Sunday, 11 March 2012

Rahul Dravid - Mind over Matter

Rahul Dravid – Mind over matter
On Friday, 09thMarch2012, Rahul Dravid walked into the sunset. There have been reams of articles by eminent writers.  Some of them have taken particular pride in the fact that Rahul was close to them and that he called them to give them a heads up about his retirement. I wanted to write what I thought about Rahul’s career from the perspective of us normal fans who are fiercely focused on Indian cricket and its cricketers (probably not the kind of fierce focus that one Greg Chappell has in mind about Indian cricketers).
1996 -Rahul’s arrival into Indian team
All of us know that he scored 95 in his Lord’s test debut when Sourav made a debut century.  Maybe few will also remember that he replaced an injured Manjrekar in the team. But, even few of us may remember that he actually played for India first in ODIs a couple of months earlier. If we can recall the Indian batting line up around the time Rahul came in, we had Sidhu, Azhar, Manjrekar, as players who had been playing for a number of years and Sachin who though younger than Rahul by a few months was already touted as one of the world’s best batsman having played for 7 years. For Rahul to find a permanent place, he had to perform straight away as Saurav had started off very well.  Manjrekar was not going to keep Rahul out of the side, because India found a younger batsman with better technique and more importantly the ability to score runs consistently and as it turned out play a lot longer for the country.  Almost as soon as I saw Rahul bat, he looked the part and it seemed inevitable that he was going to be around for a long time, at least in the tests
The Making of the great cricketer
Rahul was establishing himself as a test cricketer with some stellar performances after some initial problems of getting out when well set. He used to really feel frustrated about missing centuries especially when he was getting out in the 90s. Make no mistake, every batsman even at club level wants to bat well, contribute to the team and if possible score a century and Rahul was no exception.  To me, one of the turning points of his career was the 1999 world cup when he top scored, inspite of India not making it beyond the super 6s. It must have given him enormous confidence and self-belief as a cricketer as there is no doubt that he wanted to represent India in both formats. If he did not have that ODI success at that time, Rahul would have fretted over the fact that he was not successful in ODIs and it may have affected his test performances as well to some extent. He may have still scored lots of runs and averaged may be the high 40s but I believe that 1999 WC performance was the catalyst for his overall successes later.
The Wonder years
Rahul enjoyed a golden period in the 2000s as he was not only at the peak of his powers as a batsman, he was also a senior in the team, a vice-captain and considered amongst the world’s best batsmen in tests. Again, looking at him as a person, it appears that these factors were very important for him to strive for excellence. A lot of articles about how shy he is, how articulate he is, how unassuming he is, how he avoids lime-lights, how dignified he is, etc, etc. Well, he may be all that, but in my mind he definitely wanted the limelight and wanted to be in the headlines for all the right reasons, to be seen as one of the leading cricketers, contributing to impressive Indian performances, senior player and leader in the team, etc.. If you read autobiographies of Ian Botham or Andre Agassi, you will see their desire and ambition to be in the limelight and how it drove them to excellence. Of course, everyone is slightly different and may have different drivers but there is no doubt in my mind that the quest for excellence drives their success.  Painting these characteristics as wrong or right is missing the point.
If you browse cricinfo, you will get all the stats you want, about all the great knocks a cricketer has played. What we do not get is a true story of the match itself and the often ignored fact that the match is won and lost as a team. Individuals like Dravid can only contribute the best they can but winning and losing is never in their control almost every time in test matches though in ODIs, individual brilliance has a greater chance of winning a match. In this regard, Dravid’s contribution was significant between 2000-2005 and he played some stellar knocks, took some crucial catches and also provided the required leadership on and off the field, guiding the youngsters coming into the team.
Right place at the right time
One fact that worked for Dravid in my opinion is the fact that he could play his own game as viru, sachin, vvs, saurav brought their own styles and effectiveness during this period. Dravid was never the lone ranger nor was anyone else during this period, as the batting line up was clicking collectively most of the time. There used to be an occasional stand-out effort by one of the batsmen as that is the nature of the game but during this particular period when Dravid was at his peak, others also were playing very well and it helped him as well as the Indian team. If we had a better bowling attack, we would have become number 1 at that time itself as we were the only team to challenge Australia during this period and our ODI performances were also consistently good, including reaching the 2003 WC finals.
Putting his contribution in the right perspective
A lot is being written again by many experts about Dravid’s contributions as wicket keeper, opening the batting in tests or batting at No.6 a few times. Rahul needs to be acknowledged for his contributions but calling just him selfless, etc does not make sense to me as most of his team members were also selfless.
 There have been pinch hitters who have played an effective hand, part time bowlers picking up crucial wickets, middle order batsman becoming successful openers, etc. As part of a team, your job is to contribute and also be honest that if you do not see that your best contribution comes from a particular spot or situation, you might as well be clear about it, like VVS was clear after his first two years that he wanted to play in middle order or kapil did not want to bowl that famous last over in Eden Gardens in the Hero cup against South Africa. Using the same brush with which these writers keep praising dravid as a team man, etc, then VVS(to give up opening in tests), Viru (for opening in tests, bowling crucial overs), Sachin (for opening in ODIs, not fielding in slips to protect his fingers as they are required for bowling/bating as he was as good a catcher as anyone else, bowling some crucial overs though he was a part timer), Saurav (for opening in ODIs, opening bowling in some tests when required), dinesh kartik (opening the batting in tests when viru was dropped).  A lot has been written about Dravid’s 148 in headingley which was a great knock but not many remember sanjay bangar opened and put up a solid partnership with dravid.
Plain and simple fact is that dravid knew he had the basic technique to be a wicket keeper or open batting as he was already a one-drop player and he did it successfully to help the team but he was never the only one doing that. Taking so many catches is another significant contribution of his but make no mistake, he had to work very hard to perfect it as he also knew he was not an outfielder by any stretch of imagination. This is what makes great cricketers as they know what they have and work very hard to be the best at it.
My analysis of his batting is that he was excellent against seam bowling but not as comfortable against bounce or high quality spin, but he found a way to score which is the most important thing. He almost never got out to part-timers or debutants, which stems from his ability to concentrate at all times. He did not have all the strokes but he had oodles of patience and waited for the kind of deliveries which he can score of, rather than trying to invent something, which is what people probably refer as ‘putting a price on his wicket’. It does not mean a viru or sachin who often get out themselves rather than bowlers getting them out do not put price on their wickets, but it is just that they are not as patient and tried to take their chances, which worked for them most times.
My best memories of Dravid
-          Hitting Donald for a straight six and also giving him back verbally
-          Two catches off sachin’s bowling in that famous Adelaide test in 2001
-          Kissing the India cap after scoring the winning run in the same Adelaide test
-          Hugging saurav in Chennai pavilion as soon as India won the Australia series in 2001
-          Sterling catches off ashish nehra when ball was zipping in that WC game against England
-          His flying catch off srinath’s bowling agst Pakistan in B&H ODI match in Australia in 1999
-          Standing his ground against Michael Slater in Mumbai test in 2001

