Rahul Dravid has been here before. As a player, he was part of an Indian team that was outplayed by Australia in a World Cup final in 2003. As captain, he had also experienced the agony of having to explain an early exit after the train wreck that the 2007 World Cup was.
So, it was Dravid — disappointment writ large on his face — who faced the media on Sunday night after India’s six-wicket defeat to Australia in another World Cup final. With the players heartbroken, the India head coach said that “there’s more disappointment in our dressing room than anywhere else”.
That will be the overriding sentiment for the moment as India come to terms with not winning a World Cup that they dominated with ten impressive wins till running into the Aussies in the final.
“At this point of time, there’s disappointment. I mean, what else can I say? But, you know, I’d like to believe that, you know, in time, we’ll look at some of the positives of this. But sure, at this point of time, there is disappointment,” Dravid told reporters on Sunday night.
While his contract comes to an end at the conclusion of the World Cup, he said he hadn’t thought about his future yet.
When the dust does settle, Dravid and India’s players can take pride in the brand of cricket they played during the campaign, batting aggressively at the top courtesy skipper Rohit Sharma and hunting like a pack as a bowling unit.
“Really proud of the boys, the way we played right through this tournament, just the quality of cricket that we played I thought was quite exceptional. I think we gave everything we had in this tournament. So really proud of the team, proud of all the boys, proud of the support staff. I think we ran a really good campaign. Just at the last step in the final, we probably didn’t have our best game and credit to Australia,” he said.
That they weren’t able to cap it off with a third World Cup triumph means the albatross around their neck about not winning an ICC title since 2013 continues to linger though. Their approach in big matches and whether they play with fear came up for discussion, but Dravid responded with a resounding no.
“I won’t believe that we played with fear in this tournament. In this final match, we were on 80 runs in 10 overs. We were losing wickets. When you lose wickets, you have to change your strategy and tactics. We showed that in this tournament. When we lost (wickets) against England, we played differently. You start with front foot cricket. And in the final, we didn’t play anything out of fear. They did a lot of good bowling in the middle overs. We lost three wickets. So, we needed a period of consolidation. But whenever we thought we’d play attacking or positive and go forward and hit, we lost wickets. So, you have to build again. But it’s not like we started playing defensively,” he said.
In Dravid’s reign – he became India’s coach in 2021 — India have lost a T20 World Cup semi-final, a World Test Championship final and now an ODI World Cup final. Dravid said he couldn’t put a finger on why they haven’t won a major trophy in the last ten years.
“I mean, I guess if I knew the answer, I would say that. But no, to be honest, I don’t know,” said Dravid. “I’ve been involved in three now. I just think we haven’t played really well on the day. I mean, I thought we were a bit short in Adelaide, in the (T20 World Cup) semi-final. We lost the first day in the World Test Championship (final), unfortunately. We didn’t bowl particularly well after Australia were three down there. And here we didn’t bat well enough. So, yeah, there’s not one particular reason you can pin it down to. I didn’t feel at any stage going into this game that there were any nerves or the guys were intimidated by the game or they were concerned about the game. I think they were looking forward to it, we were excited about the game. I thought there was energy and the mental space the boys were in was terrific. Just on the day we probably didn’t execute, and Australia played better than us.”
It will be a bitter pill to swallow for Sharma in particular. Having been left out of the squad that won the 2011 World Cup at home, he came into this World Cup with “unfinished business”. While he’s usually calm and always ready with a clever quip, the scenes at the end on Sunday as he tried to fight back tears spoke of his despondency. At 36, he is unlikely to be around in four years’ time for another crack.
“Yeah, of course he’s disappointed, as are many of the boys in the dressing room,” said Dravid. “There were a lot of emotions in that dressing room. It was tough to see as a coach because I know how hard these guys have worked, what they’ve put in, the sacrifices they’ve made. So, it’s tough. I mean, it’s tough to see that as a coach, because you get to know these boys personally.”