Why India Bringing in Rahul Dravid for England Tour Is a Masterstroke
India rolled the dice ahead of their five-Test series in England when their Board of Control for Cricket announced on Sunday that former batsman Rahul Dravid would be joining the team as a mentor in the buildup to the first Test at Trent Bridge on July 9.
BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel said in a press release:
Rahul Dravid, former India captain, has accepted a request from the Indian team management, to support and advise the team in its preparatory stages of the tour of England, given his vast experience and knowledge of the game. He will be with the team till the beginning of the first Test.
Patel told ESPN Cricinfo that India coach Duncan Fletcher made the request for Dravid's presence to aid the squad:
It was the coach who approached us on behalf of the team and said it would be good to have Rahul, with his vast experience, spend some time with the boys ahead of the series. We immediately requested Rahul and he readily agreed.
While Dravid would only be officially available until the first Test begins on July 9, he is a part of the commentary panel for the series and thus would continue to be accessible to the players.
Dravid will join a coaching staff including head coach Fletcher, bowling coach Joe Dawes and fielding coach Trevor Penney. With the absence of a specialist batting consultant, the Indians thought it wise to request Dravid's services ahead of such an important tour.
While it could be argued that too many cooks spoil the broth, Dravid's presence should bode well for the Indian squad. Here are five reasons why the move is a masterstroke.
His Record Performances in England
All through his 16-year international career, Dravid loved playing in England. He had made his Test debut at Lord's during India's tour in 1996 and scored 95. He followed that up with 84 at Nottingham.
In 13 Tests played in England, Dravid scored 1,376 runs at an average of 68.80, which is a few notches above his career average of 52.31.
He has scored six centuries in Old Blighty, three of which came during India's last tour in 2011, where he was the visitors' most successful batsman in a 0-4 humiliation.
Dravid has also had a successful county stint with Kent in 2000, where he scored 1,221 runs in 16 matches at an average of 55.50, including two centuries.
There's no doubt that he knows how to succeed here. With only three of India's 18 squad members having played Test cricket in England before, Dravid's presence should be a boon for the inexperienced visitors.
England's Bowling Nucleus Remains the Same
England, like India, are also a team in transition and will be dishing up a fresh new squad for the visitors compared to three years ago.
However, the nucleus of the hosts' bowling line-up will still be the same in the form of James Anderson and Stuart Broad. The duo had taken 25 and 21 wickets, respectively, in 2011 in four Tests against India and will continue to be skipper Alastair Cook's frontline bowlers.
Apart from captain MS Dhoni and opener Gautam Gambhir, none of the Indians have played Anderson and Broad in Tests, which is where Dravid's experience would come into play.
Dravid was the only silver lining in India's dismal batting display the last time around, and the visitors will look to him for advice on how to tackle Anderson, Broad and company.
Experience as a Mentor
After leading the Rajasthan Royals to the play-offs of the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League last year, Dravid retired from all forms of the game.
Dravid has been associated with Rajasthan since 2011, when he signed on as a player, and has helped a number of players, especially youngsters, along the way.
Australian all-rounder Shane Watson, who took over from Dravid as skipper for the 2014 season, had this to say to the media about the Indian legend: "To have Rahul as a mentor is unbelievable. My development is certainly continuing to evolve very quickly because of having him there. For me personally, I am extremely lucky to have him around."
This came from a 33-year-old who has been playing for Australia since 2002.
With a relatively young and inexperienced Indian squad to mentor this time, Dravid will bring with him a wealth of knowledge, experience and technical acumen, which will only profit the visitors in alien conditions.
Technical and Mental Discipline
Dravid is one of the most technically accomplished players to have graced the game, someone who knows the batsman's manual like the back of his hand.
His technical brilliance, resilience and discipline while shaping his innings earned him the moniker "The Wall," someone who was impregnable.
Along with his batting talent, his mental strength has also come in handy on many an occasion in his illustrious career and is one of the prime reasons for his success, especially in foreign conditions.
During India's last tour, Dravid, who is a middle-order batsman by trade, even filled in as an opener for the injured Virender Sehwag. Not many batsmen in the world are able to make the switch so easily, but utilizing a mind as solid as Dravid's was the ideal choice.
Former teammate VVS Laxman, in a chat with ESPN Cricinfo, said:
The reason why Rahul has been successful in English conditions is because of his mental discipline. In England, we all know that even if you are settled and playing well, because of a sudden change in weather conditions you have to almost restart your innings, which is different to the sub-continent or places like Australia.
Apart from Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, India's new crop of batsmen are a naturally attacking lot. With none of the Indian top six expected to feature at Trent Bridge having played Test cricket in England, Dravid's advice on the conditions and pacing of the innings accordingly will come as a great help.
Gavaskar Wanted Him to Coach India
A former India batsman and one of its most cerebral cricketers, Sunil Gavaskar, had suggested Dravid's name as head coach of India earlier this year.
Speaking to a TV channel (h/t The Times of India):
I believe a younger guy should be appointed as the coach of the Indian team.
Rahul Dravid is one man who is enormously respected and was a successful captain, having won series in West Indies and England. When he speaks, the Indian players, some of whom are superstars, listen to him as they know how much preparation went into his game.
However, having retired from the game just a year ago, Dravid had turned down the suggestion:
I am happy that he [Gavaskar] said I am capable of doing the job. But the job requires a lot of time, almost 11 months a year. I have just retired and at the moment because of time constraints, I have to decline.
Dravid could well go on to coach India in the future when he has had sufficient time off from the game. Until then, Indian cricket will have to make do with him as a consultant.