Dravid’s second coming

It feels nice to be back. I am happy. Looking forward to the Tri-Series in Sri Lanka and catching up with the boys. Looking forward to giving my best, says Dravid.-AP

Despite the luminous presence of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid remains India’s hope whenever the team’s batting displays feet of clay, writes K.C. Vijaya Kumar.

A career-revival was deemed remote as Indian cricket’s selection policies, pegged on grooming the ‘Generation-Next’ for the limited overs game, seemed to overlook the steel within Rahul Dravid. However, after having last played for India in coloured clothing against Australia in Nagpur on October 14, 2007, he is back in the Indian ODI team for the Tri-Series in Sri Lanka (September 8-14) and the Champions Trophy in South Africa (September 22 to October 5).

The inability of the youngsters to settle down and cope with short-pitched deliveries in recent times and Dravid’s own proven ability to tide over rough weather were the factors largely responsible for the former India captain’s recall.

As India is all set for the Tri-Series in Sri Lanka, followed by the Champions Trophy, the man in the spotlight is Dravid. His phone never stopped ringing during the Independence Day weekend with friends and well-wishers calling in to congratulate him. But the man himself was economical as ever with his words. “ It feels nice to be back. I am happy. Looking forward to the Tri-Series in Sri Lanka and catching up with the boys. Looking forward to giving my best,” he said.

The operative words here are “giving my best”, and that has always been Dravid’s credo ever since he began his international career.

The selection committee, chaired by K. Srikkanth, factored in India’s failure at the ICC World Twenty20 Cup in England where the team failed to live up to its stature as the defending champion. M. S. Dhoni’s men did register a 2-1 series triumph in the subsequent ODI series in the West Indies, but the inability of the youngsters to cope with short-pitched deliveries and the prospect of the fast bowlers’ club indulging in some beer and banter over Indian batsmen’s weakness against anything hovering around the chin, forced the selectors to call up Dravid.

Rahul Dravid confers with coach Gary Kirsten during a practice session at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore.-PTI

A key brick that helped in building the early edifice of the Dravid legend was his counter-attack against a fiery Allan Donald in South Africa, the venue of the forthcoming Champions Trophy. Add to it Dravid’s effective batting for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League in South Africa in May, and surely no one can fault the logic behind his recall. Despite the luminous presence of Sachin Tendulkar and also factoring in Dravid’s odd dip in form, the Bangalorean still remains India’s hope whenever the team’s batting displays feet of clay.

The men who filled the vacant middle-order slots in the Indian ODI team such as Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina are yet to cement their places despite their obvious potential. Rohit has been dropped following a modest yield of 695 runs, averaging 24.82 in 41 matches. Raina, meanwhile, is back in the squad after an injury-enforced break and he needs to tap into the rich vein of form he displayed in the Asia Cup in Karachi last year.

Ever since Dravid was dropped from the Indian ODI team in 2007 — perhaps rightly at that time as he had a modest run of 1, 24, 4, 0, 31, 0, 13, 0 and 7 in his last nine ODI innings — Dhoni’s men notched up a string of series triumphs, the most notable being the victory in the Commonwealth Bank series in Australia. Though the ‘Men in Blue’ failed in two successive finals, the Kitply Cup in Dhaka and the Asia Cup in Karachi last year, India still showed enough muscle to defeat Sri Lanka, England and New Zealand in successive limited overs jousts.

The trio of Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh lent potency and propelled the team. However, with Dravid not included in the team and Tendulkar skipping matches for some rest, skipper Dhoni often donned a dour garb unlike his earlier avatar of ‘the window-pane breaking swashbuckler from Ranchi.’

Before taking over the reins of the Indian team, Dhoni had a strike rate of 96.26. But after getting into the hot seat, his strike rate has dropped to 85.23. He does average better as a captain at 59.71 when compared with his pre-captaincy days when it was 44.23, but Dhoni needs to meld consistency with fluidity. Perhaps the re-entry of Dravid will help the captain flex his batting muscles in Sri Lanka and in South Africa.

Dravid’s comeback was fashioned on his ‘hard-work-pays’ philosophy. During the long breaks between Test series over the last two years, Dravid bolstered Karnataka’s Ranji Trophy campaign, scoring a few centuries, making runs in crunch situations and above all impressing his younger team-mates with his discipline. He was also a regular at the National Cricket Academy (NCA). “He worked hard without expecting anything,” said an NCA staff-member.

Vijay Bharadwaj, who coached Karnataka for the last two seasons, spoke about the Dravid-effect. “The thing which stood out with Rahul was the kind of work ethic he had even though it was only a Ranji game. The kind of focus he imparts is amazing. Not even a hint was there that would highlight the distress he was going through. His wife Vijeta, who was expecting their second child, was not well and in spite of the conditions affecting his mental state, he gave his best. He commanded respect with his work rather than his words,” Bharadwaj said.

Dravid never made any remarks about his omission from the Indian ODI squad. “The special attribute about Dravid is that he is intense but at the same time has a sense of balance about his life. When he was dropped, instead of seeking excuses outside he sought them within, analysed his game and worked on it more. He knows exactly what he wants to work on and then he improves those specifics at the nets,” said former India and Karnataka player Sujith Somasundar, a good friend of Dravid.

He’s back... Rahul Dravid at the Indian team’s conditioning camp in Bangalore, ahead of the Tri-Series in Sri Lanka. In the background is Suresh Raina.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Besides Sujith, another player who has known Dravid well ever since his Ranji Trophy debut is former India ‘A’ player J. Arun Kumar. He spoke of his Royal Challengers team-mate’s mental toughness. “Rahul is mentally the toughest guy I have ever seen. His focus on the game has been the same ever since our junior days. Some players tend to relax a bit when they have reached a stage but not Rahul, who continues to work hard. I watched him closely prior to the IPL in South Africa and, trust me, his physical fitness can put even the youngsters in the shade,” Arun said.

Sixth on the all-time ODI run-scorers’ list, Dravid, with an aggregate of 10585 runs, has proven ability. Yet his age — he is 36 years old — might raise a few eyebrows as ODI teams are often built in accordance with the World Cup’s four-year cycle.

The next World Cup in 2011 is in the Indian sub-continent and whether Dravid would be available or would remain in contention is a matter of conjecture. But what is essential now is brick and mortar in the Indian middle-order, and Dravid is the one who can provide them.

Recently at an audio-book launch, a tiny tot asked Dravid, “How do you hit sixes?” Dravid, as modest as ever, replied: “I don’t think I am good at that and I don’t hit many sixes, but I can tell you that as long as you practise hard you can hit them high. That’s what I do and I have scored a few I guess. The key is to practise hard.”

If Dravid can bring stability and also hit the odd sixes in Sri Lanka and South Africa, he will do Indian cricket a good turn. And his sons, Samit and Anvay, might wonder what the fuss is all about.

RAHUL DRAVID TIMELINE APRIL 3, 1996

ODI debut against Sri Lanka in Singapore during the Singer Cup.

MAY 21, 1997

Scores his maiden ODI hundred — 107 — against Pakistan in Chennai in his 35th match.

FEBRUARY 14, 2007

Joins the 10,000-run club while scoring 66 against Sri Lanka in Margao in his 309th match.

OCTOBER 14, 2007

Plays his 333rd ODI, against Australia in Nagpur; he is subsequently dropped by the selection committee headed by Dilip Vengsarkar.

AUGUST 16, 2009

The selection committee led by K. Srikkanth recalls the former Indian captain for the Tri-Series in Sri Lanka and the Champions Trophy in South Africa.