Archive for October, 2007

Hamlet in the slips

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

The Trinity: Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid. Not since the three Ws of the West Indies — Worrell, Weekes and Walcott — who ruled the game in the 1950s, has any cricket team seen a threesome of such talent, class and influence playing in tandem? And now their story’s coming to an end. It had to, at some point in time, but that cold logical axiom doesn’t make it any less sad. These three men have given more to Indian cricket than almost any others, and quite soon Indian cricket will have to live without them.

They are almost the same age, with Tendulkar the youngest. Dravid is 103 days older than him, and Ganguly is 187 days older than Dravid, which makes him 290 days older than Tendulkar. Tendulkar of course had been playing for India for seven years before Ganguly and Dravid made their Test debuts at Lord’s in 1996, but for the last decade the trio has been synonymous with the game in India (along with that old warhorse Anil Kumble). Conventional wisdom has always had it that Ganguly would be the first to go, since his game is more dependent on eyesight and reflex than the others’, so age would hit him earlier and harder. And that Dravid would be the last of the three to hang up his boots, since the rocksolid foundation of technique that his batting is built on would keep serving him even when the body becomes slower. No one ever placed any bets on Tendulkar’s departure. Tendulkar would decide when to retire.

Then Dravid gets dropped from the Indian one-day squad. Yes, he scored only 80 runs in his last 10 one-day innings, but one wonders if any cricket fan in India wanted him dropped, even though we understand the reasoning. In recent years, he was perhaps the most loved of the three, and certainly the most valuable player India had, at least in the longer — sorry, after T20, we now have to say ‘longest’ — version of the game. Of the three, he was the one who we could rely on the most, to stand alone on the burning deck, and quite often, manage to douse the fire. At Adelaide in 2003, after Dravid won the match for India, scoring 305 runs (233 in the first innings, 72 not out in the second), even a usually cautious Sunil Gavaskar was moved to say: “His strength of character shines through in every move he makes on the field. Whenever he goes out to bat, he has his bat in one hand, and in the other, you can almost see the Indian tricolour flying.” That is praise indeed.

Though, to be fair, the virtual Indian tricolour has flown every time any of the Trinity has gone out into the field: Tendulkar walking out, looking up at the sun, twirling his bat; Ganguly looking vaguely disgruntled and blinking rapidly; and Dravid quiet, serious, brooding even. For these men are very different from one another: Tendulkar preferring to do most of his talking through his bat (or ball) other than boyish celebrations at a catch well taken; Ganguly wearing his heart on his sleeve, prone to fits of passion; Dravid simply silent, expressionless, intent on the job at hand. Tendulkar and Ganguly can exhilarate or exasperate; Dravid’s quiet assurance keeps your blood pressure steady, your hopes steadfast.

Yet, something went wrong in the last few months. Captaincy did not suit Rahul Dravid. He is a thinking man, and has a life of the intellect. For such a man, the second most important job in the country may have turned out to be too heavy a burden. One saw the man standing there in the slips, gnawing his nails; one saw the haunted look in his eyes, and one knew he was not enjoying the role. Ganguly’s style of captaincy was a cross between King Leonidas leading his 300 Spartans against the Persian hordes at Thermopylae and a streetfight at the OK Corral. Dravid as captain looked increasingly like a Prince of Denmark with serious existential doubts. Perhaps leading a bunch of boys2men from a variety of backgrounds, many of them unruly, and most of them extremely ambitious, egotistical and insecure is not the job for a decent normal man who doesn’t want to go out carousing with the boys but prefers to spend his evening curled up with Lance Armstrong’s autobiography.

And being a perfectionist wouldn’t have helped. I remember asking Dravid why he never wrote (anyone speaking to him would instantly be struck by his intelligence, articulation and widely read mind), and he replied: “Yes, I’ve thought of it many times, but then I read a piece by Scyld Berry or Christopher Martin-Jenkins and I think I’ll never be able to write as well as these guys, so what’s the point?” The man has never lacked courage, and to give up the captaincy of the Indian cricket team on his own required a very large amount of that quality; Dravid exhibited it for the nth time when he resigned. But the batting masterclass that he thought he would be able to reach again now that the captaincy was off his back has not yet opened its doors to him.

But who knows, perhaps getting dropped for a few games will be the best thing that has happened to Dravid in a long time. It gives him time to relax, and get his mind back in order. For there is nothing wrong with Rahul Dravid except inside his mind. He needs a holiday and he’s got one. He has to now spend it without thinking too much. We have been lucky to see this marvellous batsman play some of the greatest innings ever played by an Indian, and we are not ready to see the back of him yet. Not by a long shot. For Rahul Dravid, to be or not to be is not the question. He has to be. And we know he will.