are the gals going crazy over Rahul Dravid?
Prem Panicker in Bangalore
The ullulating cry, rising
from a couple of hundred feminine throats, is constant, demanding, deafening.
Rahul Dravid, with the positioning
sense of a chess grandmaster, places himself as far away from the stand
on the right of the pavilion at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium as possible –
for it is in these stands that the female fans, mostly young collegians
by the look of them, are gathered.
The new star of Indian cricket
-- and make no mistake, even with Sachin Tendulkar present at the ground,
it is Rahul the fans want -- is very visibly embarrassed by this public
display of adulation.
So great is Dravid's appeal
that it rubs off on anyone with whom the star has even a tenuous contact.
Thus when, after a brief conversation with him, I walk out of the ground
to the pavilion for a drink of water, I am peremptorily called over to
the stand where the females are. "Do you know Dravid?" "Can you get me
his autograph?" "We want him to pose for some pictures, can you please
ask him to come here?"
I plead my inability. And,
in turn, ask just what it is about Dravid's game that attracts them. "Oh,
he is soooooooooo cute!!!" gushes one young collegian. "Yes, but how about
his game, do you watch him play?" "Yesssss!" goes the girl. "He has a way
of pouting when he bats, it's so sexyyyy!"
I give up, and walk away.
Meanwhile, Dravid's star
status -- and his own reaction to it -- seems to provide his colleagues
much amusement. Ajay Jadeja -- another favourite of the girls -- in particular
takes delight in ribbing his team-mate.
From where he is giving
catching practise to Nilesh Kulkarni, Azharuddin and Kumble, Jadeja suddenly
yells out Dravid's name. And when Rahul looks towards him, Jadeja points
immediately behind him, to the female contingent, and grins, "Not me...
THEY are calling you!" Rahul suddenly gets interested in the fielding practice
at the other end of the ground, under Madan Lal's supervision, and heads
off in that direction... prompting laughter from Jadeja and Azhar and a
wry grin from Kumble.
One thing is very clear
-- the camp does extend from 7 in the morning to 2.30 in the afternoon,
but if the impression you get is of a bunch of grim, dedicated cricketers
honing themselves relentlessly to a state of match-fitness, forget it.
This is a very relaxed, all-friends-together kind of camp, an opportunity,
apparently, for some casual male bonding in salubrious conditions.
The early morning session
is perhaps the only time when there is a business-like look to the proceedings.
At 7.30 sharp, fitness expert Tej Kishan Kaul whistles his charges into
the middle of the ground, splits them up into groups of ten, and puts them
through a two hour spell of exercises that begin slow, and develop in time
into lung-busting, muscle-stretching levels.
The mandatory stretching
and limbering up is followed by step workouts, with the players being made
to run up and down the pavilion steps to Kaul's time-keeping claps.
Follows a rather unusual
business, involving each group standing in a line, a foot of space separating
one from the next. A long heavy iron pipe is hoisted overhead, and all
the players in the line hold on to it with both hands. At a call from Kaul,
the players strain to push the pipe forward, and at the next call reverse
direction and pull back. Sort of like tug of war, only with a pipe and
overhead, instead of at waist height.
Then there is some business
involving plastic chairs, over which the players straddle, stretch their
calves, and such like... and that in turn leads on to a series of short
sprints... and on to...
Like I said, it is relentless,
and exhausting. And judging by the expression of the players, a regimen
they are most definitely unused to.
That coach Madan Lal goes
through the workout with his wards is a given, Madan being a bit of a fitness
freak. What provokes my own amusement is the sight of the orotund Ali Irani
being put through the same paces as the boys. "He is going to be with the
boys, so let him learn the exercises, then he can keep an eye on them when
they are doing it," explains Kaul, rather grimly.
Something in his tone of
voice seems to indicate a sense of dissatisfaction, so I probe gently.
"See," explains Kaul, a graduate in physical fitness, biomedicine and related
aracana from Leipzig, "physical fitness -- competitive fitness -- is not
acquired in nine days. And whatever the gains are here, if the boys don't
keep it up, if they go back to their lax routines once the camp is over,
then this whole thing will become a waste of time."
Does that mean Kaul is advocating
a permanent fitness trainer for the Indian team? "Definitely," he says.
