November 01, 2007

Third Man

In spite of his triumphs as player and captain, is Rahul Dravid’s lesser standing among the “Big Three” a reality or perception?

Beware, this is Indian cricket, and there’s no such thing as the right thing. Also, by the same logic, or lack thereof, you do no wrong here. Often enough, two wrongs make a right as do one right and a wrong – in fact, think of all the permutations, and chances are, they will result in a right. What, at times even two rights result in a right. This might appear confusing, but that’s what Indian cricket is – the more you know of it, the less you really know about it. It’s like a highly secretive yet dysfunctional family. You think they are off their rocker, but they put forth such an incomprehensibly serene face that you start to think, maybe it’s just the imagination running wild.

But it’s far from that. Indian cricket is like a Reality Show. In it, black and white coexist, but when shades of grey appear, the signal goes off. Fact is there are no grey areas. Why a certain captain greys prematurely is hastily hushed up – either with hair dye, a death knell or a new scapegoat. Either way, there are no answers, draw your own conclusions, live with your own concussions, gentlemen. Indian cricket is not for the overtly rational.

Which brings us to Rahul Dravid – was he far too rational? Did he captain India in a cocoon, blissfully unaware of the monster called Indian cricket? Or did he take it upon himself to rid Indian cricket of its demons?

It’s obvious that the Rahul Dravid-Greg Chappell combine made more foes than friends. After the World Cup ouster and Chappell’s resignation, Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly were in the eye of a storm. There was a deafening demand for change. Supply was met with Tendulkar and Ganguly being rested for the Bangladesh one-day series – giving them a much-needed breather; after which they returned for the test series. While the ODI and test series’ victories did not make up for the World Cup ouster, it gave the three seniors a little more time. Also, resentment had simmered down to indifference.

Next, an unexpected 2-1 one-day series victory over South Africa in Ireland; a famous1-0 test series win and a lackluster 3-4 one-day series defeat, both versus England.

In the ODI series, Tendulkar did exceptionally well, while Ganguly soldiered on manfully. What about Dravid, you may ask? The trouble with Dravid is he tends to go along unnoticed, especially when he scores; for, that is what we expect of him. Also, with a personal P.R. that is low-key at best and non-existent at worst, Rahul Dravid never quite captured India’s imagination like Tendulkar the player or Ganguly the captain. So, when he succeeded it was like he was doing his job. Somewhere down the line, Dravid had not come to grips with the trappings of modern Indian cricket. And this lack would catch up, sooner rather than later.

By now Dravid had also relinquished his coveted No.3 spot to that of a finisher down the order. However, one task would remain unfinished – out of the blue, Dravid resigned as captain from both forms of the game.

The furore caused by Dravid’s resignation was short-lived. Indian cricket attained dizzying heights with the Twenty20 World Cup win. MS Dhoni had arrived yet again, and this time with his band of brothers - with Yuvi, Veeru, Irfan, Uthappa, Gambhir, Rohit Sharma. It was like Indian cricket was up for grabs.

But then came Australia, and India reverted to pretty much the same one-day side pre-T20 World Cup. Another “I told-you-so” horror run, India went down 4-2 in the 7 match series. We were left wondering, what if? If only? Why didn’t the T20 Champs play the one-day games? Why are we back to square one? A little of that post World Cup anger was back again. And it was time for another resting (like in that Bangladesh ODI series).

The bed had been made. Dravid was rested on the grounds of form and fitness for the first two one-dayers versus Pakistan. Chairman of selectors, Dilip Vengsarkar had spoken, somewhat incoherently as usual. His was the last word. Dravid made no comments. At a marathon in Delhi, he was only taking “non-cricket” questions.

Some may argue that’s precisely what this is – non-cricket. But Dravid gave little away, only saying, in true Jammy fashion, “it’s a long season”.

It’s baffling that Dravid did not play in the “Challenger” series – which was to be the so-called selection trials for the India-Pakistan ODI series. But when selections are made even before the finals, you realise it’s all hogwash! Forget India Blues and India Greens, India is in the red now.

To make sense of Indian cricket, try reading between the blurred, zigzag lines. But even then it’s more about unanswered questions.

Like, after his controversial resignation as India coach, why did Greg Chappell return for another appointment? Why did Chappell take on Tendulkar? Was he right in doing so? Why did Dravid stand by Chappell? Why did Saurav Ganguly return? Was it good for Indian cricket? Did Dravid want him to return? Was it Chappell/Dravid vs. the rest of the Indian team? Why did Dravid declare when Tendulkar was closing in on his double hundred? Was he right? Is the Ganguly/Tendulkar–Dravid divide idle media chat? Is resting Dravid part of a rotational policy? If so, then why aren’t the selectors saying so? Question hour can go on till the mind becomes a maze.

Probably better to stay in the present with an Indian team sans Rahul Dravid. What will India be missing? For argument’s sake think South Africa sans Jacques Kallis or Pakistan without Mohammed Yousuf – what do they miss?

Point is, you can bundle all the boundary boys in your team, but they cannot replace the blue-chip quality of a Dravid. These new kids will thrill. They may even make more attractive ad models. But to understand the nuances of cricket (one-dayers and tests), they can do with the disciplined mind of Dravid.

Out of the big three, more so, in the last few years, Dravid has asserted himself as the standout player, hardly missed a game – while both Tendulkar and Ganguly have been indisposed either due to form or fitness, Dravid has gone from strength to strength. If anything, he has looked the fittest, most accomplished of the three – and looked set to out-bat and outlast the other two, until this series of unfortunate incidents.

If the selectors and the BCCI are even remotely committed to Indian cricket, they should strengthen The Wall. Cherish Jammy. But before that, speak and listen to Rahul Dravid. Maybe they too will learn a thing or two about cricket. And it’s definitely not “six and out”. For that is only Brett Lee’s pop group.

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Bhaskar Khaund said...

superbly written , naked..said it all. RD deserves better. we deserve better.

Naked said...

Thanks Bhaskar. I couldn't have written this one without RD. And neither will team India write much without him.