Rahul Dravid – “The Wall” of Fame and a True Legend of the Game

My first memories of Dravid was when listening to the radio commentary of a domestic match in the early 90s, I am not sure which one  Ranji , Duleep or Irani Trophy. But in those days when we used to scourge the newspapers and Sports magazines for expanding our Cricketing Knowledgebase, the greatest pride in evening conversations with the cricket gang was being in the know of budding young talents and details of their batting/bowling style. Rahul Dravid hit five leg side boundaries that day and ended the day at 20 odd not out. The commentators were speaking in superlatives about the wristy quality of those shots and I must confess that I was led to believe that the next Indian strokeplaying genius had arrived. But apart from some raised eyebrows in subsequent evening chats, my Rahul superstar story never seemed like taking off, not for a few years anyway.

The name “Rahul Dravid” had somehow caught my attention and I mentally associated his name with a swaggering personality and was really disappointed on 2 grounds when he made his debut in England, one – he wasn’t the swashbuckling strokemaker I imagined him to be and two – he seemed quite introverted and almost invisible as a personality at that time. I felt he could never be one of my cricketing heroes, I worshipped the stroke players – the Sachins, the Laras, the Richards, the Gowers and the Azhars of the world.

However like an acquired taste, slowly but surely “The Wall” got to me..completely!

In the early 1990s, the feeling was that when Sachin got out , India crumbled and we were really the whipping boys when traveling overseas. It was only when Dravid and Ganguly came in that things started changing. Result wise 1996 -2000 was not much different but we saw some more spine with Ganguly , Dravid and Lakshman joining Sachin and showing spurts of brilliance. Rahul consistently proved himself abroad in tours of England, South Africa New Zealand and Zimbabwe. In the ODIs , he scored heavily in the World Cup of 1999 and seemed to have put the “Only for Tests” tag behind him.

But he had failed miserably in Australia on his first tour and like Manjrekar before him the question was whether he would fall short of being a truly great player. But the Match fixing saga, Ganguly’s elevation to leadership and John Wright coming in as Indian coach, really proved to be the catalyst for Rahul’s march to greatness. The basis of this was an intense desire to contribute to the teams cause at whatever personal cost.  He would grind out many an innings leaving the headlines to his strokeplaying counterparts. A case in point is the legendary Kolkatta Test which was a watershed game for India and Dravid played supporting cast to VVS and Harbhajan in the amazing win. He continuously worked on his technique, coupled it with his gift of patience and created his own dogged, stonewalling style of batting that had just one aim, to be able to contribute to Indian Wins.

And win we did, Tests in West Indies, England, Australia and even Pakistan. In all of these series, Rahul Dravid played innings of great substance. Though he was the main protaganist, the flashy sidekicks often stole the show. In this period he was undoubtedly India’s leading batsman, better than Sachin, Lakshman , Ganguly or Sehwag.

In the era of speed metal he played classic Rock. He made leaving the ball outside the off stump watchable and gave the game a new concept in “Positive Defence”. One outstanding statistic is that he is the only player to have faced more than 30000 deliveries in tests. Match that next-gen!! If you put together his career figures and analysed them there is no doubt that he will be India’s greatest match winning batsman. That was the way he had planned it and that is what he achieved, but being the gentleman that he is, he wouldn’t mind if it were not mentioned.

Of course many legendary stories exist – donning the wicket keepers gloves for the team’s sake, becoming the best ever Indian slip fielder, opening the batting in tough conditions, carrying the bat through and captaining India to  rare series wins in West indies and England. Many people think he is not as gifted as others, but I feel no one else is as gifted with his qualities of Patience and winning attitude. A true Genius in his own right.

