Rahul Dravid said that the manner in which Anil Kumble’s removal as the Indian team coach played out was wrong, even while acknowledging that coaching was a job that came with a built-in expiry date and the ultimate power resided with players.
Dravid, who was speaking at the Bangalore Literature Festival, felt that it was extremely unfair to Kumble – his longtime Karnataka and India teammate – that the whole issue was played out in public.
“I don’t know the specifics of that particular issue but it shouldn’t have got played out in the way it did,” said Dravid, in a panel that included Rajdeep Sardesai, the television anchor and son of Dilip Sardesai, along with Prem Panicker, the veteran cricket journalist. “The whole thing got played out in the media which was very unfortunate for Anil and not fair on him at all. What’s the reality and what happened behind closed doors, I’m not privy to and I don’t want to comment. But what I do want to say is that it was definitely an unfortunate episode and especially for someone like Anil who has been an absolute legend of the game and who has done more to win Test matches for India than anyone I know. And he had a successful year as coach as well.”
Kumble had overseen Test series’ successes away in the Caribbean and at home against New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia, and in his final assignment, India progressed to the Champions Trophy 2017 where they lost to Pakistan. However, after the tournament, Kumble released a statement saying he was stepping down due to his relationship with Virat Kohli, the captain, becoming ‘untenable’.
Dravid elaborated that while coaches – even high profile ones – get the sack often, the manner of Kumble’s exit was unbecoming.
“See coaches get sacked. The first thing you know when you stop being a player and be a coach is that some day you are going to get sacked,” said Dravid. “I know that as the India A and India U-19 coach, at some stage I am going to get the boot. That’s reality. But it’s the way that it played out. As coaches you realise that at the end of the day players are more powerful than coaches. We were more powerful than the coaches when we played, that is the reality of the issue as well. But the fact is it should have never got played out in the way it did, publicly.”
The topic stemmed from Sardesai, who has authored a book Democracy’s XI, asking Dravid if there was too much player power in the game. Sardesai offered the examples of Kohli getting to decide who India’s coach should be and MS Dhoni, the former captain, possibly having full control over his limited-overs career and playing in the Indian team till he wanted to do so, whether he commanded a place in the best playing XI or not.
In a moment that had a packed audience roaring in delight, Dravid countered with, “Don’t be critical of just Virat and Dhoni, even Ashish Nehra is getting to decide when he will retire!” – referring to the fact that Nehra had announced his last match would be the Delhi Twenty20 International against New Zealand next week.
Continuing to bat in almost uncharacteristic T20 form and going for his shots, Dravid followed up by telling Sardesai that it was the media that, in fact, made cricketers larger than life. “A lot of cricketers come from very humble, middle-class backgrounds. They grow up and suddenly become heroes. And they become heroes because of people like you and television! You keep asking them for interviews, writing books about them!” he said, tongue only half in cheek, to undisguised mirth among the audience.
However, Dravid said it would be unfair to cast aspersions on Dhoni. “How do we know Dhoni is choosing when he wants to retire?” he argued. “You might have an opinion Dhoni is good enough or not, I might have an opinion. But at the end you have three selectors, a captain and a coach making the decision and you have to trust them to make that decision. If they feel that Dhoni is good enough, irrespective of what other people may feel, then he has every right to play till whenever he wants.”
Dravid’s rare candour on a public forum and the way he held viewers in thrall prompted Panicker to ask the former India captain when the public would see him bring his own career to life in a book. The spectators’ dismay at Dravid’s answer (not likely to) was tempered by much cheering for the forthright manner he laid out his reasons. Ironically enough for an interaction that had a rare freewheeling quality, Dravid put his reluctance to pen a book down to not being able to be honest enough.
“Sometimes I find in this day and age it’s very hard to be honest,” reflected Dravid. “I write a book today, and I know what will happen. And I just don’t think I want to put my family through that. I’m not really sure if I ever will. I’ve led a public life, but I don’t want to put them through that. If you write a book, you want to write an honest book. You want to address certain issues and people will expect me to address certain issues. If you can’t be honest and authentic, then why do it?”