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

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