Let's talk about Rahul Dravid as long-term India coach
It makes sense at many levels, but there are also plenty of unknowns and obstacles involved
Rahul Dravid, head coach, India. That has some ring to it.
Just feels right, right? In the same way you knew you'd brought the right boy home to meet the parents.
Dravid has always had prospective-son-in-law vibes, though presently that quality stands doubly amplified because the actual India coach seems very much the boyfriend your parents warned you about.
And why not? It makes sense at many levels. For one, Dravid wouldn't be that former great who became a coach because what else would he do? A potential reading of his playing career, in fact, is as a prelude to a career as India's head coach. That's not to dismiss what he achieved as a player but to recognise that the nature of his greatness as a player stood him apart from the greatness of those around him.
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No greatness is ever unearned, but Dravid's came across as sweatier and more worked for than his contemporaries in that revered batting order. This isn't some reductive assessment, that he was a limited player; just that the clear impression was that he was more aware than most of what made him tick and why, and as importantly, what didn't. Which, for coaching, is a priceless quality to have.
He's also been working as a coach for a while, though it isn't simply about having the right qualifications or even practical experience so much. It is more that it makes him familiar with the game as it is now. So often, especially in the subcontinent (or maybe it's just Pakistan) former players who become coaches remain stuck in the time they played in, unable to recognise that the game has evolved, let alone by what measure.
Through his work with IPL franchises, and more seminally with India's Under-19 and A sides and the National Cricket Academy, Dravid likely recognises the environment young cricketers are coming from, as well as the influences that are shaping them. He has bought into, for example, data analytics. But more importantly, you suspect he can sense which players are receptive to something like analytics, and to what degree, and which players tick slightly differently.
Go through head coaches in international cricket right now and it's clear Dravid hits a sweet spot unlike others. One tier is of those with celebrated international careers and a range of coaching experience: from limited, like Misbah-ul-Haq, Mark Boucher and Shastri, to extensive, like Phil Simmons, Lance Klusener and Justin Langer. There is a tier of hardy domestic cricketers who had limited international careers: Chris Silverwood, Gary Stead and Lalchand Rajput. Finally there are the career coaches: Graham Ford, Mickey Arthur and Russell Domingo.
And then there is, or could be, Dravid, in a tier all by himself. A more celebrated playing career than many - perhaps any - on that list. More coaching experience than some on that list, but also the empathy and humility (though perhaps not as elite as Langer's) that is the hallmark of the best coaches.
He's also set up better, of course, because he will have at his disposal arguably a better team than most anyone on that list, and unarguably greater depth and resources to play with. It can't be said enough how much that impacts - and often distorts - assessments of coaching.
But that also leads, in a straightish line, to the question of what India need now. And now that we're asking, let's be blunt with the answer: a title. India need a title.
They're already unbeatable at home and difficult to stop, let alone beat, in most other countries. They already enter all white-ball events among the favourites and are perennial semi-finalists - which comes off sounding like more of a slight than it is intended to be.
But a title is the validation that teams and athletes live, and break themselves, for. It's all very well being ranked No. 1, but how many people remember Marcelo Rios? It is one of the unavoidable - and slightly ludicrous - realities of sport that winning titles is what we judge players by.
For a while now, India have been on the verge of becoming cricket's dominant side without becoming it. It's moot that they should have been here long ago. But what they would appear to need now are mostly infinitesimal advances. Greater attention to detail, smarter selection of playing XIs, more efficient management, and better deployment of that vast depth. These are the kind of things, you imagine, Dravid would be especially good at.
You could argue that India's issue with their white-ball batting is trickier, needing a more nuanced and sensitive handling. Learning to see wickets as expendable, and breaking away from those anchors, particularly in T20, is a cultural rewiring rather than a cricketing one. And soon there will be time for a transition - more pressingly with the Test side. Virat Kohli is 32, Ajinkya Rahane 33, Cheteshwar Pujara 33, Rohit Sharma 34, R Ashwin 34, Ravindra Jadeja 32, Ishant Sharma 32. It often goes overlooked just how much experience any India team brings to the field these days. Both matters will need careful management and careful management is kind of Dravid's schtick.
There will be to all this some element of the unknown, a tangible sense of risk. These are, after all, matters between humans, not algorithms. The dynamics of working with younger, fringe players are entirely different to those of working with established superstars in a national side. And Anil Kumble is a different man, but the circumstances of his exit can't help but linger as a cautionary tale. It says something about the kind of coach this team, this captain, is comfortable with.
Dravid's resignation from the captaincy in 2007 lingers too - at the edges of memory but there. He stopped enjoying it because it had drained him, he once explained. It hardly needs spelling out that being the head coach of India, like being the captain, is no holiday; it can be a draining, overwhelming job, and the prospects of a life on the road for much of a year are hardly appealing at the moment.
More than either Dravid or the team, the issue will weigh heaviest on the BCCI. It will be a critical rejig of an ecosystem that has only recently clicked into place. If the appointment is to happen, the BCCI will have to place the benefits of the work Dravid is undertaking now against the potential benefits he will bring to the national side. It's a question to which the answer is usually another question and then another, until someone ends up asking whether the chicken came first or the egg.
Not easy, no, but some perspective: it's the kind of conundrum other countries would love to have.
Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo