Dravid's playing days had many delicate situations, and as coach he will have plenty more

Past coaches have had revolutionary plans, but they've not been easily accepted. Will Dravid be able to stamp his signature with this crop?

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Early in his captaincy career - well, he was just a stand-in at that point of time - Rahul Dravid experienced the dark side of superstar power in Indian cricket. He declared an innings closed with Sachin Tendulkar on 194. The furore that followed shocked him. His full-time captaincy, lauded for his tactical nous and forward thinking, was littered with troubles with superstars, one who refused to move on, another who resented a change in his batting position. It eventually ended in the captain's resignation and a sense of unfulfillment even though he had led India to their first Test win in South Africa and a rare series win in England.
This was perhaps why Dravid has long been reluctant to take up the head coach role. Now that he has agreed to it, he is arguably India's most high-profile coach ever. And he walks into a similarly challenging prospect of transitioning the team from the current superstars to the next ones. Make no mistake about it, Dravid inherits an extremely successful team. They have won two successive Test series in Australia, are a single draw away from winning one in England. India are nigh unbeatable at home, and have made at least the semi-finals of the last seven ICC events.
Yet it a delicate turn for Indian cricket because the core of this team is in the last quarter of their careers. Their leader on the field, Virat Kohli, is showing signs of wear and tear, and wants to cut down on responsibilities. Every other automatic captaincy choice is older if not the same age. Not that Kohli is in a tearing hurry to give it all up either.
Along with the selectors, Dravid will have to manage this transition as smoothly as he can with all the personality clashes that crop up during such times. The role of selectors can be easily overlooked, but they play a potentially bigger role than the coach.
The previous team management led India on some really tough tours, two each to Australia and England and one to South Africa, but they had one advantage. Their stint was the most straightforward one in Indian cricket. In the team, there was no other power head. Unlike MS Dhoni and Dravid before him, Kohli didn't have to manage any senior or difficult character. He got rid of the only possible dissenting voice, coach Anil Kumble, fairly early in his captaincy.
They didn't need any of the diplomacy a team management needs to deal with the BCCI. In the name of a board was a Committee of Administrators, which never denied anything they wanted. One of the things that has probably worn Kohli down, of late, is the board making sure that player power is kept in check. This is the reality of leading an Indian cricket team, a reality Kohli and Ravi Shastri were immune to, but Dravid - and whoever the next captain - is won't be. While transitioning, they will still have to get the best out of these senior superstars.
On the field, challenges for Dravid are more direct. He has to make India's white-ball sides more modern while maintaining the Test intensity. To run down India's limited-overs sides based on ICC tournament knockout matches will be unfair, but there is a sense that despite running the biggest league in T20 cricket, India are always playing catch-up. Their default position in these formats is conservative. Only when they are pushed up against a wall do they unshackle themselves. The results are often spectacular, which frustrates the observers even more. Dravid will need to get rid of that handbrake.
With the largest talent pool available to them, Dravid and the new captain will have to realise the vast potential India have in limited-overs cricket. Those who observe India's limited-overs talent pool at grassroot levels, especially in the batting, are underwhelmed at what India achieve on the international scene. The test will be immediate: there are two World Cups coming up in the next two years, the T20 one in Australia in 2022 and the ODI World Cup at home in 2023.
More than Shastri's, like it or not, popular perception will judge Dravid's tenure on these two events. Dravid is well equipped, though. He brings great experience in both team formation and strategising both as captain and coach in the toughest league of them all, the IPL. That is his big advantage over a man-manager kind of a coach. He also brings experience of overseeing players through their formative years at NCA and in Under-19 cricket.
Dravid will find out not much has changed in India's limited-overs setup since he was captain. The immediate problem is that everybody wants to bat inside the top three when the ball is hard and new. Back in 2006 and 2007, Dravid and coach Greg Chappell were ahead of their time in recognising the issue, but their solution, to ask the most versatile batter they knew to take up the responsibility in the middle order, backfired spectacularly because of lack of buy-in. What solutions will he bring about now? How will he manage a buy-in if he has similar revolutionary ideas?
"Along with the selectors, Dravid will have to manage this transition as smoothly as he can with all the personality clashes that crop up during such times. The role of selectors can be easily overlooked, but they play a potentially bigger role than the coach."
Dravid will have to use all his diplomacy to manage the mental and physical health of his players. Kohli has cried himself hoarse in press conferences about the unsustainable schedules of the Indian team. This might just be the time to take the England route and invest in a completely different limited-overs outfit to better manage players' bodies and minds. With some help from the BCCI, he will have to harbour a sense of security within the team, if he aims at such a shift.
Test cricket has relatively easier assignments and challenges apart from the tour of South Africa and the last Test of the unfinished series in England. Leading that England series already, India will be favourites to make the final once again. However, during Dravid's tenure, the futures of a few Test stalwarts will come up for review. Delicate decisions will have to be made.
While the wild dream of being Test, ODI and T20I champions at the same time can't be ruled out in the next two years, we will do well to not judge the team on those three or four knockout matches alone.
That is one thing that will change from his current job where he himself makes a conscious effort to not focus on the results on the ground. To him, winning an Under-19 World Cup is less important than seeing his players holding their own against older, battle-hardened men in first-class cricket within one year of playing Under-19. His A-team tours are more about judging who can go on to serve India and then providing him enough chances to develop his game. Now Dravid will have to rely on someone else to do that for him.
A recent TV commercial plays on the popular image of Dravid. They show him in road rage a moment after the narrator says their offer is as ridiculous as Dravid having anger issues. Because, well, if Dravid can have road rage, their offer is not so ridiculous after all. It works because it is an extremely clever advertisement, based of real-life perception of Dravid: a good boy with a neat side-parting who represents those qualities of people that they want projected.
Yet the advertisers needn't have created a fictional scene of road rage. They could have just shown him fling his cap into dirt as Rajasthan Royals coach when his players didn't execute well. Welcome back to that life, Rahul. It's quite a rush. Hope you don't have to bring out that side too often.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo