rahul dravid

The Wall That Stood The Test Of Time

Sigh.

The day has finally come. The day when I have to bid good bye to one of India’s finest cricketers and one of the world’s best batsmen, has arrived. His announcement doesn’t come as a total surprise, since we all knew it was going to happen sooner than later. Still, now that the moment is here, it is hard to let go.

There are already tons of tributes pouring in from former cricketers, team-mates, opponents, journalists and loyal fans; So, I’m not going to write a piece on why he is the great cricketer that he was; there are better people to write on that. What I want to do is, to take a trip down memory lane and recollect the way he affected how I followed the game over the last fifteen years.

June 1996

It was the year I discovered my love for cricket. My dad introduced me to the joy of the game, when he dragged me along to watch the 1996 World Cup on a friend’s telly; but India’s tour of England was the first time I got to see a Test match. It coincided with the debuts of future captains Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. Ganguly captured the attention of many with his regal stroke play, but it was the quiet class of Dravid with his correct technique and balance which marked him as the one to watch out for in the future. It was not going to be the only time, he would be overshadowed by his team-mates. Personally, I was in too much awe of Sachin Tendulkar (whom I discovered months earlier) to understand the quality of Dravid then; but that was his first step towards making of a legendary career.

May 1999

By now, I was a full on cricket fanatic, with up to date knowledge about the game and its players. When India departed to England for the 1999 World Cup, I did not hold much hopes for the team. The bowling attack was decent but not threatening and I wasn’t too sure of the batsmen apart from Ganguly, Tendulkar and Azharrudin. Robin Singh and Jadeja were the only two players in the team who could field decently, and Azhar was not too bad either. At that time, I had bought into the theory that Dravid could only bat in one gear and would be a flop in ODIs. That myth was totally shattered on May 26th, when India took on Sri Lanka in a league game. Once again, Ganguly grabbed all the attention with a blistering ton, but no less brilliant was an uncharacteristicly aggressive 145 by Dravid. That was the first time I realized that I was watching one of the finest batsmen in the game, who could excel in either format of the game. True to nature, he shifted the attention off himself by declaring Ganguly as the “God of Offside”.

March 2001

India were a middling Test side when Ganguly took over as captain and John Wright as coach around this time. So, when the Australians were in town, in the middle of a record making streak of consecutive Test wins, I didn’t give the Indian team much chance of stopping the Aussie juggernaut. To make matters worse, Anil Kumble was out injured throwing a spanner in the plans of the team management. Dravid and Ganguly were not in the best of touch either, placing a lot of pressure on Tendulkar. Sure enough, India were trounced in the first Test at Mumbai and halfway through the second Test at Kolkata, were staring at another heavy defeat when Dravid joined Laxman in the second innings. Everyone knows what happened after that. I remember watching the 4th day’s play with numerous other unbelieving school mates at the canteen, willing Laxman and Dravid to survive each over. The next day remains to date as the happiest I have been as a fan of Test cricket. Laxman and Harbhajan walked away with most of the accolades that day, but the cult of Dravid fans was born then.

August 2002

In a year where he scored 5 test tons, none were of more impact than the masterful 148 he scored at Headingley in challenging conditions against a disciplined attack. That knock ensured that India would win a Test match in England for the first time in 16 years. By now, nothing surprised me anymore. For all of Tendulkar’s brilliance, Ganguly’s grace and Laxman’s artistry, Indian fans grew to realize that for India to win abroad consistently, there was only one man you could bet your life on; and he rarely failed.

March 2003

Nothing epitomized Dravid the team player than the sight of him adorning the gloves during ODIs in the early 2000s. Before Dhoni exploded onto the scene, India were in a desperate search for keepers who could bat, and used Dravid as a stop-gap measure, particularly during the World Cup in 2003. To his credit, he never complained but accepted it as a challenge and did the job to the best of his ability. That is why it is all the more impressive that India managed to charge to the final without using a specialist keeper. Dravid never made the Indian fans miss a genuine keeper during that time.

December 2003

If ever there was a ‘Dravid’s match’, this was it. India were in tatters at 85/4 after Australia had scored a mammoth 556, when Dravid was joined by a familiar accomplice and proceeded to give the Aussies a tutorial in Test match batting. At the end of the innings, Dravid had scored 233 (which is my all time favorite Dravid knock) and kept the deficit to 33 runs. He was not done yet. After some Agarkar heroics, India were left chasing 230, and in one of the most important sub-century knocks ever played, Dravid led the way with an unbeaten 72 and took India to an historic victory. One of my enduring memories of Dravid will be the sight of pure joy on his face within seconds of unleashing the victorious shot. Ganguly might have inspired a generation to believe that Indians could win abroad but Dravid was the one who was walking the talk.

