Behind Gabba Heroes Stands Original ‘Wall’ — Rahul Dravid

By Nidhima Taneja

Moments after India registered a historic win over Australia at The Gabba on Tuesday, former India skipper Rahul Dravid started trending on Twitter. While most in India were aware of the cricketers winning the series against Australia, only a few die-hard cricket fanatics knew why Dravid’s name started dominating the ‘trending list’.

Rishabh Pant, Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur, T Natarajan, Mohammed Siraj, Washington Sundar were the unsung heroes of India’s emphatic series-clinching win at Australia’s fortress – The Gabba. Until a week ago, nobody could have believed that these names would emerge as the match-winners. Except for one man, perhaps — Dravid.

The current National Cricket Academy (NCA) head was perhaps the only man who always believed in the humongous talent pool of budding cricketers in India. After all, he has worked closely with all of these boys as the India A and U-19 coach.

Interestingly, he was the one who had started the chain wherein a player needed to first play for India A before winning a national call-up. The result is there for all to see. The likes of Siraj have gained exponentially on such A tours.

Before the decider in Brisbane, the Australian bowling attack had a combined 1,013 wickets whereas the Indian XI had a meagre 13 wickets to their credit (including two of Rohit Sharma’s).

Despite the odds against them, the young brigade helped India retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy and snatched the win from the jaws of a formidable Australia outfit, the home team’s first loss at their den in 32 years and two months.

Famously hailed as ‘The Wall’ — Dravid needs no introduction. His heroics and records on the field are stuff of cricketing folklore. He retired from international cricket with an illustrious record of 24,208 runs, including 48 centuries, and is the only player in the history of cricket to be involved in two 300-plus ODI partnerships.

These credentials are enough for any retired cricketer to score a plushy comfortable job. But the former Indian skipper chose the road less taken. He decided to coach the junior sides (India Under-19 and India A). Around the end of his international career, he was already in a captain-cum-coach role with Rajasthan Royals.

Under his coaching, the U-19 team was runners-up at the 2016 World Cup and emerged victorious at the 2018 World Cup. However, it’s not the record books that are the driving force for India’s Mr. Dependable. The 2016 WC saw players like Pant emerge while the 2018 edition saw India’s new heartthrob Shubman Gill rise in stature.

Gill’s unbeaten 102 against arch-rivals Pakistan in the semi-final was the first time when the world took note of the opener. On Tuesday, he stamped his authority even on the international stage with a match-winning 91.

Going against the traditional approach, Dravid fuelled in new refreshing energy and mindset in young players. It was no longer about winning or losing matches. There was a new sheriff in town, and the rules of the game had to change!

Every player was to play an equal number of matches beyond which they were encouraged to play domestic first-class cricket. Coach Dravid kept the boys on their toes and believed in giving more chances to newcomers. He had once said if he continued keeping wickets because it was convenient, India would have never got MS Dhoni!

In the Dravid era, the players were consistently put under challenging situations, some would say their preparation was at par with India’s senior squad. Be it Pakistan or Bangladesh, the scale of preparation remained as rigorous.

The motive was clear. The former skipper wasn’t grooming the players to score fast runs, scalp wickets, and move on. He was strengthening the foundation of the sport in the country, creating a stronger base that was to make Indian cricket richer in the years to come.

The seeds he sowed bloomed into a jubilant triumph for India Down Under. After Virat Kohli left as his wife Anushka Sharma was expecting their first child, the bruised and battered Indian outfit fell into the lap of Ajinkya Rahane. With an exception of Chesteshwar Pujara, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravinder Jadeja, Rohit Sharma, and Jasprit Bumrah, prima facie most of the players were inexperienced and raw.

Nobody in their right mind would have placed a bet on India’s chances of retaining the trophy let alone win the series against an Aussie outfit which had a dangerous line-up of world-class players.

But the young brigade had paid attention when coach Dravid taught them: “There are opportunities to learn, and memories to make.”

The last time a visiting team emerged victorious at the Gabba was back in November 1988 when the mighty West Indian outfit led by Viv Richards crushed Allan Border’s Australia by 9 wickets. 32 years and two months later, Rahane’s injury-ravaged young team endured every pain, bruise, racial abuse and created history which they, perhaps, never set out for.

In hindsight, Dravid’s conscious effort to not focus on individuals and mould the potential of each person in his squad has seen young players compete with any world-class player when the situation calls for it.

India’s 2020-21 tour of Australia is a classic example of it. In the absence of phenomenal players such as Jadeja, Vihari, Ashwin, Bumrah due to injuries, the youngsters channelled their fiery passion under immense pressure. They could have easily focussed on ensuring a draw, but the youngsters ensured that they would not call it a day till the last man stood.

This tour has given the world a glimpse of the depth in the national squad — thanks to the efforts of the ever-humble Dravid, who understands the importance of putting players consistently under difficult situations while they are in junior teams. It is to the credit of the frequency of ‘A tours’ India went on in the last few years, that made all the difference in the decider at the Brisbane Cricket Ground.

Like the coach himself had once said, “Experience is not playing more matches, the experience is learning from the matches you play. You can play 30 matches and if you don’t learn anything, it’s like playing the same match 30 times.”

He understands the importance of honing the players while they are young. He is not just churning out good cricketers, but perhaps better people who can withstand any adversity which may come their way. And one doesn’t have to look beyond Gabba to understand that!

Dravid’s selfless service for the nation would be inscribed in golden words in the history of Indian cricket. He is, undoubtedly, the best finishing school a budding cricketer could go to! (ANI)

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