The Indian team under Virat Kohli has been on an all-conquering spree, firming up its hold on the top spot in the Test rankings and winning seven consecutive bilateral One-day International series. It’s been a team fashioned in Kohli’s image, not shy of having a go at the opposition and adopting aggressive body language – which has rubbed some people the wrong way. However, Rahul Dravid, who was Kohli’s captain in his first high-profile senior tournament in the inaugural Indian Premier League 2008, felt that as long as Kohli was true to himself, the on-field machismo didn’t matter.
“I think the game is still about performance. So let’s not take that away from someone like Kohli,” said Dravid on Sunday (October 29), speaking at the Bangalore Literature Festival. “That’s his personality. People have asked me, ‘Why didn’t you behave like that?’ But that’s not what got the best out of me. I would have been inauthentic to myself if I had tried to put tattoos and behave like Virat.
“Sometimes, especially before an Australia series, you’ll find Virat saying the most outrageous things. And I read the paper and cringe at times. But then I think back, maybe he actually wants that contest. He wants that lip on the field because that gets the best out of him. Now that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But at the end of the day, he’s got to do what gets the best out of him. Ajinkya Rahane is very different and he gets the best out of himself by doing different things. I think being authentic to yourself is very, very important. If engaging in a contest, sometimes needling the opposition, is getting the best out of Virat – and it certainly is because his level of performance is second to none in the world today – then so be it. You can’t blame him for it.”
“Sometimes, especially before an Australia series, you’ll find Virat saying the most outrageous things. And I read the paper and cringe at times. But then I think back, maybe he actually wants that contest. He wants that lip on the field because that gets the best out of him. If engaging in a contest, sometimes needling the opposition, is getting the best out of Virat – and it certainly is because his level of performance is second to none in the world today – then so be it. You can’t blame him for it.”
Dravid, who is India’s second highest Test run-getter and one of only seven people with more than 10,000 runs in both Test and ODIs, is at present the coach of the India A and India Under-19 sides. And his only fear about Kohli being in-your-face with his style of play was that impressionable youngsters would try to copy the Indian captain. “What worries me a little bit is a lot of that gets translated into junior cricket. That’s the scary thing for me, not so much what Virat does. Kids at 12, 13, 14 want to become the next Virat Kohli, not realising that maybe that’s not authentic to who they are.”
Dravid agreed, though, that the current era in Indian cricket was marked by a fearlessness and confidence that hadn’t been there when he was starting out.
“I think there’s a certain confidence and belief in Indian cricket today which has come about through results,” he offered. “It’s definitely more evident today than from the time I started. I remember I was sitting on a flight and I was really excited going on one of my early tours and said, ‘It’ll be great if we can win the series.’ And what I got was, ‘We’ll be lucky if we can win one Test match. Let’s hope we can win one and draw the rest’.
“I still remember when India went to Pakistan under (Krishnamachari) Srikkanth, Sachin Tendulkar’s first tour (in 1989-90), we drew all the Tests, and it was hailed as a huge success. If an Indian team goes out today and draws all the Tests, it will not be hailed as a success. People expect India now to win. Certainly there is a level of fitness, confidence and belief that probably didn’t exist when I was starting out.”
While holding that players from earlier eras weren’t soft by any means, Dravid acknowledged that the present generation had a little extra belief which he put down to changed circumstances. “When I look at a lot of the India A guys or U-19 guys that I coach, I can see the fearlessness and confidence. It also comes with a certain level of financial security. For me, as a 21-22 year old, I knew that the B Com degree I barely managed to get in college wasn’t going to suffice, and I needed to make cricket work. There was a pressure to make cricket work and make it possible for me to lead a good life. Today’s cricketers know that even if they don’t play for India, they can still make a very good living for themselves. I’m very happy about that.”
Dravid picked out the infusion of money that had allowed the BCCI to spread cricket to all corners of the country, and the advent of satellite television into most homes, as the two key markers that had changed things for aspiring cricketers.
“In the early teams that I played with, most of the boys came from the bigger cities – your Bombays, Delhis, Hyderabads etc. I think a couple of things now have led to the change to the point that now when I coach the U-19 team, you find that actually the boys from the bigger cities are a minority. Players are from Ranchi or a village like Tonk in Rajasthan, which is fantastic. The majority of boys are from what you would call Tier 2 cities,” he elaborated.
“I remember I was sitting on a flight and I was really excited going on one of my early tours and said, ‘It’ll be great if we can win the series.’ And what I got was, ‘We’ll be lucky if we can win one Test match. Let’s hope we can win one and draw the rest’. When India went to Pakistan under (Krishnamachari) Srikkanth, Sachin Tendulkar’s first tour (in 1989-90), we drew all the Tests, and it was hailed as a huge success. If an Indian team goes out today and draws all the Tests, it will not be hailed as a success. People expect India now to win.”
“Mostly it’s been because of funds and facilities. Cricket was a game that a lot of people couldn’t access and play, because it needs facilities. A lot of times, people used to come up to me in the early 90s and say, ‘Oh there’s so many kids playing cricket in India. Everywhere we go in the roads, in the maidans, we see people playing the sport.’ That is true and great for developing interest. But it won’t lead to you becoming a first-class cricketer or an international one.
“For example in Karnataka, in the earlier days, a lot of the boys from Dharwad, Shimoga, Raichur or even Mysore, had to necessarily come to Bangalore. They had to stay here, take jobs here. The competitive cricket, facilities and grounds were here. And you had no access to those kinds of facilities in smaller towns and cities. It was hard. You can imagine a boy of 14-15 coming from Hubli, live here, maybe rent a room with four or five other boys… Then you start worrying about where your next meal is coming from. You don’t think big, you don’t think of playing for Karnataka or India. What has happened today, thanks largely to the money that has come into Indian cricket – I know a lot of people knock the IPL and knock the commerce of cricket – but when you see these stories, one side of you has to look at the fact that this commerce and money has led to resources and facilities in smaller towns and cities. And I just used Karnataka as an example, you see this all over the country.”
Television, Dravid felt, had played the role of a coach for young boys and girls who didn’t have access to top class coaches.
“Another barrier that happens in cricket is coaching, access to knowledge and information. Earlier, you had all the top coaches in the big cities,” he said. “Now you have Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and all these top guys who are on TV, commenting on games. Even a young boy in a village in Rajasthan or Jharkhand can see all these graphics, he can see actions, analyses. He’s not stopped by not having a quality coach. The internet has been the other factor. We would look up to the Australians and South Africans for fitness and diet, because there was no access to that level of knowledge when we were growing up. Today you can just click a few buttons and you will get as much information as you need.”
One area Dravid felt should remain as it was before was the matter of agents and sponsors clustering around cricketers from a young age. The former India captain said that most players could very well do without an agent, unless they had reached the top level.
“One of the things I like to tell young cricketers is that you don’t really need an agent. Okay a Virat Kohli or a Mahendra Singh Dhoni today needs an agent because if they have to focus on their cricket and play at that high level, they need to ensure that somebody else is looking after their finances,” he said. “They don’t want to be chasing their dates, or chasing people for money that is owed. But at the younger age of 17-18-19, having agents is definitely not necessary. I don’t see any big hoarding of a 17-18 year old. The only hoardings you see today are Kohli or Dhoni or one or two other Indian players. So it’s only when you reach that standard of cricket do you need agents to support and help you.”