The Spin has always had a soft spot for Rahul Dravid. In that team of Indian superstars he was The Wall, content with the immaculate forward-defensive while the glamour boys slotted about him in the batting order whipped the crowd into rhapsodies of frenzy with a wristy-this and an impossible-that.
Classical, slow, blessed with a monk-like concentration, Dravid was the starched epitome of dedication, a son of the soil, hewn from hard work. Back to the nets he would go, Test after Test, to steady that open face to yet another ball, and nudge another shaving of worth from his natural born gifts.
He wasn’t a boy sprung straight from his mother’s womb in a tracksuit and he worked tirelessly at his fitness, even folding that 5ft 11in frame into a wicketkeeper’s crouch for the benefit of the team. “I was never a natural,” he confessed. “It was challenging, it was never easy.”
A Test specialist, even in the late 1990s when limited-overs cricket was a different beast, he forced himself into the one-day team, ending his career with an average of nearly 40 from 344 ODIs.
When he at last retired, a hero, in early 2012, after a disappointing Test tour of Australia, about which he was typically phlegmatic, it was to read, to bring up his young family, to explore the life that he’d tasted briefly on tour – a musical here, a museum there. But to India’s immense luck, cricket still had its pull. In 2015, he took the job of coach of the India Under-19 and A teams, and this summer quietly landed in the UK with India A, who will play a tri-series tournament against the Lions and West Indies A.
It’s not a life of high glamour, from running around the Headingley outfield in the gloom, clad in white tights, to clambering on the team coach to Grace Road, where India A racked up more than 400 in a one-day game on Tuesday – but Dravid has always been about more than the bright lights and the glitter.
The BCCI were seeing a growing gap between domestic cricket and the international game so deliberately increased the number of tours the U19s and A teams went on. It means a lot of time on the road – 180 or so days a year – but, to Dravid, it is worth it: “It is an opportunity to work with kids at a really exciting age, when they are full of great dreams and aspirations,” he says.
“There are slightly different challenges: at under-19 level they are still trying to work out what they’re going to do with their lives and having been through that as a young player it is nice to try and contribute. With India A, there is not a lot of coaching involved, it is more about creating the opportunity and the environment to give them every chance to succeed.”
Prithvi Shaw, who scored a vivacious 70 in the opening tour game against an ECB XI and 132 against Leicestershire, is incredibly grateful for all the help Dravid has given him. Thankful not so much for any technical advice but for the mental example. Shaw, who captained India to victory in the ICC Under-19s World Cup in New Zealand last year, thrashing Australia in the final at Mount Maunganui, has progressed up to the A side, alongside the player of the tournament, Shubman Gill.(It was at the World Cup when Dravid surprised the BCCI by taking a pay cut to ensure that all members of the support staff received equal cash bonus rewards.)
Does Dravid see something of himself in these young boys coming through? “They have a lot more experience than we did, a lot more exposure. Nearly all the boys on the A tour have had experience of the IPL, some of them four year’s experience. They have shared dressing rooms with players from other countries, talked to them, learned from them. They are very street smart, they are a lot more confident and much more developed in their game.
“Not all of them are going to be Indian cricketers but we are helping them to grow as men, as human beings. There are life-skills to be learned, travelling to other countries, meeting other cultures and experiencing different conditions.”
Will Dravid the batsman be putting on the pads to play again? He laughs. “No. There will be no more bouncers for me, I’ve had enough of bouncers.”
Time waits not even for Dravid – he’s putting off a trip to the optician, who has told him that he’ll need a pair of reading glasses.
In a piece he wrote for a book by Harsha and Anita Bhogle, long before he took on the coaching job, Dravid quoted Kipling: “For the strength of the wolf is the pack and the strength of the pack is the wolf.”
It’s a motto he has stuck to. England, who won the last two home series against India easily, 4-0 and 3-1, be warned. India, buoyed by the IPL, are deadly serious about both this A series and the Test tour. And Dravid? In the evening, when he puts his feet up, he’s hoping to watch Brazil.
The pink ball returns
With midsummer nearly here, pink-ball cricket returns to the County Championship this week for the first time in 2018. Unlike last year, the day-glo matches will be spread through the next couple of months, not just played in a single round. The different divisions will play with different balls: Division Two will use Dukes, Division One players will experiment with the Kookaburra.
Opinions among players last year were mixed. “It was a kind of weird day. It nipped around with the new ball and we thought: ‘If it keeps doing this, we’ve got half a chance.’ Then it stopped,” Yorkshire’s Tim Bresnan told the BBC. “When the ball got really soft, it was difficult and looked easy-paced. It was quite slowish. I don’t think the light played as much of a factor as we expected it to.”
Hampshire’s Liam Dawson was more critical: “From my first experience of it, they need to have a good look at what balls they are going to use. If you are going to keep on using those balls then you are going to get some pretty boring cricket.”
Each county will play a day-night Championship game, the first two kicking off on Wednesday with Hampshire’s home game against Yorkshire and Northamptonshire against Gloucestershire at Wantage Road. Play will start at 1.30pm at Northants but the players walk out at a leisurely 2pm at the Ageas Bowl – which should mean a 9 o’clock midges and Marston’s finish.
The English climate has generally proved itself an ill-fit for day-night cricket – too light for the floodlights, or too chilly for the spectators. Maybe this idyllic summer might just produce something in the goldilocks zone.
Quote of the week
“I’d rather an Australian break the record, but I’ll take a 17-year-old Kiwi instead.”
Belinda Clark on Amelia Kerr, who broke Clark’s 21-year old record for the highest women’s ODI score with 232 not out against Ireland. Kerr passed Clark’s 229 with a six off the last ball of the innings, then took five for 17 before celebrating by chilling out and watching Love Island. She later admitted to not having heard of living-legend Clark.
Still want more?
• Bayliss and Jones: England’s Aussies could learn from each other for World Cup missions, writes Andy Bull.
• County cricket talking points: Gary Naylor marks your card.
• Australia’s football focus allows Tim Paine’s men some anonymity, writes Adam Collins.
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