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By Suresh Menon
Rahul Dravid plays his cards close to his chest, so we will not know how close he came to telling the selectors to walk off a cliff (or its many physically impossible variants) when he awoke one morning and found himself in the one-day squad. It is a tribute to his decency that he accepted the assignment and to his professionalism that he celebrated by announcing his retirement from the shorter forms of the game. Few players have been jerked around as much as Dravid has in the course of a distinguished career. This is ironical since few have contributed as much with as little complaint as the Bangalorean.
When flat-pitch bullies, of which there are a few in the Indian team, are exposed on tracks outside India, the selectors turn to Dravid. And he obliges. Scores runs, keeps danger at bay. And as a reward, he is dropped from home series where the FPB (flat-pitch bullies) are reinstated. And he never complains.
Unlike V V S Laxman, another player who was jerked around initially, and Sachin Tendulkar who bats at number four, Dravid has seldom been given the choice when the going has got tough. Dravid is the cricketer’s cricketer, the consummate professional, and the glue that has held the Indian team together for a decade and a half.
As one of only five batsman in the game to have scored over 10,000 runs in both forms of the game, Dravid has nothing left to prove. Yet he will be up for the challenge one last time in England. His presence will be as much a tribute to his greatness as to the desperation of the team which won the World Cup (without Dravid) only four months ago.
What does Dravid’s comeback after two years out of the team say about the state of India’s one-day game? The selection committee has given it a positive spin, saying it is sensible to pick the batsman in form. This was not something that occurred to them in two years; as recently as in the West Indies, the committee didn’t think it worthwhile to ask Rohit Sharma, the batsman in form in the one-dayers to stay back for the Test series.
The only batsman missing from the team that played the final against Sri Lanka in April is Yuvraj Singh who is injured. A combination of poor form, injury and lack of fitness has paved the way for the oldest active international cricketer to return to a format he served with great distinction till, illogically, he was kept out of it.
The recall is also the early warning system telling us what to expect when the triumvirate of Tendulkar-Dravid-Laxman bids goodbye. Suddenly the batting cupboard is empty, the bowling cupboard is ill-stocked (leading to the return of R P Singh who last played a Test three years ago and didn’t take a wicket in his last three Tests), and drought and despair stare the team in the face. Planning has not been the strong point of the administrators who must take the blame for this unhappy state of affairs.
The sad thing is, even if India lose 4-0 in England, the Board of Control for Cricket in India will continue to make the same mistakes on future tours, giving the team little time to acclimatise, focussed more on lapping up the last rupee available than on sending out teams in peak form.
At the individual level, Dravid’s recall is a tribute to his fitness and professionalism; at the national level it is an indictment of a system that cannot see beyond the its nose. The BCCI has much to learn from Dravid’s brand of fitness and professionalism.