Thursday, October 15, 2009

In and Out

Originally published on Nazar.

Rahul Dravid was dropped from India’s One Day International (ODI) cricket team in 2007. He must have always felt that he was good enough to don the Indian blues again, and that’s how champion players think, but even he would not have realistically thought that the selectors would recall him. India won the World T20 Championship in 2008 and the initial successes of Indian cricket’s newer players, such as Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan and Rohit Sharma, suggested that the door was effectively shut on the old-timers like Dravid. Or so we, and probably Dravid too, thought.

Indian cricket’s perennial fallibility against short pitched bowling came to the fore in the 2009 edition of the World T20 Championship, and in the tour to the West Indies following that. Rohit Sharma flopped, Raina looked awkward against a rising ball and the Indian middle order seemed to depend too much on their captain, MS Dhoni, to bail them out. The selectors, headed by Kris Srikkhant, had to address this and quite surprisingly, the person they turned to was Dravid. It was surprising because it went completely against the selectors’ policy of building an Indian team for the future. There was no doubting Dravid’s form - he had stamped his class, amidst the power-hitting players, in the IPL this year. But were the selectors looking at a bigger picture, or was this just a stop gap measure to strengthen a team short on confidence and bereft of an injured Virender Sehwag?

It’s clear now that it was the latter. Rahul Dravid has been dropped from the squad facing Australia later this month, in spite of performing well on his return to the team. He proved to be a calming influence in the batting line-up and did what was expected of him. Now, he finds himself left behind, for no fault of his. Virat Kohli has taken his place. So does this mean that the young brigade of Indian cricketers are now ready to take on world cricket’s best bowlers? What’s changed in the past month? The fact that the selectors aren’t even allowed to explain their reasoning to the public hardly helps. Their thought process comes across as muddled.

Three months ago, Rahul Dravid knew his place in the Indian cricket set-up. His days in the ODI cricket team were behind him and he was focusing on his Test career. Deservedly called back to strengthen the 50 over outfit, he’s now been tossed aside in order to give Kohli a chance. Yes, it is necessary to make tough decisions in sport and building a team for the future involves letting go of the greats who once held the team together. But the selectors have to understand that they are dealing with people here, not just names on a piece of paper. Sportsmen are passionate people and the very best do not give an inch to the opposition. They practice extremely hard to better their game and Dravid is a model of discipline. To toy with a man like that by reviving a dead ODI career and killing it almost immediately for reasons that have little to do with merit is plain wrong - and hurtful.

Rahul Dravid’s not a man of many words. He inspires with his calm and poise, and prefers to let his bat do the talking. He’s not controversial like a Ganguly or worshiped like a Tendulkar. And, unfortunately, that’s why this indignity meted out to Dravid will be forgotten soon.