The records speak for themselves but Rahul’s legacy will be in the dignified way which he has handled himself. He is one of the few cricketers whose careers are completely blemishless. All his actions portrayed heroism, magnanimity and understated class, so apt for a role model to youngsters pursuing the sport. He is eloquent is his writing, a deep thinker and a hard worker – an Indian middle class icon. He is one of the nicest people in the game and has shown how Nice Guys can finish first. Kohli and Co please take note. Thank you Rahul for the memories – One of the Greatest Cricketers and an even greater Gentleman.

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Dravidian Delight – India’s Selfless Soldier wins another star

Yes, India are in trouble at Lords in  the 2000th test and the 100th between the teams. But it could have been worse had “The Wall” fallen. Once again Rahul Dravid played a typical grinding innings to enable India save the follow-on. True , he isn’t the fluent unbreachable presence that he was in the early part of this century.

But with Dravid it has always been about contributions and not just about looking good. Not that his batting isn’t good to watch. He has a wide array of strokes and looks good when playing them but in between them he is willing to dish out some “positive minded defence”, to put the team in favourable positions.  He and Saurav Ganguly heralded the era of a new look Indian side, tough , aggressive and competitive. In fact Sachin and Saurav intially and then VVS have always been the bright stars whose luminisence blinded the stable planetary qualities of Dravid.

Saurav’s captaincy record is enviable because of Rahul’s peak performances during that period. Sachin will struggle to match Rahul’s match winning contibutions outside of India. Dravid kept out VVS from the number 3 spot but it was his solidity at the other end that enabled VVS to play some dream innings and move from good to great. The 281 was a gem but the 183 at the other end is often forgotten. He has been an equal contributor to India getting to the No 1 spot.

In fact , even in the One Dayers he was the one who made India’s winning pattern possible. Accepting the unenvious task as a make shift keeper, he played some unbelievable winning knocks during that time.

Now he is the second highest scorer of all time in Tests after his latest ton at Lords and he let his emotions out for once after reaching 100. Even in this test the media hype was around Sachin’s ton of tons, which I hope comes in the second innings. But for now lets salute the silent dignified South Indian who has all along let his performances speak. India’s reign at the top could well be determined by how long the golden trio carries on. For all of the flashiness the young brigade has, one gets a feeling it will be the solidity of the seniors that will determine if they hang on to the spot.

 

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The Djoker has the last laugh, wins Wimbledon and the No.1 ranking

In what has been a remarkable six months for Novak Djokovic, he has grown from a talented wannabe to a deserving champion. Today he derailed the 20 match unbeaten streak of the one man Spanish juggernaut, Rafael Nadal, at Wimbledon and wrested the No 1 ranking from him. It is strange because 6 months back even the most ardent of Djokovic supporters would not have given him a shot at No 1. But the Davis Cup triumph triggered something off, just as it did for many great champions like Becker, McEnroe, Connors, Aggasi, Nadal and others. This year Novak has lost just 1 match to Federer in the French Open Semi Final. That was sad because 1 day of Federer’s brilliance cost him the title. I do believe that he would have made more of fist of the French Open final than Roger did against Nadal. Five wins in finals this year against Nadal is testament to the fact that a new Champion has arrived.

It is not only that he has beaten Roger and Nadal regularly over the past year or so, it is the manner in which he has done it. In the first 2 sets today, he produced a brand of tennis that left Rafael gasping and frustrated. Everything that Nadal threw at him, he absorbed that and gave it back with interest. This was the same way he tamed a wild Wilfred Tsonga.

With Federer on the wane, it is good that Nadal has some competition. The Brits would of course love to throw Murray in the same boat, but he has to win a Grand Slam first. Hopefully both Roger and Andy will step up and we can have a 4 horse race in the next 8-10 Grand Slams which will be a great advertisement for the game.

I haven’t been writing for a while now but would like to comment on the two Spanish triumphs recently. Barcelona played football meant for the Gods when they demolished a good Manchester United side. They toyed with them and the technical skills of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta was too good to be true. The other triumph of course was Ndals epic 6th French title. Unlike the Catalans, Nadal is a more physical, athletic attritional player, not the smooth operator but nonetheless very entertaining. He has Roger’s number in the Slams and but for the funny Serb having a great run looks to be the one set to break all Tennis records.

