The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) chose the days during the immediate aftermath of the second consecutive loss suffered by India in the ongoing International Cricket Council (ICC) T20 World Cup to announce the appointment of Rahul Dravid as the coach of the national side. The selection of Dravid for this post was a foregone conclusion once it became known that the BCCI had convinced him to give his willingness to shoulder this responsibility. However, the timing of the announcement was significant as it helped to divert some of the attention from the barrage of criticism unleashed upon the team after their poor performance in the World Cup. The choice of Dravid as the successor to Ravi Shastri was widely hailed and served to bring an air of optimism in an otherwise depressing scenario.
The concept of a coach for a cricketing side is a fairly recent one. Till the late 1980s international teams did not talk about coaches. It was the success of Bob Simpson, former Australian captain, in his capacity as coach of the side led by Alan Border during the 1987 World Cup that prompted other sides also into thinking on similar lines. South Africans took this idea seriously and engaged the services of Bob Woolmer, a former England player, while Sri Lanka chose Dave Whatmore of Australia. Both of them achieved considerable success with Whatmore contributing substantially to Sri Lanka’s successful campaign during the 1996 ICC World Cup.
As in many other matters, India were slow to catch up on the idea of employing a full time coach for the national side. The BCCI had employed the practice of sending former players turned administrators as managers of the national side when they went on tour abroad, while for Test matches played at home, a manager was allotted for each match. Thus, it was more a system of rewarding retired cricketers and administrators who had to be kept on the right side of the ruling clique, rather than any organised initiative for coaching or mentoring the members of the national squad.
Wikipedia informs us that Keki Tarapore was the first coach of the Indian team. It is not in dispute that Tarapore was a former national player and coach of repute but his task during the tour of West Indies in 1971was more in the nature of a manager, who could also sit in as a member of the tour selection committee. Hemu Adhikari, who followed Tarapore, was a former skipper of the national side and cricket coach as well and he was in charge of the side during three series, all against England from the successful one in1971 till the disastrous outing in1974. After Adhikari’s fall, the BCCI went back to its old policy of sending former players and administrators as managers till late 1980s. Thus one had P R Mansingh of Hyderabad, a dyed in the wool apparatchik, managing the side during the 1983 and 1987 World Cup campaigns, while Polly Umrigar, Chandu Borde and Srinivas Venkataraghavan were among the distinguished former players who discharged this responsibility during some of the tours in this period.
Incidentally, it also merits mention here that the data provided by Wikipedia is inaccurate as Dattu Gaekwad and Salim Durani neither managed nor coached the national side; they probably find mention owing to confusion caused by similarity of their names with that of Fatehsinghrao Gaekwad and Wg Cdr Durani, who were managers during the tours of Pakistan in 1978 and 1982-83 and the twin tours of Australia and New Zealand in 1980-81 respectively.
It was with the appointment of Bishan Singh Bedi to this post in 1989 that the BCCI signalled its intention to move towards a professional coach. However, Bedi managed to rub too many people the wrong way in a short span of time and was removed in 1990. Ajit Wadekar, another former captain who was given this charge in 1993, managed to string up an impressive run of victories during the next two years by employing a strategy of preparing rank turners at home. But the BCCI reverted back to appointing former players as coaches on an annual basis after the term of Wadekar, with Anshuman Gaekwad being the only one fortunate to serve a longer tenure.
Incidentally, it was Dravid, then deputy to skipper Sourav Ganguly, who suggested John Wright for the post of coach for the national side. Dravid had interacted with Wright during his short stint in county cricket for Kent in 2000 and was impressed enough to recommend his name to the BCCI, which selected him through a formal process. Appointment of a foreign coach raised its own share of criticism as many felt that there were enough qualified persons within the country who could perform the job better. However, Wright proved to be a huge hit, not only with the players but with media and public as well and could end his stint on a high note with good performances in 2003 ICC World cup and tour of Australia in 2003-04, besides a victory over Pakistan in that country in 2004.
Greg Chappell, who succeeded Wright, came in accompanied by a huge media blitz. However, his tenure was shrouded in a mire of controversy as he could not get along with senior players in the squad, especially Ganguly, and was finally sacked after India’s poor performance in 2007 World Cup. Gary Kirsten, his replacement took the team the team to pole position in Test matches and 2011 World Cup, thus going out in a blaze of glory. Duncan Fletcher, the next incumbent, started out on a bad note with a string of defeats in England and Australia but contributed to rebuilding of the side after the exit of Tendulkar, Dravid, V V S Laxman and Virender Sehwag from international cricket.
The role and importance of a coach had increased considerably during the 15 years when foreigners were at the helm,. The advent of T20 cricket and its burgeoning popularity also contributed to this development. No longer was the coach a singular entity; he was assisted by separate coaches for batting, bowling and fielding besides a full-fledged team of physios and analysts. In short, the main coach is presently the leader of a big contingent of supporting staff, who lend support to the efforts of the men in the field. In this situation, the clamour for entrusting this post to an Indian gained momentum, leading to appointment of Anil Kumble as coach in 2015.
The belief of followers of the game that Kumble would bring his vast experience and sharp intellect to the job was belied when he was removed after two years following differences of opinion with captain Virat Kohli. Shastri took over the mantle in 2017 and struck up a good relationship with the players and the media. Though the team could not win any titles during his tenure, victories in Test series in Australia on two occasions, besides a string of creditable performances in limited overs cricket helped to give his stint a sheen.
Will Dravid be able to do better than his predecessors? It should not be forgotten that both Kumble and Shastri were former cricketers of repute, besides possessing experience in handling the officials of the BCCI and accommodating their interests. Dravid had not shown any keenness in taking up this responsibility and, if rumours are to believed, he was encouraged by Ganguly and other officials to apply for this job. After his playing days, Dravid had taken upon himself the task of coaching the junior side and mentoring up and coming cricketers, where he excelled and made significant contributions. His desire to spend more time with his family also went against seeking the responsibility as coach of national side, which is a full-time engagement.
Dravid brings with him a wealth of goodwill, which none of the other contenders for the post nor earlier incumbents can boast of. He is a keen student of the game and a shrewd judge of men. Most importantly, he carries a balanced head on his shoulders and commands tremendous respect, both within the cricketing fraternity and outside, for his sobriety and sagacity. His spell with the junior side has given him an insight into the talent pool available within the country, which will stand him in good stead during the coming months when restructuring of the white-ball side is expected to take place. His polite demeanour, studious approach and ability stay away from controversies make him unique in Indian cricketing circles. One cannot recall any other player who has contributed so much in a selfless manner to the cause of Indian cricket during his playing days and after than this mild mannered batting genius from Bangalore.
I join the millions of cricket enthusiasts in India and other parts of the world in wishing Dravid good luck and success.
(The author is a former international cricket umpire and a senior bureaucrat)