Rahul Dravid, the former India captain and current coach of the India A and India Under-19 teams, became the first high-profile personality in the cricket system to criticise the manner in which Anil Kumble’s tenure as coach came to an end.
At the Bangalore Literature Festival, Dravid was asked by Rajdeep Sardesai, the anchor and son of the late Dilip Sardesai, a swashbuckling batsman who stood up to the fastest West Indian bowlers in his time, whether India had reached a situation where the players had become so big that they could decide who would coach them.
While Dravid did his best to obfuscate, when he was brought back to the question in search of a specific answer, he backed his team-mate, while being careful not to railroad Virat Kohli, the man widely believed to be behind Kumble’s ouster as India coach.
“What’s the answer? At the end of the day, I don’t know the specifics of that particular issue, but it shouldn’t have got played out in the way that it did,” said Dravid. “I think the whole thing got played out in the media which is very, very unfortunate for Anil and not fair on him at all. So, what’s the reality of it and what happens behind closed doors is not something I’m privy to, so I can’t comment directly. But it was definitely an unfortunate episode, especially to someone like Anil who has been an absolute legend of the game, someone who has done more to win Test matches for India than anybody I know. And he had a successful year as coach as well. But the fact is that it should never have played out they way that it did, publicly. ”
In saying this, Dravid all but conceded that any dispute between the players and the coach would go only one way. “See, coaches get sacked, the first thing you know when you stop playing and become a coach is that some day you are going to get sacked. That’s the reality. As an India A and Under-19 coach, I know that someday I’m going to get the boot,” said Dravid. “Some football managers get sacked after two games, so that’s the reality. Players are more powerful than coaches, we know that because we were more powerful than coaches when we played.”
When the analogy of players becoming too powerful was extended to question whether Mahendra Singh Dhoni had reached his sell-by date and should retire from Twenty20 cricket, Dravid had the audience eating out of his hand with humour you don’t associate with someone who is called The Wall.
“Don’t be critical of just Virat and Dhoni. Even Ashish Nehra is getting to decide when he will retire,” said Dravid as the swelling audience cheered in delight. “That’s being unfair to Virat and Dhoni.”
Dravid went on to explain how players have little or no role to play in their being exalted to “powerful” or “larger than life” status. “A lot of cricketers come from humble, middle-class backgrounds. At the core of all this, if you remove the hype and hoopla, they are just normal guys who grew up and became heroes. They became heroes thanks to people like you [TV anchors, journalists], television asking for interviews, writing books about them… It’s the game that has made them heroes,” said Dravid.
“I read that the players have become too big, but who has made them too big? It’s very easy to say that, and also a lot of other people have become rich by players becoming rich. It’s reality now. It’s the fact of the matter. At the end of the day, cricketers are simple people. But everything gets blown out of proportion for them. So they have to deal with things a certain way.”
And yet, because this was not a press conference, and since he was speaking directly to an adoring public, Dravid was comfortable enough to step out of the crease, out of his comfort zone, and speak up for a team-mate and fellow professional. Perhaps the time has come to invite more cricketers to literary festivals, after all, if only to allow them to speak their minds a little more unguardedly than they are used to doing.