"Cricket is no longer an amateur sport. For a player to perform to his
potential, he has to be very fit, both physically and mentally, at all
times. Having a nine day camp, then forgetting all about it for the next
few months, is not a solution. I think a physical trainer should be attached
to the team, 365 days in the year."
Even during the off season?
"Certainly. What I would do, if I were the permanent trainer, is, at the
end of the season I would give each player a schedule of workouts for him
to do at home. And I would tell him that on specified days, I will visit
him to test his condition over specific parameters -- speed, endurance,
hand-eye coordination, strength... the routine wouldn't be designed to
keep the players at match fitness, but to maintain them just below that
level, so when the new season begins, a short, strenuous camp will lift
them to competitive levels again."
Coach Madan Lal, seated
in a nearby chair keeping an eye on his wards as they go through batting
and bowling practise in the nets, nods agreement. "Cricket is a professional
sport today, you know, it is not enough simply to make money on sponsorships
and such things. The professional spirit you show when it comes to such
things should also be there in your training and in everything you do on
the ground," Madan says.
Which prompts me to ask
Kaul what shape he found his charges in when he landed in the camp. "Well,
they are okay for say club cricketers -- but honestly, they were way below
the level of international sportsmen when I took over here."
And in nine days, he hopes
to make the side take the quantum leap into the big league?
"Look," Kaul says, sounding
a shade defensive, "I have been asked only to prepare them for this Asia
Cup. What I am doing is giving them a set of exercises that will work on
muscles they don't normally bother about. Right now, their way of working
out is very amateur, each person does his own thing. That is why they have
all these niggling injuries. What I am doing is strengthening the injury
prone areas of each player, also helping them build speed and endurance
-- at least, as much as is possible during such a brief camp."
Clearly, the trainer --
who while at work seems dedicated and dead keen -- is cynical about the
whole idea of instant fitness.
"I have been telling the
Board we need a full-time fitness coach, what more can I do?" shrugs Madan
Is Kaul good enough to fill
that role?, I ask the Indian manager. Or do we need to import someone more
au courant with modern technology? I mean, iron pipes, plastic chairs and
such are hardly state of the art equipment, are they?
"Kaul is doing well with
what has been provided to him. If they haven't given modern equipment that
is not his fault," says Madan Lal. "It is not a question of Indian trainer
or foreign trainer, it is a matter of getting someone who knows his work
and appointing him on a long-term contract."
Obviously, Madan Lal is
rather unhappy at not being given a full time trainer for the team.
This prompts me to ask J
Y Lele, who admits that a request from the team coach is before the BCCI,
pending a decision. "We are looking into it," says the newly installed
But surely the issue of
whether or not to appoint a trainer -- something we've been hearing about
for over a year now -- does not merit debate and discussion as, say, the
question of whether India should go in for nuclear weapons?
"It is not a matter of simply
saying yes or no," says Lele. "A person has to be picked, budgets allocated...
these things take time."
How much time?
"We will be deciding soon,"
How soon? I persist.
"I have just taken over,
there are other things also on my plate, I cannot give you a definite date,
sorry," says the Board secretary, now seeming a bit miffed by my persistence.
I wander back out to the
ground. It is now 11, and the change from the professionalism of the fitness
workouts is as startling as the silence following a thunderclap. In one
part of the ground a plastic stump has been set up. A few of the players
are lined up away from it. One by one, they run forward, field a ball rolled
towards them and take a shy at the stumps.
I watch for 15 minutes and
see only two direct hits -- one, ironically, by Madan Lal himself while
the other is by Kambli, who promptly breaks into a little jig. Each of
the hits is greeted with ironic cheers from the fans thronging to watch
the fun. Meanwhile, the players who fail with their throws seem totally
unabashed. A shrug and grin about covers their reactions as they lope gently
back to take their places in the line again.
At another corner of the
ground, Jadeja is slamming balls up into the air for his team-mates to
practise high catches. After a while, Kumble -- leading the "boys" in the
absence of Sachin Tendulkar who has returned to Bombay, en route to London
for the meeting of international captains -- asks Jadeja to give slip-catching
Surprising -- the three
who make the slip cordon are Azharuddin, Dravid and newbie Nilesh Kulkarni.
