Good luck finding another Rahul Dravid (2024)

India are sent in to bat in a World Cup final. They begin with a bang. They lose a clump of wickets. They retrench. They promote an allrounder who bats left-handed and bowls left-arm spin above more obviously attacking options.

All these things happened on November 19, 2023. They happened again on June 29, 2024.

India lost on November 19, 2023. They came to a point on June 29, 2024, when they had, according to ESPNcricinfo's Forecaster, a 96.65% chance of losing.

On both days, Rahul Dravid sat in India's dugout, with no way of controlling any of the events unfolding in the field, knowing that they would come to define him.

Only the best teams get to the semi-finals or final of nearly every global tournament they play, but once they're there, they're competing with other seriously good teams. You might be better than them by any number of parameters, and might have built better records than them over many years, but none of that guarantees beating them on that day.

This might be your third white-ball World Cup as head coach, and you might have got to the final of this one with a 21-3 record over those three tournaments, but you haven't won any of them, have you? You didn't win your one red-ball final either. And here you are now, powerless, your fate partly in the hands of other people and partly at the mercy of sheer randomness, with your opponents needing 30 off 30 balls.

This was Dravid, five overs away from the end of his tenure as India's head coach. Five overs away from world champion or serial choker.

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If you're of a certain generation, the sight of Dravid roaring with the T20 World Cup 2024 trophy clutched high over his head might have taken you back to another victory celebration from another time.

Compare Kensington Oval, 2024…

… to Kennington Oval, 2007. Trophy-lifting technique? Same. Expression? Ditto.

Dravid, contrary to popular stereotype, has never been averse to letting rip with his pent-up emotions. There is, however, a pattern to the moments he's chosen for unleashing that side of his personality.

Captaining India to their first Test series win in England in 21 years and winning a T20 World Cup as coach are massive achievements in and of themselves, as is bringing up a century in a series-turning follow-on partnership, which Dravid celebrated with an angry jab of his bat in the direction of the Eden Gardens press box.

All these moments, though, had an element of Dravid proving his doubters wrong. In 2001, he answered critics who questioned his ability to negotiate Shane Warne. The 2007 England tour had come after India, under Dravid's captaincy, had crashed out of the ODI World Cup in the first round.

Barbados 2024, of course, followed Adelaide 2022, The Oval 2023 and Ahmedabad 2023.

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Thirty to win off 30 balls. It went one way when it could have gone another way, and at some level, the only real way to make sense of it is to not try, and conclude that fate conspired to bring India this trophy. That fate brought this India this trophy, but also a trophy for all the Indias that had experienced all the heartbreaks: Old Trafford 2019, Southampton 2021, Adelaide 2022, The Oval 2023, Ahmedabad 2023. The trophy that so many superstars had craved and fought so hard for, for so long, and had even, perhaps, deserved.

Deserve is a complicated word here. You've got to be a good team to win trophies, but being a good team - or even a great team - doesn't guarantee trophies. It isn't easy for players and coaches to make peace with this, though, because much of the world understands it differently, that a team's goodness is contingent upon the trophies it wins.

And in a time of three formats and four global trophies, with roughly one prize up for grabs every year, how could India back up their claims of greatness if they didn't have even one trophy to show for it?

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For a team like this, at a time like this, having Dravid on board must have helped immensely. Win or lose, few coaches are as consistent with their messaging as he is, and few coaches are as protective of their players while speaking publicly of them.

Few coaches are as eager to embrace change and new ways of thinking as Dravid is, but it's rare for someone like that to be free of the impulse to rip up what came before and start afresh. Without being an ideologue in the way of Brendon McCullum, Dravid found a way to leave a progressive imprint on the team he took over.

The biggest example came right at the end of his tenure. Seven members of India's squad at the T20 World Cup of 2024 were part of their 2021 campaign in the UAE, their last tournament before Dravid took over. Eight were part of their 2022 campaign in Australia.

