid pointed out that Kohli has only shown initial promise and will need to focus on being consistent through his career.
"It's great to see the evolution of this kid from what we saw of him at 19 to what he's becoming now. His consistency of performance, his ability to play in different conditions, and score runs, that is great. And he's got to keep doing that because, as with any long career, questions are going to be asked of him, on the technical front, on the physical front, on the mental front."
Whether Kohli could form the core of a successful team would, Dravid said, depend on how he dealt with success, failure and Indian cricket's circus. "How he comes up with solutions or answers is going to decide how long or how successful a career he is going to have.
"What Indian cricket can hope for is that someone like Virat, who has seemingly made a transition from a precocious talent to a performer at the international level, is able to have a long and successful career. The strength of your team is finally built around people who can have long and successful careers."
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo