Cracks in the Wall 
 Ashish Shula in Toronto

Sweat drips from his face - was there a hint of tears, too? 

That lean look, which had launched a thousand posters, has now changed, 'haggard' is the word for it. 
"What to say, Ashish, I am not playing today," Rahul Dravid told me, the morning of the final match of the Sahara Cup series. 
He must have anticipated the axe, the previous evening, as he trudged back to the pavilion. Shahid Afridi had made an astonishing recovery at deep fine leg, stopped a possible four and worse, had madeup his mind to test Dravid's speed between the wickets. 
As it turned out, that speed was found wanting -- more because of the strength of the throw, than anyintrinsic slowness between wickets. The television replays confirmed Dravid's fears -- a few inches madethe difference between safety, and possible oblivion. 

This year's Sahara Cup was Dravid's big chance to come good, to make a permanent place for himselfin the one day squad. Four successive innings of 1, 9, 18 and 4 have, on hindsight, hurt his prospectseven more. 
Suddenly, the 1999 World Cup got even more distant. 
"It's tough," says Dravid. "I don't know what comes next. I guess the only thing I can do is to stay
focussed, be mentally alert." 
"Yes, I have to remain mentally tough," Dravid says again, as if talking to himself. 

There is, in both the words and attitude, a hint of the enormous pressure he is under. Here is a batsmanwho can walk into any Test side today, and was never a hopeless one-day batsman at any stage. 
At a time when even today's star, Saurav Ganguly, was an in and out member of the side, Dravid wasan automatic choice. But whereas Ganguly was persisted with, and has come of age now, Dravid wasshunted out too too suddenly. 

One remembers the tour of the West Indies last year, especially the game at St Vinctent when, despitesuffering from a terrible toothache, Dravid played because his captain had wanted him to play. 
One remembers, too, superb innings that he has played. The assault on Donald and company. Thecentury in Chennai, while the rest of the team collapsed, while chasing an impossible score by Pakistan. 

Dravid had several strikes going against him. While Ganguly, his batting contemporary, was allowed to settle down once he got the number one slot, Dravid has played in every position imaginable -- often listed to bat at three, then sitting there padded up while lesser players have gone out ahead of him, producing situations when he has had to come in long after the game was won and lost. 

And then came the rumours. It was said that since Karnataka Cricket Association secretary C Nagarajhad voted against the ruling faction in the previous elections, the board had a down on players from the state. Thus, Venkatesh Prasad, Sunil Joshi, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid and Dodda Ganesh -- all at one point regular members of the side -- began to fall by the wayside. 

But there was one important difference. While the other players were dropped for performances thatwere noticeably inconsistent, the same was not true of Dravid. An important factor ignored, or not highlighted, in the Dravid episode was that he played most of his one-dayers abroad, where the pitches were helpful to bowlers, and not in India where even Anil Kumble manages to flay the bowling from time to time. 
In this context, Dravid began to see himself as a marked man. I remember sending him faxes at thetime. "Believe me, I never got them," he says to me, in Toronto today. 
Fate presented him with one more chance -- and Dravid abdicated. Two dismissals that owed to goodcricket by the opposition -- the Zahid yorker, the Afridi run out -- and two others that owed more to his own inner tensions, and there is an air now of finality about Dravid's one day career. 
He does have one Test to play, in Harare on October 7. And one more Test later this year. And with
that, his quota for the year is complete -- five Tests, six one dayers including one each againstBangladesh and Kenya. 

That is the way of cricket today -- Tests don't rate, only the one day stuff does. Take for instance the case of Ajay Jadeja. The one day star has played in 11 Tests in seven years, but is the hottest celebrity on the circuit -- ahead, even, of Sachin Tendulkar. 
Money, fame, the symbol tag -- Jadeja has it all. And even failure -- his last good display was during the home series against Australia and Zimbabwe -- hasn't dented that image. 
Like Dravid, Sidhu too appears to have played his last one day innings. In his case, it is not lack of runs -- somehow, he has never really failed, continuously, in any tournament in his career. But what goes against him is the fact that he does not look fit, he does not move too well in the field -- pre-requisites, today, for a one day player. 
He is the man of many comebacks, but one does feel that Sidhu has finally had his day -- at least in the
one day arena.
 

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