If you go looking for statistics related to coaching in cricket, you find precious little. The major stats databases weren’t designed to include them and as such a coach in cricket doesn’t seem to matter as much as, say, a manager in football. But there is no denying the fact that the right coach can have a huge bearing on results and even play a role in setting up the team for the future.
Ravi Shastri’s stint as India coach was dotted with adjectives. Every win was a never-seen-before triumph, every series win was an invitation to greatness and crushing defeats were little more than badges of honour. He had, what one might consider rare, a gift blurring the lines and inspiring confidence where there was little.
His methods worked too. Under Shastri, India won 25 of the 43 Tests it played. The winning percentages in white-ball cricket were very good as well – 51 wins in 76 ODIs and 42 wins in 65 T20Is. The numbers make him among the best coaches India has ever had.
When Shastri had taken over in 2017, he had said he expected to do “very little coaching” in the role, with more of his focus on “fine-tuning and mentoring”.
“At the highest level, cricketers are more or less settled,” Shastri had said. “So is it more to do with working on their mental strength, helping build their confidence, helping them stay organised in their daily activities as against tinkering with their style of play.”
Shastri had added: “It’s not about ‘tutoring’ them about everything and telling them what and what not to do. There’s very little coaching at the highest level. It’s about fine-tuning and mentoring, about effective communication.”
Shastri had also maintained that “it’s always the captain’s team and it is the leader who calls the shots.” It was a credo he lived by as the coach.
But now as Dravid gets set to begin his tenure, one can’t help but wonder how different it will be.
If Shastri’s was the age of hyperbole then Dravid’s is largely expected to be the age of pragmatism. He will look to deal with things in as realistic a manner as possible and that was clear in his first press conference as India head coach as well.
“I can’t coach in the same way as I did at U-19 or India A level,” said Dravid on the eve of his first series as head coach. “You have to change. Teams you coach will come with their unique set of challenges. This is an opportunity to get to know the players and learn what they want. You have to mould yourself to get the best of the players. That’s my philosophy.”
And as much as it will be a learning experience for Dravid, it will also be a period of adjustment for the team. Dravid’s methods will be different from Shastri’s and as with any chance, some players will take to it readily while others might take a little longer to get used to it.
A defeat, under Dravid, will be an opportunity to learn – an opportunity to grow... and not an opportunity to blame someone.
“Failing well is very, very important,” Dravid had once said. “When we fail, we often tend to brush things under the carpet. We blame someone, we always tend to find an excuse. When you do things like that, you lose an opportunity to fail well. When you fail, you have an opportunity to understand yourself. Failure teaches you to deal with tough situations. The more you put yourself on the line, you will learn to get better.”
On the face of it, expect more data analysis too especially in white-ball cricket. But he won’t blindly trust the data alone, rather he will hope that it emboldens the captain to go with his gut instinct if he wants to.
“Primarily looking at numbers is probably a mistake but ignoring them is also a mistake,” Dravid had said in 2019. “I don’t like to use numbers to look back, I am more interested in numbers that help me take decisions. I think there is a human element to cricket also. So you cannot look at numbers blindly. You can’t go blindly to a player and say, ’this is what the numbers are, so this is what you’ve got to do.’ You have to look at the whole picture. So that is why I think geeks won’t ever completely take over because teams don’t run like that.”
He added: “Even as a coach you sometimes want captains who just don’t go by numbers alone. Sometimes, you want captains to do their own things. Sometimes, the numbers might say that X needs to bowl a certain over but sometimes the captain might get a feel that this bowler is not up for it today. Numbers can quantify someone if he is carrying a niggle. Numbers can’t quantify whether someone is not up for it. You can sense it but you can’t put a number to it.”
Dravid’s experience as India U-19 and India A coach will also set him up in the best possible way to utilise the talent in the country. His stint at the NCA also means that he is acutely aware of what each player brings to the table and that, in turn, will reduce the settling in period.
But the challenge ahead of him is not an easy one. The Indian batting line-up has struggled in Tests, the pace attack has got older, the team somehow seems to approach World Cups while still in experimentation mode. Still, with Dravid in charge, you don’t expect the team to panic at all. Rather, you expect his signature calm to help them deal with it without any fuss or hype.
At the end of the day, he will be judged by the results but with Dravid, you know that will never be the full picture.