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
"What to say, Ashish, I
am not playing today," Rahul Dravid told me, the morning of the final match
of the Sahara
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
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
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
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.