A recognition for India's batting might

DURING a time when the Indian cricket team is grappling with a crisis, with its much celebrated batting coming under scrutiny, the International Cricket Council's (ICC) inaugural awards arrives as a shot in the arm for Sourav Ganguly's men.

While Rahul Dravid walked away with two of the most prestigious awards — the ICC Player of the Year and Test Player of the Year — Irfan Pathan was named the `Emerging Player of the Year,' at a function in London on September 7.

The ICC deserves to be congratulated for instituting annual awards for cricketers who have excelled on the international stage; it is important for cricket's parent body to recognise performances.

That all-rounder Andrew Flintoff was adjudged the `ODI Player of the Year' reflects England's growing stature in the cricketing world, with a fresh bunch of players under Michael Vaughan making a marked difference.

The cricketers were picked by a decorated panel that included the ten full ICC member captains, the elite panel of eight ICC umpires, seven members of the ICC elite panel of match referees, and a combination of 25 former cricketing legends and members from the media; no wonder the awards are extremely prestigious.

All credit to Dravid for bagging 64 votes to win the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for the Player of the Year, beating back challenges from Flintoff and South Africa's Jacques Kallis, who both polled 44.

In a glittering Indian batting line-up, he has shone the brightest, not just making big runs, but doing so when his team needed them the most. The `Man for Crisis' he certainly has become.

The award for Dravid, in some respects, is also recognition of India's batting might; the Karnataka batsman could not have achieved his feats in isolation.

Both in Australia and Pakistan, two significant tours, the Indian batting boomed and Dravid held firm, constructing those huge monuments, his innings building skills coming to the fore at No.3.

Crucially, Dravid took flight in two critical Tests — the second Test against Australia in Adelaide and the decider versus Pakistan in Rawalpindi.

In Adelaide, where India registered its first victory on the Aussie soil after 23 years, he first set up the win with an epic 233 and then guided India during the chase with an unbeaten 72.

Then in Rawalpindi — with India and Pakistan level at 1-1in the Test series — he produced a mammoth 270 on a surface with a fair bit of grass on it. India went on to clinch the historic series.

In the 12-month period considered for the ICC award — from August 1, 2003 to July 31, 2004 — Dravid has scored whopping 1,241 runs from nine Tests, at an average of 95.46. He has an impressive Test record with 6855 runs from 78 matches at 58.09, sprinkled with 17 hundreds.

Dravid, despite the burden of keeping wickets, made his presence felt in the ODI arena as well, his most notable effort being a knock of 99 in the much-awaited first ODI in Karachi this year; India eventually won a humdinger in the Sind capital. And he was the skipper when India registered its first Test triumph on Pakistan soil, at Multan.

Pathan has made rapid strides ever since he was selected from the junior ranks to bolster the Indian pace attack in Australia. The 19-year-old from Baroda has bowled with great heart, always willing to learn, never allowing his spirit to sag.

A natural, this left-armer has proved to be crafty seam and swing bowler, with his two-way movement at a brisk pace often putting the batsman in considerable difficulty.

The paceman first grabbed attention when he breached the explosive Adam Gilchrist's defence with a scorching reverse swinging yorker in the Sydney Test, and has since continued to impress, operating with pride and passion in the VB triangular ODI series and then on the tour of Pakistan; he was the pick, both, in the ODIs and Tests.

Pathan's success, in tandem with Lakshmipathy Balaji, also threw light on the young pace bowling talent in the country.

In less than 12 months, Pathan already has 16 wickets from five Tests at 38.00 and 41 scalps from 24 ODIs (ave. 26.87). He has also shown glimpses of his batting ability.

From an Indian perspective, the selection of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag in the World ODI XI was happy news, although the decision to omit the Mumbai maestro from the World Test XI was a contentious one.