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India experiences an explosion of joy, cricket is the great leveller

Not given to extreme emotion, it amused me to see the uninhibited display of joyous celebration all across India. People of all ages, all castes and across all strata of the society were venting their emotions openly. It was a grand occasion and showed that our underlying pride as a nation can be reinforced through such sporting spectacles. In a country suffering from extreme poverty,an uneducated majority and simmering with caste and communal tensions, such a victory causes people to come together.

I am always amazed at the dignity of labour that exists in the Western Countries. They have achieved a true democratic freedom which recognizes you for the value you bring to the society. You have plumbers who are millionaires, young kids who are not afraid to dream big, a sportsman, a painter, a car mechanic, a dancer , a truck driver – everybody has an equal chance at success. Life is what you make it. Of course its not easy nor is it perfect. The Western world is flawed in its pursuit of pure materialistic pleasures and has lost its value system which it now is gravitating back towards.

India has this value system but it needs a catalyst to start a reaction to break all the barriers that exist in our society. Man-Woman, Higher caste – lower caste, Young-old, Hindu-Muslim, Educated- Uneducated – from our childhood we are taught to discriminate. I think we need more of such sporting spectacles, more success as a sporting nation to break through these barriers. Instead of once in 28 years we need to be celebrating every year, every month. Instead of scams and sting operations, these scenes even if a little overboard are better on television. We need to become better in every sport and like the Australians become a sporting nation.

One of my friends on Facebook said that this could be the start of a revolution. It truly could be , if we bring in these joyous occasions regularly – in the soccer world cup, in the Olympics, in the Asiad, in Badminton, in tennis, in Golf, in Hockey, in Chess, in anything where a dreamer has the chance of seeing his dream come alive. Then Corruption, Terrorists (both internal and external), unfriendly neighbours and regional factionalism can all be combated with an open display of Nationalistic Pride 1.2 Billion hearts can beat as one and propel it forward unitedly in all fields. Laterally thinking, sports could be the panacea for all our national troubles!!

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Indian bravehearts overcome Lankan Lions in a classic final

Very often finals are a big anticlimax. The last exciting final in the Cricket World Cup was in 1996 when Sri Lanka chased down Australia’s 240 odd runs. The Australian era of domination meant a lot of lopsided encounters but, as was expected in this edition, 2 even teams produced a great contest.

The stage was set right at the toss when the crowd noise prompted the referee to have a second toss which Sri Lanka won. India too would have batted first, if they won the toss. So in hindsight it was a good toss to lose, with the dew coming in at the end. The Indian fielding was at it’s brilliant best. As against Pakistan and Australia, the inner ring was electric. Yuvraj , Raina and Kohli let nothing through and strangled the prolific Lankan openers. Tharanga played away from his body and was smartly snapped up by Sehwag. This was during an amazing Zaheer spell of 5-3-6-1. That set the tone and Sri Lanka were off to a very slow start. Dilshan and Sangakarra calmed the nerves a bit until Dilshan was unlucky to be bowled around his legs off Harbhajan. At 60-2 they were in a spot of bother but in comes Jayawardene waxes eloquent. Jayawardene in full flight is similar to a Michaelangelo Painting or a Beethoven composition -art in its purest divine form. His wrists and bat caressed the cricket ball to all the corners of the ground at impossible angles. The sheer timing on the late cuts and wristy flicks was amazing and the placement impeccable. Mahela without breaking a sweat scored a chanceless 103 of 88 balls whicha was as easy on the eye as a the beautiful Mumbai sunset. Yuvraj took 2 wickets for 49 and continued his good run with the ball. Sangakarra threw away his hand at 48 but Kulasekara and Perrera assisted Sri Lanka to reach 274 , with an explosive finish. 18 runs of the last Zaheer Khan over and it seemed that the Lankans had enough on the board.Besides India had to overcome history, 241 was the highest score to be successfully chased in a World Cup Final, no team which had a centurion in the first innings had lost the final and only 2 out of 7 times had the chasing team won the World Cup.

