T20 World Cup: Seamless Rohit-Dravid-Agarkar alignment led to Indian victory

Seamless alignment of captain, coach and chief selector led to victory

2159379316 Back-end force: Ajit Agarkar and Rahul Dravid | Getty Images

Meticulous planning and superb execution have rightly been touted as the reasons for India’s magnificent victory in the T20 World Cup. However, this may not have been possible without captain Rohit Sharma, chief coach Rahul Dravid and chief selector Ajit Agarkar being on the same page in vision, strategy and processes.

India’s sizzling run in the ODI World Cup showcased the thought process behind the team management, the improvement in skill-sets and the self-belief in adopting this approach.

The captain is key in this configuration as he is the prime decision maker on the field. But modern cricket’s demands of different formats and more frequent international matches have made the roles of chief coach and chief selector crucial, too.

A good rapport with the coach makes a captain’s job easier. Virat Kohli and Anil Kumble, and before them Greg Chappell and Sourav Ganguly, looked like matches made in heaven, but the relationships inexplicably soured swiftly, and the team suffered.

In team selection in India, the captain and coach generally provide inputs, but these are not binding on the selection committee which can leave scope for discord, as shown by the strained relations between Kohli and chief selector Chetan Sharma in 2021. Some successful captain-coach combos like Kohli-Ravi Shastri did not get involved in selection matters beyond the perfunctory, focusing instead on getting the best out of the players given to them.

Captain, coach and selectors are power centres that can make or break the destiny of a team or players. Since these posts are usually held by people with long international experience, differences of opinion are inevitable and chances of conflict are high. In the case of Rohit, Dravid and Agarkar, individual egos did were swiftly sublimated. While Dravid and Rohit had self-confessed admiration for each other, Agarkar, who had played with both (with Dravid for India and Rohit for Mumbai), straddled the two easily. Mutual respect and trust between all three helped forge a healthy working relationship, which limited disagreements and instead enabled healthy discussions on how to take the common agenda forward.

Their seamless alignment covered all crucial aspects of the T20 World Cup campaign―formulating an unorthodox approach, looking for players who fit into this, giving these players specific roles and getting the support staff in tune with the demands that would arise.

India finished the tournament unbeaten. But it was a daunting assignment in the backdrop of not winning anything significant for almost a dozen years. This warranted sustained intensity, mental toughness and unlimited self-belief.

After the Champions Trophy triumph in 2013, India had had a barren run in ICC tournaments owing to the inability to perform well in the knock-out stages. Fixing this was the focus of Rohit and Dravid when they took over from Kohli and Shastri in 2021. Originally, their tenure was for three ICC tournaments: the T20 World Cup (2022), the World Test Championship (2023) and the ODI World Cup (2023). India reached the final of the WTC but lost to Australia. Agarkar joined them in mid-2023, pulling himself out of lucrative media commitments. India was by far the best team in the ODI World Cup, but choked again in the final against Australia. For all three, the 2024 T20 World Cup was the only remaining recourse to salvation.

In retrospect, losing the semi-final of the 2022 T20 World Cup was the turning point. Rohit was convinced that India’s approach was too orthodox and limiting. White ball cricket, particularly the T20 format demanded unstinting dynamism and aggression. While his players were skilful, but the mindset had to change.

Convincing Dravid about this was not as hard as one might imagine. Though he excelled in traditional red ball cricket that demanded circumspection and technical excellence, his tenures as under-19 and India A coach and head of National Cricket Academy had opened his mind to the mental outlook of modern players. He still, though, unflinchingly believed in processes to achieve excellence on a sustained basis. This ensured Rohit’s spirit of enterprise and aggression did not balloon into recklessness.

India’s sizzling run in the ODI World Cup showcased the thought process behind the team management, the improvement in skill-sets and the self-belief in adopting this approach. But there were many hurdles and challenges to overcome before it paid dividends. Losing the ODI World Cup was so disappointing for Dravid that he resigned himself to walking into the sunset with dream unfulfilled. However, a phone call from Rohit, as he revealed later, restored his morale and reignited his ambition.

Rohit’s own position at this point was somewhat shaky. Briefly, it appeared that he would lose the captaincy for the T20 World Cup, and perhaps even his place in the team along with Kohli, as they were rested in the home series against Afghanistan. But the BCCI moved in swiftly and announced Rohit as captain a few months in advance. This stymied any potentially disruptive development and allowed the captain and the coach put in motion their campaign strategy, along with Agarkar.

Selecting the team wasn’t a cakewalk though. Kohli, under the microscope for a ‘mellow’ strike rate, made himself indispensable as an opener by scoring the most runs in the IPL at a healthy strike rate. Jasprit Bumrah was an undisputed pick. Not all selections were as simple.

Injured pace ace Mohammed Shami could not be part of the squad. Premier batsman K.L. Rahul had to make way for Shivam Dube after a tepid run in the IPL. Rinku Singh found place only in the reserves because the squad had five left-hand batsmen in Dube, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel.

The preponderance of left-hand batters and spinners (Jadeja, Patel and Kuldeep Yadav) did not find widespread acceptance among experts. There was also scepticism about rookie left-arm pacer Arshdeep Singh, Pant (who had just returned after serious injury) and the out-of-form Hardik Pandya.

As it happened, they all delivered, particularly under pressure. India made only nominal changes in the Playing XI throughout the tournament and won all matches, illustrating the merit of the thought-process, selection strategy, resource-management, and on-field leadership that went into brilliant campaign which has opened up a new vista for Indian cricket.