Upton linked up with Dravid in 2013 at the Rajasthan Royals (RR) and went on to work alongside the legendary Indian cricketer in the IPL for a few more seasons, including a few editions of the cash-rich league at the Delhi Daredevils.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Upton referred to Dravid’s work ethic and ability to unlock the best potential within fledging talents as some of the Indian legend’s biggest USPs.
“I think Rahul Dravid is exceptionally good at growing really good people and growing excellent cricketers. That’s the all-round package and for Rahul, it has always been like that his entire career. I don’t think there’s ever been a controversy that’s followed him. I don’t think there’s too many people in the world who can genuinely say Rahul is someone who is controversial in his character,” he said.
Upton drew parallels between the world of business and the changing culture within cricket circles to explain how teams across the world don’t pick players solely based on talent, but also their innate nature as a person.
The former CSA (Cricket South Africa) Performance Director believes Dravid works with the same principle when grooming young cricketers to prepare for international quality cricket.
“We’re moving into a time in the world, not just in the sports world, but in the business world and the celebrity world where it’s no longer enough just to be a high performer. What we are as a person in our character and our values is how we’re showing up.
“The top players are disruptive, they are not getting picked in the teams in the big leagues anymore. Coaches and managers around the world, we’re picking good people who are also good athletes,” Upton added.
“We didn’t have money to buy players” – Upton on his RR stint alongside Dravid in the IPL
Before Upton joined forces with Dravid ahead of IPL 2013, the Royals had failed to qualify for the playoffs for four years in a row. Their campaign had taken a proper nosedive, almost throwing away their 2008 IPL win deep into the shadows.
However, the Dravid-Upton partnership worked wonders for the Royals, and under the pair’s leadership, RR made the playoffs in the 2013 and 2015 seasons, apart from a 5th-place finish in 2014.
Upton explained how the pair had to work with lesser-known players and the lack of funds to put together a strong team that enabled the franchise to wrestle their way out of muddled waters.
“When I joined the team in 2013, they were sixth, that was about four years since winning the first season and they had spent quite some time in the bottom of the log. The reason being that the owners didn’t give the full quota of money to go to the auction, we only had a probably half of the quota.
“So the Royals had to use a strategy of unearthing young and high potential players because we just didn’t have the money to buy the big name players. So we came up with a strategy to try and get the best out of this bunch of youngsters.”
Upton further shed light on how the strategy’s focal point was to come up with unique ideas to catch the ‘bigger’ opponents in the league by
“It was to try and create something special with talents who had less experience in our team so that we could do something else that could disrupt the big dogs party. We were like a pack of wild dogs attacking a massive elephant when we were playing teams like MI and CSK. At any point that elephant could just squash us, but if we worked smartly and came at them at angles they never expected, it was exciting.”
After calling time on his glittering career at the end of the 2013 IPL season, Dravid took over as the Royals’ mentor for next season, further facilitating a direct working partnership with Upton within the support staff.
“I have the highest regard for him. Not just his brains, as a cricketer about his ability, and his knowledge, his skill as a cricketer. His ability to get the best out of particularly young Indian cricketers. He’s got an amazing ability to connect with them at their level, to build trust, to build a certain rapport.
“One of the most exciting things about Indian cricket is the fact that you get these young players coming through somebody like Rahul Dravid, who is such a great nurturing ground for young Indians to come through, and for them to learn a certain humility, a hunger to learn.”
What does the #SLvIND limited-overs series mean for everyone involved with the Indian team? 🤔— BCCI (@BCCI) June 27, 2021
Here's what Rahul Dravid – #TeamIndia Head Coach for the Sri Lanka series – has to say 🎥 👇 pic.twitter.com/ObUgFdhStj
Ahead of India’s tour of Sri Lanka, it’s no surprise that Dravid’s role as head coach has been explored and spoken about through many different angles.
Dravid’s been labeled many things – a coach, a ‘cricketing parent’ and a mentor to youngsters in the side who will look to make the most of his presence within the squad.
It’s not often that a coach is spoken about in a higher light in the world of cricket, but you can understand why. Simply because of the man – Rahul Dravid – who’s been a hero to almost every Indian cricketer who aspires to don the national colors one day.