It’s easy to see Rahul Dravid is passionate about the grassroots. When he was called upon to deliver BCCI's annual Pataudi lecture in 2015, he dedicated a significant portion of it talking about junior cricket. The way a 12-year-old kid is introduced to the game, according to him, goes a long way in forging his path to success as an adult.
One of the biggest takeaways from Dravid's speech was his stress on encouraging more and more participation for as many kids as possible. He recounted his own experience of watching U-14 games where 3 or 4 kids did the bulk of batting and bowling, and some kids spent an entire tournament on the bench. He even advised BCCI and state associations to come up with a different set of rules like rolling substitution to ensure more than 11 kids can play a game, if possible.
In Dravid's book, process and participation are way more critical than actual results. It will be fair to say, Dravid's philosophies and values were at the core of India's successful U-19 world cup campaign.
Dravid was also quick to deflect all the attention he was getting after the World Cup win. “It’s a bit embarrassing at times because I tend to get a lot of attention and focus, but it is really about the support staff and the quality of people that we’ve had. I don’t want to mention names, but everyone in the support staff has put in a great effort. We do the best for the kids.” Even as you read the words, you know only Rahul Dravid could have said it. Humility sits easily in Dravid's demeanour.
But as hard as he may try, Dravid's name and reputation are too big for people to ignore. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi couldn't resist the temptation to give a special mention to Dravid's exploits as the coach of Indian team during a recent speech at Bengaluru.
When BCCI announced cash rewards, they couldn't resist the temptation to add some extra cash to Dravid's winning bonus. His prize of Rs 50 lac is significantly more than what the rest of the support staff and players got. To no one's surprise, reports are emerging that Dravid is unhappy with this disparity.
It's a well-known fact that Dravid is his own harshest critic. He ended his playing career without any fanfare after an unsuccessful tour of Australia in 2012, even though he was heads and shoulders above the rest of the team in India's preceding Test series in England. When Bangalore University wanted to give him an honorary doctorate, he refused politely. Dravid doesn't like free lunches, even if they are offered on a platter.
In his press interactions after coming back to India, he was more eager to talk about the future of these youngsters than about the World Cup win. He doesn't want any of these young men to come back and play another U-19 World Cup. Given that they have proved themselves at this level, it's time for them to enter the ocean and encounter bigger fishes.
Dravid keeps going back to the value of processes, a cornerstone of his own methods of succeeding at the highest level. He wanted to work with as many youngsters as possible during the run-up to the big tournament. Winning would be nice, but the idea is to get as many youngsters as much exposure as possible. Dravid pointed out that India defeated Australia in 2012 U-19 World Cup final as well, but six Australians from that squad made it to the senior team while only 1 Indian could make it to the highest level. In Dravid's view, the real success at this level lies in giving yourself the best chance of graduating to a higher level. The U-19 level is preparatory school, not finishing school.
Another interesting aspect of Dravid's coaching method is the way he gives these youngsters the freedom to explore their own ways. During the preparatory camp for U-19 World Cup, the team decided how much practice they want and what aspects they want to stress on.
It's easy for a legend of the game to impose his way of thinking on this younger lot but Dravid is more of a Zen Master than a headmaster. An ideal teacher doesn't seek out a student, nor does he stop him from leaving. Dravid acts as a friendly guide which presents a technique that his pupil needs to learn and lets him explore it on his own. The student must have the necessary motivation to learn and dedication to practice, Dravid's role is to provide the inspiration.
Rahul Dravid as a coach is a perfect fit at the age-group level. It appears Dravid himself enjoys and learns from the process of sharing his experience with the youngsters. The voices that wanted Dravid's promoted as head coach of the senior team have become a bit louder after the latest feather in his cap, but Dravid himself may not be interested in that role or dare I say, be as effective in it as he has been at India U-19 and India A level.