January 2006

While the keeper conundrum had been sorted out with the emergence of MS Dhoni, one of the remaining headaches was: who would partner with Sehwag at the top? Enter the man, who I suspect has a hard time refusing whatever the demands of the team management may be. He didn’t do too badly either. In 2006, he was part of a record breaking opening partnership with Sehwag as he made an entire legion of fans wonder what else could he do. It was also during this series, as captain, he made a bold decision in declaring the team innings over when Tendulkar was still on 194. Such was Dravid’s standing that barely anyone questioned his wisdom, despite Tendulkar’s murmurings after the game.

July 2006

The architect of historic victories in England and Australia next set his sights on the Caribbean. After three drawn matches, the curator for the final Test went overboard with his ideas for a result pitch. What resulted was a minefield of a track, where only the ones with best technique could survive. For Dravid, it was a pitch and match situation tailor made for him. Even as his team-mates came and went in a procession, Dravid soldiered on in both innings. The result was an historic series win for India. The days of India being poor travelers seemed a thing of the past.

March 2007

For one of the most cerebral thinkers of the game, Dravid never really excelled at captaincy. After all, to be a successful captain in India, one had to be cut-throat and willing to make harsh decisions which might not always toe the official line. No surprise then that for a gentleman like Dravid, it did not come naturally. He never really felt at ease as skipper and by the time India crashed out of the 2007 World Cup with the backdrop of player discontent and mutiny against the coach, one could sense that Dravid’s brief reign as the leader was coming to an end, mercifully.

April 2009

He could open the batting, stabilize the middle order, shepherd the lower order, keep behind the stumps in emergencies – what else could he do? He could also catch brilliantly at slip; he remains the only player to have taken more than 200 Test catches. Towards the end, his catching standards dropped; but some of the most memorable Indian catches in the last ten years figure Dravid among them.

August 2011

Towards the end of 2010, it was getting evident that Dravid’s powers were on the wane. The reflexes were slowing resulting in dropped catches as a fielder and more bowled out dismissals as a batsman. It was a sorry sight to see one of India’s greats fading away in front of our eyes. I, along with many others, felt that it was time for Dravid to hang up his boots. How does he respond? In a final burst of defiance, he got a second wind, and regaled us with some classic knocks of his. Nothing was more defining than the England tour, where he stood tall among the ruins and proved why the adage ‘Form is temporary, class is permant’ is so true. A century at Lord’s and few more stubborn tons adorned his final tour of England, from where he returned as the only person who could hold his head up high.

 January 2012

In a bit of irony, Dravid has left Indian cricket the way it was when he made his debut. The batting has gone back to depending on one man, and the bowling relies on one aging spearhead. The last memories of Dravid are of his stumps getting knocked over, however hard he tried to protect them. Still, one bad series cannot overshadow a glorious career in which he was responsible for some of India’s finest wins in history.

It is hard to put in words what I describe now. I have never known Test cricket without Dravid, and it is going to feel strange when India next take the field in Tests and there is no reassuring sight of him. Then again, he has taken the right decision at the right time for Indian cricket. For that, I salute him and wish him all the best for his future. Tendulkar might be India’s pride but Dravid will remain as one of India’s beloved sons.

Thanks for being such a great role model, champion. Take a bow!

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A Letter to the Creaking Terminators

Where to now?

Dear Sachin, Rahul and VVS,

Hope you are all enjoying the pleasant Australian weather at this time of the year. It sure is a good time to take out the family on sight seeing visits or shopping trips, and I don’t half blame you for wanting to finish the games quickly, so that this can be accommodated in the schedule. After all, who needs 5 days when you can lose in 4?

Oh, I’m sorry. Did that sound too bitter? You will have to forgive me, as I’m not in a particularly good mood. Apparently, it was not enough that my favorite cricket team got whipped in the first two Tests of a much awaited series;  my favorite NFL team got knocked out of the play-offs today as well.

I digress. This letter is about you. More specifically, it is about your cricket. As you very well know, the series against Australia has not gone to plan so far. And that is stating it lightly. In any other time or era, that would have been accepted as standard fare; but in this series, we have had one of the most experienced batting line-ups in the world (barring number 6), a canny wicket-keeper/captain, a couple of talented spinners and a not too shabby pace attack led by Mr Khan. A lot was expected of you.

