As captain, Rahul Dravid oversaw some of Indian cricket's finest moments in the 2000s. These included a first Test series win in the West Indies in 35 years (in 2006), a similar feat in England after a 26-year gap (2007), a maiden Test victory on South African soil (December 2006) and 17 consecutive successful run-chases in One-Day Internationals.
Despite these glittering accomplishments, his captaincy tenure will largely be remembered for India's first-round elimination from the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, a tournament they had entered as favourites but exited with their tails behind their legs after defeats to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
It's the same tournament, 16 and a half years on, that could facilitate Dravid's redemption song, as head coach of the national team. Nearly two years into the job, the 50-year-old will be the first to acknowledge that his tenure has been like the proverbial Curate's egg - good in parts.
India have had their moments, but their reputation as a travelling Test side has taken a bit of a beating. Their wait for a global trophy has spilled over to an 11th year following an embarrassing semifinal exit at the T20 World Cup in Adelaide last November and defeat to Australia in the final of the World Test Championship in June. The World Cup, Dravid's final assignment as his two-year term draws to a close, offers a glorious opportunity to purge those less than pleasant memories.
Dravid isn't a great one for legacies, as he stressed before India's departure towards the end of August for the Asia Cup which they won in Colombo last month. Questioned if he believed the World Cup would define his tenure as coach, he seemed momentarily surprised, but quickly recovered poise and replied in his typical measured manner, "I'm not into legacies. It's exciting to play a World Cup at home. There is going to be a certain amount of pressure associated with it, but that is something we all expect. As a coach, I'm looking forward to it. I just stay in the present, worry about the job I have to do now and not worry about the future."
There was a genuine wave of optimism and feel-good when Dravid took over from Ravi Shastri at the end of India's disastrous 2021 T20 World Cup campaign. Under Virat Kohli and Shastri, India had become a fighting fit unit, forging a pace attack for the ages that drove them to successive Test series triumphs in Australia. It was expected that Dravid would help the team build on those gains. Having been the coach of the India 'A' and Under-19 teams for four years before taking over as the head honcho at the National Cricket Academy, Dravid's transition as coach of the national team was organic and inevitable. With several of the young batters in particular having literally grown in front of his eyes, he had all the ingredients, not to mention the ability, to drive the team to greater heights.
Things haven't quite panned out that way. Especially in Test cricket, India have chosen to look backwards rather than ahead, evidenced by the recall after months in the wilderness of first Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. Apart from Shreyas Iyer and Yashasvi Jaiswal (for two Tests earlier this year), no other young batter has been accorded the opportunity of proving his mettle. Having won six Tests in Australia and England between the end of 2018 and the middle of 2021, India lost three overseas Tests on the trot last year, their inability to defend 378 in the final innings of the delayed final Test against England in Birmingham in July 2022 a particular low point – England knocked off those runs in just 76.4 overs for the loss of only three wickets.
At home, a decided slant towards surfaces favouring spinners even though their own batters too struggled on such tracks and even though India could summon Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami was singularly unedifying. It may not have been all Dravid, possibly, but as an equal half of the management group, he would have had a significant say; whether his was the loudest voice is open to speculation.
India carry form and momentum into the World Cup, but playing at home is a double-edged sword. A million things need to go right, one slip-up can be decisively conclusive. The next eight weeks will dictate how Rahul Dravid's legacy as head coach will be defined.