Malinga consolidated the advantage with an explosive opening spell that accounted for Sehwag and the master- Tendulkar. Sachin looked in complete control till he edged one to Sanga for 18. No hundredth hundred for him. But it was not about personal goals. Sachin would gladly trade any hundred for a World Cup title. And that is what the young turks of the Indian team scripted for him. Gautam Gambhir played the ODI innings of his life so far.  With twinkling feet he dominated the spinners and took calculated risks to ensure that the run rate was always within reach. Sri Lanka dropped Gautam at 30 when Kulasejara was slow to judge the chip shot at longoff and spilt a difficult one. Gambhir was ably supported by Virat Kohli who was dismissed by Dilshan. against the run of play, with a brilliant return catch.

At 114-3 India were looking shaky and would have been in trouble if they lost another wicket. Dhoni , the captain courageous, promoted himself in a masterstroke of a move. It kept the right hand- left hand combination intact and with his explosive running ensured that the singles and twos kept coming. He was explosive on the off side and struck some powerful boundaries , in an innings that will raise his stature manyfold in Indian folklore. If Gambhir’s was a classical innings , Dhoni’s was an incisve, cut and dry innings which coupled brute power with brainy defence to take India home with an over to spare. Gambhir succumbed to a rush of blood, 3 short of a deserved century but the dynamic duo of Indian cricket Dhoni and Yuvi took India through. Dhoni cloberring a six to finish the match and consolidating his position as the best Indian Captain.He also kept his word – winning the World Cup for Sachin Tendulkar.

It has been a great win by Team India. Great performances , sometimes against the odds with contributions from all the team members. Yuvraj deservedly won the man of the tournament and Dhoni the man of the match. The fielding and commitment to the cause has been a revelation and India’s youngest old man, Sachin Tendulkar, has watched his dream come true. A generation of cricketers that drew inspiration from his genius gifted him his crowning glory. He can retire now anytime in the next 2-3 years as a reigning World Champion.

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Lanka overcome the Kiwi fight, India awaits the Battle Royale at Mohali

John Wright must be commended for the fight he has brought into the Kiwis. The beating boys of the cricket world not too long ago, they made it to the Semis beating South Africa and also scalping Pakistan in the group stages. They also all but exposed the soft belly of the Sri Lankan batting while defending a modest 217 runs. They managed to stretch the game to the 47th over when at one stage it looked like Dilshan and Sanga would finish it off in 40. Sri Lanka needed a tough game and they came through. Now they wil be tough to beat in the final. The match had its moments – Murali picking up a wicket of the last ball he will ever bowl in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka’s excellent attack strangling the Kiwis after they were 153 for 3 at one stage, Jesse Ryder’s amazing catch and the never say die spirit of the Black Caps. So one of the favourites has safely made it through to the finals. Now how will India the other favourite fare against arch rival Pakistan.