Instead, what we got was, embarrassing batting implosions, defensive captaincy, thoughtless bowling and ragged fielding. For a legion of fans who tune in to the game at odd hours and for a multitude of supporters who have invested so much in attending the games at the grounds, this is most disappointing. Again, note the understatement.

..and they all fall down

Now, when it comes to the bowling and captaincy, there is not much we can do. MS Dhoni is the best leader we have, for lack of viable alternatives. His captaincy can be defensive at times, but apart from hoping that he does a rethink of his strategies, there is nothing much one can do about it. As for the bowling, don’t get me started.

Gautam and Viru are an enigmatic pair. You never know when the mood strikes them, so that they will put on an attacking partnership and set up a platform for you guys. Don’t hold your breath though. As our dear captain likes to say, let us ‘control the controllables’.

That brings us to you – The Three Musketeers. Or as Rahul put it eloquently, ‘creaking terminators’. Sadly, you seem to be going out of your way to prove it. Not you, Sachin! You look in delectable touch. Rahul and VVS, you guys have contributed a couple of 50s, but it has not really inspired much hope for your supporters.

Now, I’m not going to rant about how you are pulling the team down, or anything. You guys are legends. You have served the team incredibly well over the last two decades. At the peak of your collective form, you were the envy of all opposition teams. Mammoth scores, incredible rear-guards, and thrilling chases (courtesy Laxman) were the staple diet which the cricket world got to engorge on, when you guys were in prime form. That is why, it is painful that it has to come to this.

You know, I was one of the innumerable supporters who rejoiced when the team won the World Cup last year. It was a victory that I will never forget. My dad’s generation has 1983, mine has 2007. Even then, I knew that only one event could complete the cup of joy for an Indian fan. A series victory down under.

When you guys lost in England, it was scarcely believable. It was not just the loss which hurt; it was the manner of capitulation, which was depressing to witness. Even then, we went along with the BCCI’s excuse list of injuries, insufficient practice games and seaming conditions. It was just bad luck, they said even as they quickly swept memories of the series under the carpet. Australia would be different, they promised.

We had a fully fit squad. Two practice games before the start of the Test series. The pitches were traditional Aussie pitches, but mostly without the lateral movement seen in England. To top it off, the first two days of the Melbourne Test promised so much.

Since then, it has been a depressing ride. While the opposition rejoices on its come-back men, new bowling sensation and  a leader who has enhanced his reputation with giant strides – we are left with nothing but pieces of our shattered expectations and fading memories of a batting order who once bowlers across the world used to dread. Where do we go from here?

Now, there are a lot of voices in the media (print, TV, social) calling for this player to be dropped and that player to be given a chance. Apart from providing a possible quick-fix, what would it solve? We might lose 2-0, 3-0 or 4-0. Ultimately, we are still leaving with a humiliating scoreline.

Now, knowing the BCCI and the selection committee, they will react to this result in the same way they did after the England tour. Putting it down to bad luck and concluding that it is a one-off phase – and with no away series scheduled till November 2013, they would feel very secure in the knowledge that they will be invariably right.

This is where you, giants of the game, have to take a stand. If the powers that be are not going to take the corrective steps that will benefit Indian cricket, then you guys will have to. You owe it to the fans, you owe it to yourself and most importantly, you owe it to the game. We don’t want our last memories of you as out-of-sorts veterans who didn’t know when to leave the game.

We are not asking you to retire en-masse; but we hope that you will formulate a phased out retirement plan among yourselves, if you have not done it yet!  Don’t worry about lack of worthy replacements. Thousands of runs and hundreds of match experience cannot be replaced overnight; but we are willing to lose for the initial few months with the inexperience of youngsters, if that will result in the Indian team regenerating a strong middle order in a few years’ time. And given that we have Che Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Abhinav Mukund and Suresh Raina chomping at the bit to be given an extended run, I can safely say that it shouldn’t take too long.

Sachin, you are in good touch. You have rolled back the years with some classic stroke play, and in many ways, it is the 90s again, with you standing among the ruins of another batting collapse; but even you know that you cannot go on forever. While it may be uncomfortable to face a future without playing cricket (after all, that is what you have been doing for more than half your life!), life isn’t too bad for former players. So, give it a year, and leave on a high. As they say, leave when they ask ‘why’ and not ‘when’. By the way, stop getting bogged down by a record that does not statistically exist, and get on with the business of heaping misery on Australian bowlers!