India exited the 2021 tournament at the group stage and suffered a thumping defeat in their semi-final in 2022. Both tournaments are remembered for India playing a style of T20 that seemed behind the times, and both ended with widespread calls for an overhaul.

That didn't happen, for reasons of both philosophy and pragmatism. If Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are impossible to drop for public-relations reasons, they're also impossible to drop because they're great, adaptable cricketers. Right through Dravid's tenure, both showed a willingness to bat differently for the sake of team balance, and contributed to a change in India's style that was evident even in the lead-up to the 2022 T20 World Cup. Though that tournament showed that India's transformation, as individuals and as a collective, wasn't yet complete, there were enough signs that they were building towards something.

It was no surprise, then, that Dravid's immediate reaction to the 2024 victory was to reiterate that it was the culmination of a long process.

"Honestly, this is a journey of two years," he said. "This is not a journey from just this T20 World Cup. When I think about the construction of this team, the kind of skills we wanted, the players we wanted, those discussions started in [November] 2021.

"So it's two years of work. This is not a work of just this World Cup. I think it culminated in this World Cup. The disappointment in Australia [at the 2022 T20 World Cup] and then the one-day World Cup - there's so much that has gone into it. This feels like a journey of not just one month, it feels like a journey of two years. What we've tried to build, what we have tried to create, it feels like it has all come together here on a beautiful afternoon in Barbados."

Through the two-and-a-half years of Dravid's tenure, India have shown a clear intent to build white-ball teams with structure: line-ups with a mix of right- and left-hand options and pace- and spin-hitters, and allrounders to provide depth and allow them to play the extra spinner or seamer as dictated by the conditions. They've tried to tick these boxes with the players they've had available, but they've had bad luck in big tournaments. Jasprit Bumrah was out injured in 2022, and Hardik Pandya was ruled out midway through 2023, forcing them to compromise on their structure.

"Without being an ideologue in the way of Brendon McCullum and England, Dravid found a way to leave a progressive imprint on the team"

Everything came together in 2024, and India ticked nearly every box. And yet, they got to a point where they only had a 3.35% chance of victory with five overs remaining.

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Dravid did not become a better coach because India overturned those odds, and he would not be a worse coach if South Africa had won. But his legacy is now secure. He took over from a hugely successful predecessor, Ravi Shastri, who had helped build an all-conditions Test team and a white-ball team with a formidable overall record, and did so at a time of transition, with a number of key players entering or already in their mid-30s.

As Dravid steps away now, here's where India stand. They're still the world's best Test team, well into their transition with old faces phased out and future superstars taking shape. They're also on course to contest a third successive World Test Championship final. They're a better ODI side than they were under Shastri, with one major structural weakness - a lack of stability and know-how at Nos. 4 and 5 - sorted out and another - a lack of bowlers who can bat - still a work in progress. They're a far better T20 side with a trophy to show for it.

Dravid will be the first person to tell you that much of this growth and evolution across formats has come about because India have a vast pool of extremely talented players, and that he has merely played a small role in helping them realise their own potential. But it takes a bloody good coach to be aware of the limitations of his role, to know what he can and cannot control, and to not lose sight of these things in moments of victory and defeat. It takes a bloody good coach, above all, to keep sight of the humanity of his players, to challenge them to be the best cricketers they can be while protecting them in moments of vulnerability.

It was entirely characteristic of Dravid to show up for the post-match press conference when India lost the 2023 final in Ahmedabad, and let Rohit take the mic when they won the 2024 final in Bridgetown.

In the aftermath of Dravid's greatest triumph, then, it's appropriate to go back to his words from India's night of despair in Ahmedabad.

"I'm sure the sun will come up tomorrow morning."

More than anything else, Dravid the India coach knew how to put things in perspective. Whoever succeeds him would do well to keep that in mind.

Good luck finding another Rahul Dravid (2024)

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