It’s the biggest of all cricket clashes, all rivalries including Aus v/s Eng cannot match up to the sheer exhilration of this clash. The tension is in the air and you can feel it distictly in India. It is like Argentina V/s Brazil in a soccer game. Passionate fans are talking in the streets about the possible outcomes. There is going to be no one on Indian roads at 2:30 p.m tomorrow
India do have the better team this time around. Pakistani bowling is good but not great. They have the variety and the form but one feels unless India bats very poorly they don’t really threaten the great Indian batting. However the pressure of expectations can cause any side to crumble and that is what India have to avoid. India are a little lean on the bowling side but Ashwin coming in has changed their approach. I would play Sreesanth in Mohali. Zaheer, Sree, Ashwin, Yuvraj and Bhajji should form a competent attack against an average Pakistani batting side.
However everyone in India knows how the mercurial Pakistani side can make all predictions look utterly nonsensical. Afridi, Gul and Misbah are the danger men. Ajmal against the tail is also deadly.
I am looking forward to the Sachin-Akthar clash if it materializes and a Sehwag Special tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how India field. If they follow anything like they did against Australia, they will be hard to beat. The Mohali pitch is bound to be good for batting but might not be an out and out flat track. There will be some bounce and dew could be a factor.
As one auto rickshaw driver ( read cricket expert) aired his views to me today, I hope the game is not hampered by any bad decisions by Captains, Players or Umpires, due to the immense pressure of expectation He was referring to Saurav Ganguly choosing to field on a batting beauty in the 2003 Final. Yes, games are often won in between the ears and with India Pakistan clashes, the possibility of such mistakes is very real. Ask Misbah about the shot he played in the inaugural T20 World Cup or Chetan Sharma about his last ball to Javed Miandad at Shrajah or Aamir Sohail getting carried away with aggression against Prasad at Bangalore in 1996.
Two nations await with bated breath for the toss at Mohali, the Mother of all cricket battles is about to unfold and I am confident it will justify it’s hype!!

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A Calypso Collapse, Indian Tigers feast on the Kangaroos and Kiwis fly high at CWC 2011

Yuvraj Singh at Adelaide Oval

Image via Wikipedia

The King is dead.Long Live the king – Australia’s reign at the World Cup came to a crashing end in the Motera stadium at Ahmedabad. However the successor to the throne is far from decided. Cheered on by a Partisan Indian crowd which included the Ambani’s and Chief Minister Narendra Modi, India beat Australia in a tense Quaterfinal. Yuvraj Singh earned his fourth Man of the Match, in his best performance so far in the World Cup. It was a pressure situation and Yuvraj came good, which augurs well for India. Yuvraj was having problems with his technique on the bouncy South African pitches. But the selectors kept their faith in him and on Indian pitches he is as good a match winner as any but he needed the confidence and this knock can carry him to greater heights. The Australian’s though are a sad follow-up to the Champion teams of the past. Ricky Ponting played a champion’s innings on a slow track but 260 was always going to be tough to defend. The rest of the batting was really mediocre, not as much as their bowling though. The bowling has a “Buffet” bowler in Shaun Tait, an off spinner from another age who keeps tossing the ball up and doesn’t have the doosra, and a couple of part timers. India could have won by 7 wickets but Virat Kohli and Gambhir gifted their wickets against the run of play. It was a tense clash but made so only by India’s mistakes than by quality from Australia. The thing India did right was that they fielded like never before. Yuvraj, Kohli and Raina wer brilliant. Raina also came into form with a blistering cameo. He will be significant in the next two matches, as he brings a lot of energy into this team.

West Indies were poor to say the least in a one-sided encounter in the first Quarter Final. A team which has Chris Gayle as their best batsman, is sure to struggle against any opposition. Chanderpaul and Sarwan should be retired and at home. Darren Bravo and Roach show some promise but West Indies need a shot of natural talent to come into the side. Where are the TAll fast bowlers and the swaggering batsmen? They beat the minnows but played like minnows against the major team. Pakistan on their part were very good and at their destructive best.

What a great clash it sets up at Mohali. The neighbours clash in the Semi Finals and India seem to have the edge but they won’t be taking Pakistan lightly.

Greame Smith thought before the World Cup that it was time to bury the “C” word. Well not yet Greame, you still can engineer quite a Choke !!! New Zealand were dead and buried with no hope as SA were chasing a small score easily at 125 for 2. Oram picked up a great running catch of Kallis and then we witnessed an unbelievable collapse. Oram led the way with 4 wickets on a docile friendly wicket. Christmas arrived 9 months early for the Kiwis who made it to their Sixth Semi final and I think that is as far as they will go. Where do South Africa go from here, another 4 years of being the undisputed “Choke” kings!!

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