When Rahul Dravid took over the helm of India in November, he claimed that his main job for the first few months would be to sit back and observe. Moments after his team was knocked out 3-0 in the ODIs in South Africa on Sunday, he called the series an eye-opener.
The Indian team landed in Johannesburg in mid-December as overwhelming favorites, as did the touring Australian sides at the turn of the century. Forty days later, a spirited South African team – battling cultural and cricketing problems – has exposed the soft underbelly of the Indian team. The much-ignored chronic problems in India’s white-ball cricket suddenly flared up, exposing the weaknesses in a system that had worked fine for years.
An undercooked middle order and lack of a sixth bowling option have hurt India’s white ball cricket for a while, but what this tour has done is it has also brought the lack of clarity to the surface. However, the lack of ODI cricket in the past two years has been the alibi for this team.
The Indian selectors, although Virat Kohli was removed as the ODI captain, were wary of “too much leadership”. As it turned out, the team struggled with very little leadership as KL Rahul looked understated as the stand-in captain on the pitch. It’s not often that the head coach has become the main figure in the locker room by default.
Despite all his efforts to stay in the background, Dravid was faced with some tough questions during the tour. It’s now more about determining the brand of cricket this team wants to play and identifying the staff to do it.
“Yes, we understand the template. We could certainly do better with our batting in middle overs,” Dravid admitted on Sunday. “Obviously a lot of the template also relies on your squad’s balance. I think some of the guys who help us balance the squad and give us those all-round options on numbers 6, 7 and 8 probably weren’t.” here,” he added.
The template that has been talked about is the one that advances the game at all times. There is little room for conservative cricket in today’s world. The failure of Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and KL Rahul to convert their stable starts left too much work for the young middle class, manned by Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer.
Lack of wickets with the ball and ineffective batting in the middle-overs are now the issues identified on this tour.
Iyer struggled to get going in the three games and Pant’s selection of shots, despite his enterprising 85 in the second ODI, has always been under scrutiny. But here’s the catch. Both have played 25 and 21 ODIs respectively with the Indian team over a four-year period.
Entrusted to play the role of enforcer, Iyer and Pant are the best bets for the future. But the top three who score with a strike rate of 8085 puts more pressure on these young guys.
“We tried to give them a longer run. On this trip we didn’t really change the center order and Surya got a match in the last one, but otherwise we didn’t really change the batting order,” Dravid noted. .
But Dravid’s statement came with one rider: “Once you give them that consistency and certainty, you also have to demand performance, really big performance and that’s an expectation you have when you play at this level, when you play for your country. You have to deliver great performances and that is a requirement. But the idea is to give as much stability as possible.”
This tour bore an uncanny resemblance to Dravid’s last tour of South Africa as captain in 2006-07, when things went drastically downhill after an emphatic Test victory. It came on the heels of the 2007 World Cup, where his team imploded without much of a fight.
This time, as a coach, he has more time to figure things out and put things in order. He is well aware of the resources in Indian cricket, but the ‘sit back and observe’ phase is over.