The Wall is losing one brick at a time...

Rahul, you are one of the last gentlemen cricketers of the game. You have endured criticisms and calls to quit, for most part of the last three years. This despite, scoring tons of runs in the last year, especially in England where you were the only Indian batsman whose reputation was left intact after a grueling tour. Then again, this series has shown that despite your hunger for runs and bloody determination to stay at the crease, the end is near. The mind is willing but the body is weak. Your reflexes have slowed down, resulting in a now familiar sight of uprooted stumps while batting and dropped catches while fielding. You are arguably the most sensible cricketer in the team right now, and you know that a decision has to be made in the bigger interests of the team. With no major away series for a while, it is up to you to plan a graceful exit. The Indian fans expect nothing less.

Very Very Shaky

Finally, VVS. The most graceful among them all. While Sachin has form to fall back on, and Rahul has the records in England to lean on, you have no such comforting stories. Yes, you did score a 176 in your last Test series and you are still the youngest among the trio; but take those two factors away, and your record, particularly in the last few overseas Tests are not encouraging. So, the money is on you to be the first to leave. You have served the team hard and long, but when it is time to go, it is time to go. Hopefully, you will make your last two Tests in Australia memorable and leave on a high.

So, that is what I wanted to get off my chest. I trust that you guys will do what is necessary to set the team off on what is going to be a long and painful journey back to the top of the rankings. Cheers and best of luck for the remaining games of this series.

Yours sincerely,

An Indian fan

 

I have a dream – India’s tour of Australia

Four years ago, the Indian cricket team landed on the Australian shores led by one of the finest gentlemen in the game, with a world class bunch of batsmen and bowlers (Ok, thats stretching it a bit!) with one single mission on their minds: beat the hosts and win a series down under for the first time in their history.

Despite possessing the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni, Anil Kumble and Zaheer Khan (albeit, for one Test), the mission remained unfulfilled. The tour descended into acrimony, even as the visitors could only manage a solitary win at Perth. Many feared (Ok, just the Indians) that with the next Australian tour a good four years away, the Indian stalwarts would have retired, and the best chance of defeating Australia in their own backyard had just been screwed up.

Well, here we are four years on. How things have changed and yet remained so same! Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman are still here (like old creaking terminators, as Dravid put it), while the Aussie team is barely recognizable from that tour. It is safe to say that with all of the current problems plaguing the hosts, THIS could turn out to be the best chance for India to secure a historic series victory down under.

Yes, India has an aging middle order which will have to contend with a fiery combo of James Pattinson and Peter Siddle. Yes, they have a largely inexperienced bunch of bowlers consisting of one fragile world class seamer and an assortment of medium pacers who don’t trouble too many batsmen at domestic level either. Yes, they have two exciting spinners who will be playing on seam friendly tracks, far from the comforts of home-made turners against weaker opposition. And yes, for all of Australia’s troubles, they still are a bunch of tough nuts to crack, with the likes of Warner, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, Siddle, Pattinson and Lyon around.

Still, as a famous man once said (in a completely different context), “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair”.

For, I have a dream.

I have a dream, that for the first time this year, Gautam Gambhir will score an international century.

I have a dream, that Virender Sehwag will carry forward good memories of his last test match at Melbourne; not to forget, his recent barn-storming innings against West Indies in the ODI series.

I have a dream that Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman will have one last victorious hurrah in a land, that at various stages in their careers, made them the batsmen they are now.

I have a dream that this series will be confirmation that Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma can take over when the big guns retire.

I have a dream that this series will be MS Dhoni’s proudest win as test skipper.

I have a dream that Ojha and Ashwin will continue to enhance their reputations in a country which hasn’t always been favorable to spinners; also, that they will make up for the supposedly missing ‘fire-in-belly’ due to Harbhajan Singh’s absence.

I have a dream that Zaheer Khan will last atleast two consecutive matches; and win the games for his country, while doing so.

Ditto for Ishant Sharma.

I have a dream that Umesh Yadav can match James Pattinson for pace and guile; and that Vinay Kumar and Mithun will be ready when another pace bowler eventually breaks down.

Most of all, I dream that it will be a fascinating contest between bat and ball, adorned with thrilling performances by seasoned veterans and passionate youngsters; After all, these are #testing times.

This is my hope, and my faith.

Dravid for President (ICC)

Class. Insight. Humor. Vision. Solutions.

