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World Cup: Last working day for coach Rahul Dravid?

Dravid's two-year contract expired on Sunday, but no word on any extension yet

AHMEDABAD: You would be lucky to play in the final of the World Cup once. However, if you are destined to have been a part of two, in whatever capacity, you would be considered special. Rahul Dravid , who was the vice-captain of the Indian team that lost to Australia in the 2003 final, now has the honour of coaching India in another 50-over World Cup.
One is not sure if he will continue in the role of coach, since his two-year contract ends as of November 20. Assuming that Sunday was his last day at work, he went about his job as if it was just another day at the office.

He and fielding coach T Dilip were among the first to walk into a buzzying ground around noon. Like he has always done right through the tournament, he walked straight to the pitch, touched it with his palms from one end, walked to the other end, bent down and touched it from there too. Skipper Rohit walked in, saw the pitch, and walked up to Dravid to have a chat. A brief conversation later, the two separated as Dravid took his usual spot behind the stumps on the practice pitches and watched his boys warmup one final time before the biggest match of their lives in front of the biggest home crowd.

Australia head coach Andrew McDonald and George Bailey had strolled to the pitch before and greeted Dravid. A cursory handshake later, Dravid walked up to Ashwin, who was warming up and said a few words. What were they discussing?

Ashwin walked up to the match strip, marked a few spots and that got the attention of Bailey and Marcus Stoinis , who was loading up to bowl a few deliveries. Was it a trojan horse? A team huddle ensued, shoulder to shoulder, real tight. Huddle over, another word between Dravid and Ashwin. A nod from the champion offie, a pat on the shoulder from the coach. Was he playing? Of course not. Toss. Aussies field. India play the same side.

Those words were probably to comfort Ashwin, who has played in only one game, the first one against Australia in Chennai. If it was an act, it was a brilliant one, like the one he has been staging all through the last year, experimenting with the team, trying different players in different positions, like he has done in his IPL avatar in charge of first Rajasthan Royals and then Delhi Daredevils. Partly it was compulsion as some key players were injured. Partly it was because he wanted to create a back-up for the World Cup, just in case those players did not regain fitness. He was ready to risk defeats in bilaterals in the quest of building a core and building back-ups.

These are all his boys. Shubman Gill, Ishan Kishan , Shreyas Iyer, Mohammed Siraj. All of them have cut their teeth in international cricket under him as part of India ‘A’ or India Under-19 squads.

Dravid coached the India Under-19 team, led by Kishan with players like Rishabh Pant , Sarfaraz Khan, Washington Sundar and Avesh Khan in the side to the World Cup final in Dhaka in 2016 and ended up as second-best as India were beaten by the West Indies. “He is destined to not win anything significant,” was the chatter. He finally got his hands on some silverware two years later, when under Prithvi Shaw, the colts first won the World Cup in New Zealand.

Dravid’s sole aim was to create a robust feeder line of players through a strong India ‘A’ programme after taking charge of the development sides. As Under-19 coach, he also made a rule that a player can feature in only one under-19 World Cup after recognizing that age fraud was one of the biggest cancers plaguing Indian cricket. During a Times Shield function in 2019, he had said, “Age fraud is like match-fixing.”

A phlegmatic character who once told MS Dhoni in the Caribbean, “Let’s watch a movie,” a few days after India had lost to Sri Lanka and were almost out of the tournament and the country was baying for the skipper’s blood. Dhoni had got out for a first ball duck and reports emerged that miscreants had pelted stones at his home in Ranchi and had damaged the name plate. Dravid’s intention was to communicate the thought to the youngster that there will be life even after a soul-crushing defeat or a soul-stirring victory .

In that huddle, one is sure he would have said something similar to his boys.