Azhar -- natty in Versace training trousers and t-shirt -- is as good as
ever, earning cheers from the crowd for some remarkable takes. Dravid is
safe and sure -- but what he is doing practising slip catching when he
never stands in that position, I have not a clue about. As for Nilesh,
one thing is for sure -- the slip cordon is definitely not his spiritual
home. The tall, gangly lad appears to have problems getting down in time
to take low catches. Which, again, makes me wonder, why make him practise
for the specialist position, when he clearly isn't cut out for it?
In any event, there is an
air of casualness about the whole thing, players wandering off and on at
will, laughing, joking, waving to the crowd and indulging in little byplays
with each other. Not quite what you would see if, say, the Kiwis or the
South Africans were on the field and gearing up for an important tournament
at the start of the season.
"We are not used to hard
work," sighs Kaul. "The boys, they say, arre, eight hours non-stop, yeh
kya hai. They should realise that they will be playing eight hours non
stop, so it is a good idea to train the same way."
A break for refreshments,
and the "serious' business begins as Dravid and Ganguly take their places
in the two nets. Each batsman faces two medium pacers and two spinners
for 20 minutes, before giving place to the next.
While the likes of Prasad,
Kuruvilla and Kumble are obviously bowling well within themselves, newbies
Nilesh Kulkarni and Debashish Mohanty look dead keen, apparently trying
to impress everyone with their abilities.
Nilesh is a gangly lad with
a loping run in, a high arm action and a rather pronounced loop in the
air. If his bowling at the nets is any indication, he does not rely on
flight so much as his height, bringing the ball down steeply, hitting the
deck and getting bite and turn.
"His angle is what makes
it difficult to go out and hit him," says Sidhu, whose penchant for going
down the track to spinners is a trademark. "He has a good loop, and gets
sharp turn when he really hits the deck."
Nilesh is visibly shy and
unusued to journalists chatting him up. "I had a good Ranji season last
year, played well especially in the final, helped Bombay win," he says.
"No, I didn't think about getting into the side, I don't think about such
things... I just go there and do my best."
Debashish Mohanty, bowling
to Ganguly, comes across as a brisk medium pacer with a slingy type of
action. Given that, his stock ball is obviously the one coming in to the
right hander. Occasionally, he runs in close to the stumps and makes the
ball go the other way off the seam – but the change of approach makes that
easy to spot, and Azhar -- batting after Ganguly -- clips him comfortably
off his pads each time Mohanty tries the away swinger. "He is young, he
can learn with experience," says Madan Lal when I ask him what he thinks
The debutant himself has
little to say -- in fact, he seems to shy away from questions. "I am happy
to become the first Indian player from Orissa," he says. "What can I say?
I hope to do well, if given a chance."
Does he think that with
Kuruvilla and Prasad in the squad, he will get to play? "I don't know,"
he says. "I hope to get a chance to prove myself." And with that, off he
lopes to chase after a ball he didn't need to field -- an obvious ploy
to get away from being asked any more questions.
Meanwhile, those not directly
involved with batting or bowling are taking it easy, signing autographs,
chatting up visitors...
The most in-demand players
among the fans are Jadeja, Ganguly and Sidhu. A section of the male fans
yells for Kumble to come over and sign their slips of paper, but the Indian
vice-captain these days seems to have a perpetual scowl on his face, and
is in no mood to oblige.
Dravid, meanwhile, finishes
his stint at the nets. And walks back towards the pavilion -- the cue for
his fans to start their yelling again.
Dravid glances hesitantly
in their direction, shrugs, hands his bat and gloves over to a security
type and walks over towards the stands to oblige the autograph hunters.
Flashbulbs click, autograph
books by the dozen are thrust under his nose.. Dravid, eyes down, signs
them mechanically, occasionally glancing up to respond to a question. And
having signed a couple of dozen autographs, he breaks off abruptly and
runs briskly up the ramp leading to the players room.
The cry is shrill, disappointed...
there are dozens more autograph hunters left unsatisfied, while the lucky
few sport big grins.
Oblivious, the new-found
star of Indian cricket vanishes into the interior of the dressing room...
and as if on cue, a majority of the girl fans begin trickling out of the
stand and towards the exit...
"No, no, I am not a sex
symbol or anything," grins Rahul Dravid when I twit him about this later.
"They only want our autographs... not just mine."