Rahul's art of CAPTAINCY

AP

Captaincy comes with seniority and Rahul Dravid was aware he was in line for the job. He had the attributes for the job and it was only a matter of discovering avenues to exercise his leadership qualities, writes VIJAY LOKAPALLY

HE HAS worked hard for his place in the sun. Watching him marshal his resources on the field, it appears he was always cut out for the job. Strangely, he was hardly considered captaincy material. Instead he was considered fit enough to only be deputy to Sourav Ganguly. Well, Rahul Dravid has had to struggle to get what ought to have come his way far more smoothly. As leader of a young and ambitious team, this suave gentleman has finally landed a job he honestly did not back himself to acquire but was always endowed with qualities to be successful at.

Predictably, a captain has to stand out in a game where an individual can carry the team on his shoulders. In cricket, opportunities abound to allow the individual to dominate. A captain has to be more serious, more sensitive, more involved, and more responsible than the others in the team. Dravid, truly convivial, a modern great, a stylist par excellence, meets the requirements perfectly. He characterises the classical style of batsmanship in cricket. Importantly, he commands a place in the team.

"Leading India is an honour and privilege. To tell you the truth, I never expected to get the job. Like most others, I may have desired it at some point of my career but I have not gone out saying I want the job. It just happened with time as many other things. It is an advantage that comes from long term playing after you establish yourself. You are judged by your performances in the past and elevated on the basis of your ability to perform and deliver. I won't captain any differently than most of my predecessors because a captain is as good as his team. A captain needs the support of the team. On my part, I will try to raise the standards and make the best of what is available," was Dravid's simple response.

He is also not the kind to make a fuss over selection matters, though he would like to have a say in the selection of the team. On the nature of pitches too, he has a clear mind. "Our job should be to play on the pitch the groundsman prepares. No ground staff wants to give you a bad pitch. We have to learn to adapt."

Captaincy comes with seniority and Dravid was aware he was in line for the job. He had the attributes for the job and it was only a matter of discovering avenues to exercise his leadership qualities. Occasions did arise earlier when Ganguly opted out for various reasons but then Dravid remained purely a stand-in candidate.

Dravid and Ganguly launched their careers together at Lord's in 1996. Ganguly smashed a century. Dravid missed the mark by five runs. The journey had begun for both. They admired each other's progress even as Ganguly surged ahead to lead the side. He was fortunate to have a committed deputy in Dravid.

In fact, Dravid has never had it easy. He had to work hard to cement his place in the one-day side, being asked to keep wickets. His role in Tests remained the most demanding, batting under instructions to lend solidity to the middle-order. "I have liked doing what I was asked to. One has to be flexible and play according to the needs of the team," has been his consistent approach.

Known for his perfectionism, Dravid has developed an effective style. In his own efficient manner, he has adopted a conservative method to get the best out of his boys. Never to demonstrate, Dravid has a remarkable quality to maintain a dignified posture in the most adverse situations. Long-time mate Anil Kumble avers, "you will find very few committed and focused cricketers like Rahul. He understands the game so well and as a captain is willing to back the bowlers and the batsmen. He does not like to sit back and wait for things to happen. He leads by example." Yes, leading by example is the most striking aspect of Dravid's personality.

An incident during the 1996 England tour reflects on Dravid's strong character. A voracious reader, he was told of a shop outside the Trent Bridge ground selling cricket books. The training session over, he rushed and picked up a good collection, ranging from biographies, autobiographies, tour diaries to history tomes. His desire to learn about past cricketers only highlighted the man's love for the game.

Dravid is an intense cricketer, leaving nothing to chance. V. V. S. Laxman, his partner in many stirring batting deeds, asserts, "He does everything to perfection. You have to watch him from close quarters, his preparation before a match, his quality to tend to little details. He is such a good thinker of the game. He is always there to boost your confidence and keeps reminding the players their responsibilities. He is a great guiding force for a youngster."

