From Shastri-Kohli to Dravid-Rohit, coach-captain camaraderie could be the unchanging theme of Indian cricket

The India captain then was being asked about the importance of communication between players and coaches. Just as he had said his bit, the head coach and former India captain chimed in. “I will answer that same question.” That was former head coach Ravi Shastri, sitting next to Virat Kohli, at his first press conference after taking over from Anil Kumble in July 2017. It had been a time of acrimony inside the dressing room and innuendo outside. That evening at the BCCI headquarters in Mumbai, Shastri was at his combative best. He even ended up answering a few questions addressed to Kohli.

The world has changed unrecognisably four years hence. On Tuesday, another former India player and captain addressed their first press conference together. The new appointee – head coach Rahul Dravid and T20I skipper Rohit Sharma – sat next to each just like Shastri and Kohli. This time around the transition was seamless. There have been no bitter farewells or intriguing appointments. The questions at the media interactions weren’t loaded. And each answered their own questions.

Though, towards the end of the presser, after Rohit had given a somewhat detailed reply to another workload-related query, Dravid did chip in. “And just to add to Rohit, I mean it is not just us who are doing that. Kane Williamson (New Zealand skipper) is not going to be playing this T20 series… sirf hamari problem nahi hai, ye sab logon ki problem hai. [It is not our problem alone, everyone is having this problem].”

A second later, with an almost embarrassed smile, Dravid made sure he removed the slightest conceivable hint of political incorrectness from his words. “Problem nahi hai, matlab challenge hai. (Not ‘problem’, I mean challenge).”

There was a gentle breeze, not winds, of change at the India nets too. The BCCI tweeted a video of the Indian team’s practice session in Jaipur ahead of the first T20I against New Zealand. Dravid was shown giving a throwdown to Rohit. Of course, some part of Dravid’s foot was behind the crease. No stepping over the line, real or perceived.

More hands-on

One does not recall Shastri giving throwdowns, although he would often watch training sessions like a hawk. That Dravid will be more hands-on as coach is probably a given, considering his comparatively recent vintage, and his work with the under-19s and India ‘A’. But he is known to take the hands off the handle at times, especially at the start. For now, he said his role would be to “sit back, watch and observe, and step in as and when required.”

“For me the players’ physical and mental health is the most important thing,” Dravid said. “I will always be in conversation with them, I’d like to work with them to ensure that whenever we have them playing, we have them fresh, fully switched on. We need to recognise these are challenging times for people, for players, and especially for those guys who are expected to play all formats of the game.”

Dravid’s appointment may have come amid India’s failure to make the knockouts of an ICC tournament for the first time in nine years, the last instance being 2012 World T20. But Dravid ruled out any drastic measures, such as fielding totally different teams for different formats.

And there is no obvious reason for panic. The 2021 T20 World Cup has been a disaster, but in Test cricket, India have beaten Australia twice in Australia and were 2-1 ahead against England on the uncompleted tour. Even in the shortest format, they had the best win-loss record after Pakistan between the two World Cup cycles from 2016 to 2021.

What is probably needed is fine-tuning within the T20I side in terms of role clarity and some unshackling of minds that can show you up in crunch games, particularly considering how hesitant India were against Pakistan and New Zealand in the UAE. And the new skipper promised that would happen, with another T20 World Cup coming up next year.

Assign specific roles

“We strictly want to assign the role that we want them to do here. It can take a while or it can happen in few games. For us to give them that confidence to perform their role is important,” Rohit said.

Rohit Sharma, Rahul Dravid and KL Rahul, Rahul Dravid head coachRohit Sharma, Rahul Dravid and KL Rahul, Rahul Dravid head coach (From left): Rohit Sharma, Rahul Dravid, KL Rahul

“It is one of the important aspects of the format wherein people have the assurance of going and taking those chances in the middle,” Rohit said. “If it comes off (it’s fine), if it doesn’t, then what happens… that is where both of us will need to play a huge role in terms of giving an individual that assurance of going out and expressing himself… sometimes you just need to go out there and play fearlessly.

“We need to set the template right and we have got some time to do that. India has been brilliant in this format, it is just that we have not won an ICC tournament.

“Of course, there are little holes that we need to fill up. That will be the biggest challenge we will have as a team. I am not going to say we are going to follow a certain team’s template. We have to follow and create our own template.”

One template already seems to be in place, wherein, like the previous combine, the captain and the coach appear to be on amicable terms, at least to begin with. Shastri and Kohli belong to completely different eras, but Rohit made his India debut under Dravid in 2007, so there is plenty of shared memory there.

“We were talking about it yesterday on the bus,” Dravid said. “Time flies, doesn’t it? I remember when we were playing a Challenger Trophy in Madras (Chennai), he had come just out of Under-19, young kid coming through, and we all knew Rohit was going to be special. You could see this was a very, very special talent. That I would so many years later be working with him, that I never envisaged.”

Things happen all the time, some that we thought of, some that we didn’t. And who better than the former head coach with the last word on these deep matters.

“These Ravi Shastris, Anil Kumbles will come and go,” Shastri had said that July evening four years ago. “The fabric of Indian cricket will remain.” Onto the next pair then.