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The Departure of Enigma

Rahul Dravid led too much by quiet example, too little by grit and passion


The most telling thing about Rahul Dravid’s strange resignation from Indian captaincy was the eerie tranquillity that surrounded it. On the Friday afternoon that the story broke, a small crowd of journalists, fans and usual Indian passers-by gathered outside his Bangalore house in a light drizzle. Nothing much happened. Rahul’s father, returning home from the purchase of a Ganpati idol, answered a couple of questions. For most of the next day the routine analysis and sms polls played out on television almost out of duty.

Nobody knew where Rahul Dravid was. He had not given a single one of his team-mates an inkling of his decision. Let alone hold a press conference, he had not even issued a statement. And the administrators, probably delighted that they now had the opportunity of offering the position to Mumbai deity Sachin Tendulkar, said nothing really, not even a thank-you. No international captain in recent memory had gone this way.

By Sunday the newspapers could just about muster interest in the story. Front-page space was afforded to India’s tactics at the giggling bowl-out at Durban two nights before, but the big story of India’s vanished ex-captain was perfunctory. On Monday morning, less than three days since the resignation, there was not a word about Dravid. On the streets there were no naras or public pujas urging him to reconsider. The issue was not discussed in Parliament.

The thing about cricket captains is they change maybe three or four times a decade. A nation like India puts as much store by its cricket captain as its prime minister. To see the episode quietly start and finish showed what an anti-melodramatic response Dravid provoked in the masses. It probably suited Dravid just fine. Peace again.

No more, he must be thinking. No more oily opportunist tour managers, no more pressures from the Mumbai lobby and public barbs from the chief selector, no more of self aggrandising administrators, no more suffering for want of a coach or a media officer, no more accounting for every person’s actions, no more scrutiny. Time again to do batting, recall the art of building big innings. Time again to lounge in books. Time again to watch films, to luxuriate in long lunches in the lead-up to big Tests. Runs, books, movies, family, runs. Captaincy relinquished, a life reclaimed.

Well, that’s looking at it from Dravid’s perspective, or rather taking a guess at it. Javagal Srinath, who knows him well, wrote that Dravid ought to have helped groom a successor. And he should have seen through the six testing months ahead, where India’s opponents are Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Srinath is right. Much as one respects that it was Dravid’s personal decision, a sense of abandonment accompanies it. He has, basically, run away. If India had a better man waiting in the wings or if Dravid’s form had slipped to dreadful rather than merely worrisome, the resignation would have been the way forward. As it stands, it exposes Mahendra Singh Dhoni, a mere two years old in international cricket, to the staggering challenge of wicketkeeping, batting, media managing and leading a team containing three Big Daddy ex-captains against the most formidable one-day team the world has ever known. Of all the sad thoughts in Indian cricket, imagine Dhoni with grey hair.

To be driven in India is also to be driven mad. I had interviewed Dravid at the start of his first series as Test captain – less than two years have passed, but how much longer it seems in Indian cricket. He spoke about building a side, about negotiable and non-negotiable rules, about energy-givers and energy-leachers in a group. It was rousing stuff. At times his voice rose and he made the delivery as in a speech. I had expected passion from Dravid, but I must confess to feeling a little overwhelmed by his missionary fervour. Half of me thought: ‘Nobody can stop this man now.’ The other half thought: ‘This man will lose his sanity soon.’

Part of Saurav Ganguly’s genius as captain lay in his off-field management of the ways of Indian cricket. To take the job is also to accept the wretchedness of the task. To do it well requires the ability to somehow revel in chaos and often in a shambles.

But an obsessive is an obsessive. It’s hard to grudge him that. Slowly the job would have eroded Dravid. Captaincy unwittingly compels you to focus on things you may not really want to. For instance, he cared very much for what appeared in the media and this was a mistake. It was apparent to see that his impatience with the press had been growing. Twice in the last year he walked out of press conferences. He was not beyond cultivating journalists or putting out his take. He was, in fact, reasonably successful at it. Perhaps he was also a little sick of it. Maybe he felt the job was not tending to his best self.

Certainly the bruising Greg Chappell era had taken its toll. With a divisive man running the show, Dravid was unable to forge the kind of bond that needs to exist between captain and players. But this was a decision he took, for he knew the score. He may have shared some of Chappell’s observations, but it was down to him to make them feel secure. By allowing Chappell to conduct the bizarre business of preparing a team by mentally disintegrating its members, he lost the faith of senior players. Younger players felt him uptight and uncommunicative. Dravid ultimately was a pretty solitary figure.

He made some odd decisions in selecting XIs and at the toss and in the field, but he was a sound, standard-setting, passionate man to have at the helm. He will be remembered, when the context is specific, as the man who led India to momentous series victories in West Indies and England as also to a sorry World Cup crash, though in broader terms the period will be remembered simply as the tumultuous Chappell years.

Dravid’s captaincy was based on leading by example, and maybe when the runs began drying up so did the larger ambition. In Jamaica last year he played not one but two supreme captain’s innings in the same Test for a famous win. Dravid the leader, like Dravid the player, was at his most inspiring sweating beneath the India helmet, taking guard with a look that is at once a frown, a grimace and a frozen bliss. It’s a look we all know. It said, ‘What more can you throw at me?’

Perhaps this is the spirit that India hoped, or rather assumed, in which his tenure as captain would pan out. He’s decided it is not worth his energy any longer. Good luck to Dhoni and whoever else; good luck to India.

Bhattacharya is the author of Pundits from Pakistan

Sep 29, 2007

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