One of the more eloquent players in international cricket today, Rahul Dravid delivered a masterclass at the Bradman Oration in Canberra, as he has done so many times with the bat for India. Following on the heels of an equally impressive speech by Kumar Sangakarra at Lord’s earlier this year, Dravid addressed all the key concerns facing the game today, and more importantly laid out solutions for them. Is it too much to expect him to rise to the top annals of ICC, after his retirement?

Full text of the speech and audio of the Bradman Oration

Analysis by CricInfo

Akhtar strikes, Afridi bites

Do not think of knocking out another person’s brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago. 

Shoaib Akhtar is no stranger to controversy. He made an entire career out of it. When he was not busy shattering stumps and taking off on airplane celebrations, he spent his time fighting doping allegations, chucking scandals, ball tampering suggestions and even an unfortunate case of genital warts! He never shared a good equation with most of his team-mates as Mohammed Asif and Inzamam will testify. So what do you expect from him when he is finally unshackled from the restraints of being an active player and is all set to release his autobiography?? The book is titled, “Controversially yours”, for God’s sake! I would have been more shocked if there was no eyebrow-raising stories in the book.

Autobiographies need to have controversies, if they have to sell. Just ask Herschelle Gibbs. In Akhtar’s case, he has served a generous dolloping of controversy, ranging from candid admissions about ball tampering to passing incendiary comments about Tendulkar, Dravid, Akram and some of his own team-mates. Lost in the hullabaloo over the Tendulkar-Dravid comments is the fact that Akhtar has generously praised Ganguly and Dhoni for their leadership skills; but then again, how do you promote your book’s publicity based on that?

When there is a controversy involving India-Pakistan cricket, can the great Afridi be far behind? I have already written about him here, and my feelings since then have not changed much. While most other Pakistani cricketers have rubbished Akhtar’s tales, Afridi has backed him on his observations over Tendulkar, generously adding that Sachin’s legs used to ‘shiver’ when facing him. Setting aside the fact that this is hard to visualize, it is mighty impressive that Tendulkar manage to score a brilliant 98 in the 2003 World Cup and some impressive knocks in the tour of Pakistan in the following year – all this while on ‘shivering legs syndrome’!

Look, I’m not dissing either Akhtar or Afridi here. It is their right to express their opinion, whether most people agree with them or not. If they feel that Tendulkar is scared of Akhtar or that Dravid is not a match-winner, so be it. If you think otherwise, go ahead and express that as well. It is not a compulsion that everyone should shower glowing praises on Tendulkar, or have an unanimously good opinion about Dravid (though it would be hard to differ in this regard!). The fact is, when people look back twenty, thirty years from now, they will see that the records and accomplishments speak for themselves. There is no need to fly into nationalistic rage and degrade others’ achievements. It is noteworthy that the men at the center of the storm – Tendulkar and Dravid – have refused to comment on this, while others speak for and against them. Perhaps, there is a lesson to learn from them here.

Baby, please don’t go!

The final journey

As much as I think it was a mistake to recall Dravid for the ODI leg of the England tour, it is nice that atleast he got a chance to leave the shorter formats of the game, on his own accord. It won’t be long before he hangs his boots from Tests as well. Till then, play on Jammy!

What’s the fuss about?

So, Dhoni decided to call of his batsmen when the target was 86 more runs from 15 overs with 7 wickets in hand. Cue, the outrage in India and sanctimonious crap from rest of the world. Cricket sites and Twitter raged with comments from Indians decrying it as shameful and calling the team not worthy of number 1 status; while others concluded that the England series would go in favor of the hosts since the Indians decided not to bat on and try to win the game. As Andy Zaltzman pointed out, India is not the first team to play it safe when the series is in the bag; so the self righteous whingeing can stop.

Yes, the Australian team of the 90s and the West Indian teams of the 70s/80s might have chased this target down; but this team is nowhere close to those sides; so such stupid comparisons can also stop.

While I would have loved India to bat on and try to win the game, I don’t have the same experience and pitch awareness, that the likes of Dravid, Laxman, Dhoni and Fletcher possess; so I will accept their decision, even as I regret the missed opportunities of the last two days. For a team missing its best batsman and bowler, and playing some inexperienced rookies against a side which played beyond its expectations, this was a good result; and no made up controversy should take anything away from that. The England tour will be played with a different set of players and in different conditions; so that will have no relation to how the West Indies tour panned out. I can’t wait for all the talk to stop and let the actual contest be decided between bat and ball.