Of all the cricketers on this good planet, Rahul Dravid probably has the most meaningful nicknames, ‘The Wall’. When you just about end up uttering those two words, you realize the very strength that they portray. And if over the years you have seen him bat, it would become clearer still what this man has meant to Indian cricket in the past decade or so.
Cut back to September 2007. After the debacle in the Caribbean World Cup, the Indian team under Dravid had corrected some of its wrongs by winning the Test series in England. But then came the shocker when he quit captaincy, albeit on a high of a series win there after two decades. His own batting form suffered towards the later stages of his captaincy stint and when the Aussies came calling for a seven match ODI series in October that year, he suffered ingloriously, scoring a paltry 51 runs in five innings before being dropped.
Everybody, and anybody, having an opinion about Indian cricket were quick to point that moment as the end of Dravid. He was low on confidence, low on runs and as an ex-captain who had just lost his spot in the ODI side, well let’s just say that the world around him changed quite quickly. He scratched around against Pakistan, Australia and South Africa in three consecutive series but the shots just won’t flow. He went through hell against Ajantha Mendis in Sri Lanka but then so did all other batsmen. So he endured against Australia, slowly getting his rhythm back and then against England, started to show some semblance of the Dravid-of-old. Maybe he needed some déjà vu to get his ‘mojo’ running again.
They say that the Indian tour to New Zealand in 1999 was Rahul Dravid’s making. Just a year prior to that tour, he had been dumped out of the ODI team, labeled as a Test batsman. The selectors had their feet up their mouths when he struck back-to-back hundreds in the Tests, topped it up with sterling batting in the ODIs and then topped the batting charts in the 1999 World Cup, a few months later. And so when the Indian team returned to Kiwi-land last year, it was no surprise that he got his runs flowing much more easily. Clearly the conditions played into his now rebuilt confidence.
However, it is from totally unexpected quarters that he found his way back into the side. While on tour in England in 2007, the trio of Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid had decided that they were too old for the T20 format. Keeping away from international T20s, they couldn’t stay away from the IPL and with the circus moving to South Africa this year, Dravid hoisted the Bangalore Royal Challengers into the final, at least in the batting side of things if not all alone. Maybe he had a point to prove after the debacle of the inaugural year.
Like clockwork then, while he was growing back into his ‘prime’, the younger players self destructed. Too much cricket combined with some nonchalant shot selection against short pitched bowling meant that India’s wise men were left pondering after a shocking T20 World Cup exit and a not so heartening ODI win in the West Indies.
And so, at age 36 years, he is summoned yet again to the ODI side. Given the failure in the T20 World Cup, it is clear that the selectors are now looking to chop and change till the 2011 World Cup squad begins to take shape. So in that concern, comes the obvious question: do they really see Rahul Dravid making that squad? Or, is his comeback just to get the team back on track in the much nearer future?
The latter thought just complicates things a bit. Is he back just for the Champions Trophy after what he did in South Africa in the IPL? Or, to guide the younger ones and teach them how to play short pitched stuff? Well, he can only do so much, for all have to play their share of the deliveries. Point is if this is a stop-gap arrangement, then at the end of it, he will again get unceremoniously dumped. And that is the harsh truth of Indian cricket.
But consider for one second, the other option. That he does what he does best; marshal the middle order the way only he can and then goes on to become an integral member of the side for the 2011 World Cup. In its singularity, that is a most pleasing thought and when you combine it with the one that says one Sachin Tendulkar is also targeting playing the tournament in two years’ time, the pleasure for the average Indian cricket fan is automatically doubled.
For the man in question though, nothing matters more than the immediate future. At his age and stature, he has nothing left to prove to any one. But that doesn’t mean the task that is laid out for him is not an onerous one. He has to go back to his ways of building the shell which will protect the Indian batting order, so that others may place their guns on his shoulder and fire India into momentum for the next two years.
Once again, Rahul Dravid is central to Indian cricket’s long-term plans and in the new season, that is a most satisfying thought, to say the least.
© Cricket World 2009