Rahul Dravid – the enigma and deity of skeptics

Echoes from "Chak De India" and "Kanaa" ring in our ears as Rahul Dravid portrayed his role of redemption beyond the field as master coach.
Rahul Dravid – the enigma and deity of skeptics
Rahul Dravid being lifted by his proteges after the T20 World Cup triumph

VK Sanju

Behind the jubilant triumph of MS Dhoni's youthful squad clinching their maiden T20 World title lies a poignant tale of tears and forgotten struggles. This saga begins with the 2007 ODI Cricket World Cup, hosted in the same Caribbean islands where India has just witnessed its T20 glory. In that tournament, the Indian team faced an early exit in the first round, and the ill-fated captain then was Rahul Dravid. Following this devastating defeat, Dravid relinquished his captaincy. Cricket legends Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, and Zaheer Khan also decided to keep themselves out of the upcoming inaugural Twenty20 cricket world cup. This paved the way for Dhoni, who, taking the reins, led a spirited team of young players to an unforgettable victory in the T20 World Cup.

Much like the inspiring narratives of "Chak De India" and "Kanaa", Rahul Dravid's story is one of thrilling redemption, one where the protagonist rises from the ashes, not through his prowess on the field, but off it through his mastery in teaching the game.

Harsha Bhogle once remarked about Dravid, “Ask him to walk on water and he will ask how many kilometers?” In his playing days, Dravid was often relegated to stand in the shadows of the stalwarts. Only when the acclaimed strokemakers faltered, all eyes turned to this 'Great Wall' of defense, an epithet he bore with quiet grace, though it was one he never truly cherished.

Dravid has always seemed to occupy the second tier of the Indian cricket team, a steadfast player who regularly stepped in as opener, wicket-keeper, and captain. Much like Bhimasena of Mahabharat, he often found himself in the second position. The century he narrowly missed on his Test debut at Lord's placed him behind Sourav Ganguly. During the iconic Kolkata victory against Australia, he stood in the shadow of VVS Laxman. Even in the two record-breaking batting partnerships in One-Day cricket, he played the role of a dependable partner.

Only Greg Chappell, the Australian cricketing legend, proclaimed Dravid as the greatest captain India has ever lost, underscoring the irony of Dravid's career. Despite being a stand-in captain, his leadership was profoundly illustrated by his controversial decision to declare an innings in Pakistan, which denied Sachin Tendulkar a double century. This act epitomized his unwavering belief that the team always came before individual accolades!

There was a time when the Indian cricket team would falter even while chasing a meagre 150 runs in one-day matches. During this period, coach Greg Chappell insisted on fielding first, regardless of pitch conditions or the strength of the opposition. Yet, under Dravid's captaincy, the team successfully chased down targets in 17 games. However, Chappell's tenure as coach was marred by his attempts to destabilize the revered positions of Maharaja Sourav Ganguly and the cricketing God Sachin Tendulkar. Amid this turmoil, Dravid's straightforward approach fell short in navigating the chaotic politics of Indian cricket, ultimately leading to his downfall as captain.

Rahul Dravid – the enigma and deity of skeptics
Rahul Dravid after the 2007 ODI World Cup debacle.

But that leadership prowess has finally been acknowledged. It wasn't just the World Cup trophy that Rohit Sharma and his team held high, soared to the pinnacle of excitement, but also the pride of 51-year-old Rahul Dravid, whose guidance paved the way for this triumph.

Six or seven years ago, when he was first invited to be India's head coach, Dravid didn't hesitate for a moment to say NO. Deep down, he understood that teaching the game to children was one thing, but guiding seasoned adults who were already well-versed in cricket required a different ball game. He had to comprehend the struggles of the mild-mannered John Wright, the behind-the-scenes maestro Gary Kirsten, the revered elder Duncan Fletcher, the man-management prowess of Ravi Shastri and even the challenges faced by the illustrious Anil Kumble whose fall to abyss was unthinkable.

But Dravid ultimately took up the challenge. His successors in the player ranks did not let the former captain's coaching stint falter, crowning him with the World Cup as a fitting tribute to their mentor. Thus, it was no wonder that the unaccustomed spark of joy and pride on Rahul Dravid's face, as he received the Cup from Virat Kohli and held it close to his heart, was truly exemplary.

Rahul Dravid – the enigma and deity of skeptics
Rahul Dravid poses with 2018 under-19 world cup trophy with the then captain Prithvi Shah

It's not the first time that Dravid has lifted a trophy in his coaching role, a feat he didn't achieve as a captain or player. The first instance was in 2018, during the U-19 World Cup, when names like Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill endeared themselves to cricket fans. Reflecting Dravid's trademark style, the junior team secured victory with six consecutive wins. Similar to the current T20 World Cup, Dravid understands that while batsmen can win games, bowlers are crucial for tournament victories. This was proven on the field by Jasprit Bumrah, Arshdeep Singh, Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel, just as it was by Anukul Roy, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi and Ishan Porel back then.

Those who once swore off cricket after Sachin Tendulkar's retirement now find renewed passion in witnessing Rahul Dravid's mastery. He was never deified like Sachin, yet his journey from Test cricket's "tuk tuk" specialist to orchestrating India's triumph in T20 cricket poses a tantalizing riddle. What else can he be dubbed as but a riddle himself—the deity of the skeptics!

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