Dravid is his own man, but has much to do

Only a faint-hearted captain might hand his coach the reins of the team, and all evidence of Dravid is to the contrary, writes Rohit Brijnath.

It's all Rahul Dravid's fault, of course. His hair is always combed, his shoes shining, his voice rarely raised, and this is where the problem begins. As stereotypes go, he looks too tidy, too nice, too well-mannered to lead anything but a Boy Scout troop.

No wonder then, it has been said before and will be again (usually, of course, when teams lose) that Dravid should assume control of his team. No Enigma machine is required to decode this. It translates as follows: not merely is Greg Chappell running the team, but a pliant Dravid is agreeable to being elbowed out of the way.

We've sized Dravid up, labelled him, put him in a one-dimensional box with "humble" Kumble and "princely" Ganguly and "stylish" Laxman and "quiet" Wright. He doesn't pout, swear, spit, throw his arms about as often as he should on the field, stand on tables to give Churchillian speeches, which translates as... he's not passionate? He doesn't say as much as Chappell, or as dramatically... so he's not calling the shots?

By this standard, if they were Indian, we'd say Roger Federer was too pleasant to win anything but Friday night bingo, and gum-chewing, arms-folded Mark Taylor is so passive that he'd best join the peace corps.

But this is a slothful categorisation, a flawed perception. We should know Dravid well enough not to imprison him in a cliche. Furthermore, if we look at this logically, it doesn't make sense.

Only a faint-hearted captain might hand his coach the reins of the team, and all evidence of Dravid is to the contrary. Firstly, we've seen Dravid bat. We've seen him declare with Tendulkar on 194. We've seen his old pal Kumble exit the one-day team. We've seen the aggressive fields he often sets. Since when did his toughness require further advertisement?

Like Azhar, and Tendulkar, and Ganguly before him, Dravid, like most of a billion people, has dreamed of leading his country, and to have got the opportunity and then hand over the responsibility to someone else seems illogical. Most pointedly, surely no man of Dravid's intelligence would agree to be over-ruled by a coach, and lose matches, knowing eventually he has to wear the blame. If captains are to be criticised, then it might as well be for their own decisions.

Part of Chappell's role is to groom Dravid, it is in his best interests to have an independent-thinking captain, for even the coach knows remote control from the stands cannot work. Chappell needs to support Dravid especially since the captain, particularly with Tendulkar's absences from the team, has few experienced, disciplined minds to fall back on in one-day cricket, perhaps craving someone to play the role he played for Ganguly as vice-captain.

Maybe Dravid, and here we can disagree with him if we wish, shares many of Chappell's views, both men strategically on the same page. But no doubt Dravid is aware that the test of leadership is when a captain instinctively believes in something and, despite the contrary views around him, follows his gut. Simply, he must be true to himself.

This batting order experiment, for instance, couldn't have happened if Dravid wasn't comfortable with it. It paid off for a long while (19 of 25 matches won) and the captain gets the credit. The moment India flew off abroad it began to fail, and so now he must bear the responsibility. That's the way the job goes.

There is more evidence to prove the experiment works, but eventually experiments also have to cease. After testing and trialling, presumably something has been discovered.

One being that Dravid should retire as opener. He actually did all right early on with scores including a 46, 65, 69, 92 and, 105, but has floundered lately.

Can he open? Possibly. Should he? Hell no. Why? Because who's the calmest, singles-running, pressure-wearing, sweating-and-chasing batsman we have? Him. Go back down the order, fellow. Furthermore, India can't afford to have Tendulkar and Dravid at the top of the order, for if both departed, early, imagine the psychological boost to the opposition.

The offshoot of Dravid down the order is Sehwag up it (ironically, Dravid averages higher as opener than Sehwag, but it's an unfair calculation because Sehwag has opened six times more often).

Still, whether as opener, as middle-order bat, or all put together, Sehwag's one-day average is just over 30, and for a player of such gifts, well, that's unimpressive. Teaching Sehwag some responsibility by putting him in the middle-order, by exposing him to the value of rotating the strike, is all very fine, but please put the poor boy back to the front. Swacking, on his day, he does best.

Fact is, of course, that neither experimentation, nor order shuffling, is the cause of India's recent woes. Merely that lately the batting has had more cracks in it than a Bush argument. In their last 10 innings, India's batsmen, from Dravid (105, 11, 0, 15, 18, 9*, 26, 6, 0, 7) to Raina (6, 7*, 27, 26, 7, 2, 34, 1*, 11, 26) to Dhoni (3, 59, 18, 2, 15, 46*, 14, 2, 18, 23) to Yuvraj (4, 63*, 7, 24, 12, 93, 52, 26, 0, 0) to Sehwag (73, 22, 12, 97, 11, 95, 9, 8, 10) to Pathan (46, 1*, 26, 7*, 1, 14, 1, 8, 64, 0), have been edgy.

In wonderful Indian cricketing style, all stutter at the same time. The captain, with his coach's assistance, now must find a way to turn this tide.