Posted: 12 May 2013 at 1:20am
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Must Read: Rahul Dravid – 'Never say die'
A few men are born with the destiny to attain greatness. And a very few embody great virtues to become even greater. Rahul Dravid belongs to the latter category of men. A man for all seasons and formats, he has just been proving that wisdom comes along with age and experience. Widely considered as a Test specialist, he has proved his critics wrong by playing sensible T20 cricket at the age of 40, being the oldest active Indian cricketer in the cash-rich Indian Premier League. Not only that, but he has also inspired a young and inexperienced Rajasthan Royals squad enough to raise a few eyebrows, to emerge as the surprise package of this season's Indian Premier League.
Navjot Singh Sidhu once said of Dravid, "Rahul is a person who will walk on broken glasses if his team asks him to." And so true is that statement, as Dravid has given his best, or has rejuvenated himself depending on the needs of the team, for the most part of his career. After donning the big gloves to accommodate an extra batsman in the ODI team in the early 2000s, he was often made the makeshift opener in the longer format, in the case of an injury to a regular opener; to be honest, he almost played as an opener in overseas Tests, owing to the early loss of one of Sehwag and his partner in non-Indian conditions.
And then many years later, when critics spoke about his career coming to an end, he took the entire cricket fraternity by shock with superlative performances in the 2011 England Test series, amassing 461 runs in a tour where his colleagues were completely outplayed in all departments of the game. And then there was one bad series for which he took the blame and hung his boots, shielding his fellow team-mates from further criticism. It was IPL 2012 after that, where all the retirement distractions never allowed him to be his own man and a year passed without any sort of professional cricket. Then came IPL-6, where the typical Dravid has been back with what he is best known for – consistency and commitment.
Dravid has shifted gears for the newest format of the game, surprisingly, with a gentle display of aggression along with the elegance reminiscent of the vintage Jammy. He looks to have honed his T20 skills after quitting the international arena, as there were the inside-out hits over cover and those sublime chips over the infield that left his followers in awe. Of all those, I must say, the fans must have delighted on seeing his street-smart straight drives and those textbook cover drives, especially the ones against Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ajit Agarkar, which seemed too much for the opposition bowlers. The main reason Rahul has looked a better player than other Indians of his age is mainly because he has known his limitations and has played clever cricket based on what the situation demanded.
More than Dravid the batsman, it has been Dravid the captain-cum-mentor who has been more in the spotlight in the recent past. His tactics have been shrewd, and yes, sometimes weird, but on most occasions he has managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat, coming up with bold moves to upset the opposition. He has juggled his own position in the RR batting order, giving his batsmen opportunities, and more importantly, freedom, to boost their own confidence and form.
Rajasthan Royals bowler Sidharth Trivedi
When someone like Shane Watson comes up and says that he feels blessed to play under such a captain, his greatness is reaffirmed. Little-known overseas players like James Faulkner and Kevon Cooper have been Dravid's go-to bowlers, operating as death -over specialists, a fact that has already triggered calls for them from their respective national selectors. Ajinkya Rahane is always a different person playing under Dravid, and the presence of his 'idol' at the other end has worked wonders for him.
Dravid has already unearthed a few raw Indian talents in Sanju Samson, Rahul Shukla, Dishant Yagnik, Stuart Binny and Ajit Chandila, who have affirmed the faith shown in them by their skipper. Sreesanth's temper hasn't seemed to have gone down too well with Dravid, as seasoned campaigner Siddharth Trivedi has silently become the lead Indian pacer for the side.
It has been the former India captain's thirst for runs and wins that has actually set moods ablaze in the RR camp. Dravid has been highly active on the field and people have also witnessed Dravid v2.0, the one who loses his cool at times (yes, trust me, he does!), like on two occasions that I remember very well. When Sreesanth went awry with his line and length in the away encounter against PWI, Dravid was seen frowning at the bowler, with the Indian pacer subsequently getting dropped for the next game. And against CSK, at Chepauk, he misfielded at cover, resulting in an extra run in the dying overs, and Dravid was so furious with himself that he tapped the ball with his hand to the 'point' region off the next ball, that resulted in another extra run. He also expresses disgust after failing to punish the loose balls while batting in the initial overs, but it has been that 'mild aggression' that has launched him into the 'T20' mode this year.
As Dravid would say at the toss every match, RR have started most of the matches as the underdogs, but they have put forth collective efforts, led by an inspirational leader, to emerge as one of the strongest teams of the competition. Maybe Dravid missed this aggression while he captained India. But here, he leads a pack that would obey him under all circumstances and there, it was definitely a different scenario.
Dravid might not have years of cricket left in him, but he has the firepower in his belly to stand up and perform his given task. Should he continue in the same way in the remaining matches, RR might well become the most celebrated and respected team by the end of the tournament. It's not a case of comparison or prediction, but I am pretty sure that Dravid has been the best of all captains in this IPL and I won't be surprised if the young Indian brigade pulls off sensational performances to win the most coveted IPL trophy, at least as a tribute to this 40-year-old youngster.