Soon after Hardik Pandya and K L Rahul made their infamous appearance on Koffee with Karan, a meme began to do the rounds—a picture of Rahul Dravid, V V S Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar, so fans could “detox”.
For those of us who grew up in the Nineties, the recovery of the Indian team from its miserable state in the latter half of the decade to becoming a force in the game and eventually World Champion owes much to that quartet.
Laxman and Tendulkar are on opposite ends of the spectrum, the one retiring suddenly and silently and the latter ensuring he had all the numbers he wanted as his career tapered to a finish. His presence in the team over the last two years of his career owed as much to the fact that he was idolised by MS Dhoni as to his exploits in the previous two decades. Laxman is often and correctly referred to as “unsung”.
The other two members of the quartet will play a crucial role in the next phase of the Indian cricket team—Rahul Dravid as head coach of the team, and Sourav Ganguly as President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
Dravid’s appointment comes in the midst of great turmoil in the Indian team, who are all but out of the T20 International World Cup. Virat Kohli pre-empted his rumoured sacking by announcing that he would quit captaincy of the T20 International side after the tournament. Current head coach Ravi Shastri, too, was said to have informed the BCCI that he would not ask for his contract to be renewed.
Given that there is little love lost between Shastri and Ganguly, and that the former has not coached the side to great laurels, and the hope among Indian fans that Dravid might take over full-time after his stint with the team in Sri Lanka, the question was perhaps moot.
However, the team’s poor showing at the T20 World Cup has been blamed on the conflict between the administration and the management—the BCCI and the team leadership, particularly captain Kohli and coach Shastri.
It may be remembered that the BCCI was unhappy with Shastri organising and Kohli attending the launch of the former’s book in London, on the eve of the fourth Test match. Ganguly suggested that Shastri had contracted Covid at the launch, and that the sorry end to the tour might be blamed on the event, for which the permission of neither board—BCCI or the ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board)—was sought. Shastri refused to apologise for the launch, which reportedly had over 250 people in attendance and therefore also entailed breaking the rules over the team staying in a bubble, and dismissed the idea that he had caught the virus because of it.
The war of words between Shastri and Ganguly began yet again, and a news channel interviewed Shastri over reports that he had once refused to let Ganguly board the team bus in 2007 for arriving late—Shastri confirmed this, while Ganguly snidely suggested that the coach not be interviewed in the morning.
The two have never been the best of friends, and the rancour was renewed when Anil Kumble initially got the nod over Shastri for the coaching job. Shastri claimed Ganguly had been disrespectful by absenting himself for his pitch and presentation; Ganguly said he had had another meeting to attend, which was confirmed by the other members of the Cricket Advisory Committee of which he was part. It also became known that Shastri’s attitude was considered lackadaisical, because he chose to make a presentation over Skype while holidaying in Bangkok.
It wasn’t long before Shastri took over, though, with Kumble being called “disciplinarian”, as if: (a) that were a drawback (b) a team representing a billion-strong country and minting money were not obliged to be fastidious about training.
Enter Shastri and the Era of Virat Kohli. There was no problem as long as the team was winning, but Kohli soon became infamous not only for his on-field aggression against the opposition, but his caustic references to his teammates’ failures at post-match presentations, press conferences, and team discussions every time they lost. A case in point was Kohli’s silent tantrum after having caved against New Zealand, when he said the Indian side had not been "brave" enough—a comment for which he received much flak.
There was so much concern over the conflict between the board and the team that Dhoni had been brought in to lift the team’s morale, but it was evident his presence in the camp hadn’t done much to cool tempers.
Will Dravid succeed in closing the rift?
Dravid is largely seen as a straight arrow, firm if non-confrontational. Yet, we know he will put the team’s interests ahead of everything else—including Tendulkar’s double-century, as he did as stand-in captain in Multan in 2004. He has worked with many of the younger members of the team, as coach of the Under-19 and India A side, with both of which he has seen much success and won great respect.
But will his style of working suit Kohli? Dravid and Ganguly belong to an era when the captain wasn’t all-powerful, a trend that changed with the anointing of Dhoni. The Board made the decisions when Ganguly led the team, and the latter will want the reins now that he heads the board. Dravid was never a sycophant to the captain even as player, and the idea that he might be as coach is laughable.
There are only two ways Dravid’s tenure could go—either he will beat the team into shape, or he will leave as fast as Kumble did.
Team India, which has been swinging between vertiginous highs and abysmal lows in the last couple of years, could do with some stability, and the Ganguly-Dravid combine might be the best bet.
For the fans, it will be exciting to see whether the team has a dream run or a disastrous patch. And the nostalgically inclined might want to recall what they did as Captain and Vice-Captain two decades ago.
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Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com