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Has Indian cricket become an easy target?

Like millions of Indians, I have been reading and watching the comments and reports that have been appearing in the media over the last few years. It has evoked various reactions in me and i have tried to stay balanced and neutral in my assessments, though my blog will remain an Indian perspective as I am an Indian after all – so, no pretensions there. Let me comment specifically on some of the topics and i have summarised the heading based on the central theme of these various stories.
Part 1: Indian cricket Board (BCCI) is a rich, rude, inflexible bully
I am not a cricket historian and not going to dwell upon too much of history.  It is now well established that BCCI is the richest cricket body globally and the ratio of the revenues that it generates vis-a-vis the other countries is unbelievably skewed with some saying that 70% of the global cricket revenues is made through BCCI.
This was not always the case and i am not sure when BCCI attained such a status but it is safe to assume that the momentum gathered after India won the cricket world cup in 1983 and climbed significantly since the 1990s, thanks to new generation of cricketers. One man Sachin Tendulkar became the cornerstone of this explosive growth. Even the most ardent Sachin hater would internally acknowledge that there was always something about his rise that most Indians seem to readily identify with and his personal characteristics and values coupled with on-field performances spurred maniacal interest amongst the masses. He was followed by other quality cricketers like Ganguly, Dravid, Kumble, etc who brought along their own identity and the Indian cricket team became the toast of the nation due to some solid performances. This was cashed in big time by everyone from media to corporate houses to television networks, which has all contributed to the current status of BCCI.
None of us are privy to ICC meetings of cricket boards or any other such events and this includes you, me, the media, the ex-cricketers who have become cricket writers and commentators. Of course, some may have better connections and hence, may get some dope about these meetings because there is always someone willing to enjoy their two minute fame by revealing the discussions from these closed door meetings.  So, the notion that BCCI dominates these meetings may have its merits and demerits but let us assume they do for a minute. I cannot fathom why the other boards allowed this to happen and also cannot believe that an Australian, English, South African boards to name a few were agreeing to everything that BCCI said, without any return favours.  If they did raise a point and it was shot down, then is BCCI solely to be blamed? If they agreed because the return favour ensured that they were adequately compensated, then again whose fault is it?
 The ICC CEO or the ICC itself is deemed to be a muppet now in the hands of BCCI. Can someone tell me that in the days when BCCI or Indian cricket were not powerful (or rich if you want to call them that), who was influencing the decisions and who got what they wanted?  Why were the first two cricket World cups in 1979 and 1983 held in England when West Indies and Australia were the better sides? Why were only English umpires and Australian umpires seen everywhere in those initial days when neutral umpires were implemented?  Whether it was the Kerry Packer series or the rebel South African tours, the cricketers who were mostly participating were from England and Australia and their intention was largely to make money. These ventures against the ICC rules existing at that time and some of them did lose a bit of their cricketing career but how would a similar decision by a Asian cricketers be viewed by these western boards?
Who held the aces when it came to changing the rules of the game, scheduling tours, etc, etc?  How many test matches were the likes of India, Pakistan given when they toured England, Australia? If you look at disciplining players for their behaviour, even till today, it is Asian cricketers who bears the brunt of it when players from all countries are equally culpable. Bowling actions have always been questioned and ball tampering allegations have always been pointed out at the Asian teams largely but the recent reports suggest that match fixing within the English county cricket was existing till last season.  
The most ridiculed tournament is the IPL and I have no arguments against the cricketing issues that some point out, that IPL does not develop technique, temperament that is required to compete at test match level. But, a number of the boards, the ex-cricketers turned media people largely accuse it of throwing money and making cricket a dirty game.  IPL was itself conceived from the now defunct ICL as everyone in India is aware and in its present form, the teams are owned by corporate houses. Yes, there are still issues to overcome about IPL management, but how can some of these ex-cricketers especially those from England, forget the whole Allen Sanford matter. The man landed in Lords stadium with a suitcase full of cash, which has now been officially declared as laundered money and he has been convicted. Having done that, some of these boards and their cricketers are now moaning about IPL, how is that right?
At the end of a long article, the point that I have tried to make is on whether the accusers of BCCI have any moral right to say all the things that they have been saying. Is there not a clear jealousy factor here about the success that Indian cricket has achieved? 
In Part 2, I will talk about the perceptions about our cricketers and the cricket team.