Ask Harbhajan Singh, the cheerful off-spinner and one of the key members of the team when planning big conquests. "Fantastic," he gushes, "I have been playing with Rahul for a long time and can say with assurance that he is the best man for the job. He understands the game perfectly and carries the team together. His ideas give the players time to think and organise their game. He is very cool as a captain and very aggressive in his own manner. He does not demonstrate at all. It is our duty to support him in his endeavour to develop this team as the best in the world."

Dravid, one of the finest students of the game in modern cricket, is a meticulous person. Impeccably attired, flawless in conduct on and off the field, and engrossed with the game with unflinching loyalty to the team has made him a wonderful brand ambassador for the game, not to speak of his growing stature as a much loved role model.

Dravid has imbibed a priceless quality to stay cool under duress from his parents, Sharad and Pushpa, who have remained most supportive of their son's involvement with cricket. Long phases away from home have only helped Dravid to develop into a mentally strong individual with high respect for values and traditions, an ideal ingredient for captaincy. Notice his worn-out cap that he wears with immense pride. "It is an old cap. I just like it," he confesses.

Test left-arm spinner Murali Kartik has always been a silent admirer of Dravid's cricketing acumen. "It is amazing to see him remain cool. He just does not get flustered. He gives you the field you want, treats the bowlers at par with the batsmen and never loses his temper." It comes from Dravid's strong belief that no player ever wants to fail on the field, hence he needs to be supported.

Dravid explains, "I grew up seeing Sri (J. Srinath), Venky (Venkatesh Prasad) and Anil (Kumble) from close quarters and gained from my regular interactions with them. I saw things from the bowlers' perspective and came to understand them better. It has helped me immensely. That is one reason why I make it a point to discuss strategy and set the field according to the bowler's desire. The bowlers have a job to do and as a captain I have to place complete trust in the bowlers at all points." Man management is Dravid's forte and the presence of Greg Chappell, an aggressive and successful captain himself, has helped him settle down quickly. Recently, he was invited to Greece to lecture on management and career building. Whenever the team has confronted sensitive issues on tours, Dravid has been the voice to counter them with �lan. He can plan tactics most cannily and analyse failures and successes to the advantage of the team. Not being demonstrative helps Dravid maintain a high degree of concentration. If Ganguly waved his t-shirt in a frenzy from the balcony at Lord's, Dravid would not even draw his handkerchief out of the pocket to signal his joy. Even when his mates lock themselves in celebration of a triumph, Dravid would step out quietly to thank the umpires before they leave the field.

Dravid, however, can be tough in his own way, like the time he told off Michael Slater in a Test match, or the eventful moment when he waved his bat to the commentators at the Eden Gardens. At no point did he transgress the spirit or law of the game. He can also counter the opposition by ignoring the taunts, as he did against Allan Donald in a one-day game, leaving the fast bowler enraged, and frustrated too.

Unsurprisingly, Dravid had read Mike Brearley's bible on leadership — The Art of Captaincy — a long time ago. "I have always tried to learn from others. I also believe that failures teach you more. I have learnt things with time, from reading, from watching, from personal experiences."

Being vice-captain for a long time has also taught Dravid the nuances of leadership. "I have seen what Sourav had to go through in time management. I am able to switch on and off and find time for myself."

His mates can relax in the thought that the captain would never post the DND (Do not Disturb) sign after the game. "My doors will always be open for my mates," he assures.

Keeping in mind the dignity he brings to the job, the high standards that he sets for himself, Dravid would never be found wanting in his role as captain. Never having worked to acquire it, Dravid would not lose time in relinquishing it once he stops enjoying it. For the time being, in his own words, he is "relishing it every moment."

Indeed, Dravid is a leader for the future, with a vision that defines India's path to the World Cup, and an individual, who will never be seen playing for himself.

Tests: 92, Inn: 155, NO: 18, Runs: 7894, HS: 270, Ave: 57.62, 100s: 20, 50s: 38, Ct: 128.

ODIs: 275, Inn: 254, NO: 34, Runs: 8843, HS: 153, Ave: 40.19, S/R: 70.16, 100s: 11, 50s: 65, Ct: 162, St: 14.

Captaincy record Tests 5, Won 2, Lost 2, Drawn 1 ODIs 27, Won 14, Lost 12, NR 1 Compiled by V.V.Rajasekhara Rao