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By Sunil Gavaskar
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It was great to see the ovation that Rahul Dravid got when he came in to bat in his final one-day game for India and it was even more emotional when the England players rushed to shake his hand when he was dismissed after a fine innings of 69. It showed the respect they had for this wonderful player and the recognition of his yeoman service to the game.
Dravid has shouldered the burden for India for more than 15 years now and is still there for Test matches though it may not be for too long. Like Tendulkar and Laxman he will want to try and conquer Australia. That team and the South African team are the two teams that the Indians have not beaten in their countries and so that is what these stalwarts will be trying to do and if they succeed then that would be the right time to say good bye and pass the baton on to some of the younger lot who are doing well in the limited overs format but need to organize their skills and temperament for the longer version to be able to fill partly the big shoes of the seniors.
Dravid has done everything that can be asked of him. He has opened the batting, he has kept wickets to allow the selectors the flexibility to add a batsman or a bowler according to the needs of the team and he has also fielded in the suicide position of forward short leg and taken a few blows there too. All this he has done in his unassuming manner and without any fuss or drama. That unfortunately has not been recognized or appreciated by those who think the only way to bat is to hit sixes. He has hit them too when the situation demanded it but he has been happier playing risk free shots and still scoring at a brisk rate. His batting will not set the pulses racing as when a Sehwag or Yuvraj or Dhoni come in to bat but in the dressing room they know his value and importance to the side and in the end it is the appreciation and respect in the dressing room that makes a players day.
When he came in to the team Sachin Tendulkar had been playing for about six years and had captured the imagination of the cricketing world with his audacious batting, which was a rare combination of classical correctness blended with some brutal hitting. In every sport there are always players who catch the eye and become the ones the crowds come to watch despite others playing in a similar or sometimes better manner. There are many golfers who hit shots like Tiger Woods does but when Tiger hits it there is an excited buzz that is heard more than when another player hits an identical shot. In tennis too when Federer plays his sublime backhand passing shot the crowd erupts and not as much when a Nadal or a Djokovic plays the same shot. It is just a connection that is there between the player and the spectator and which is hard to explain but it is there and that’s why ‘sports’ is unique.
Dravid, because he built his innings like good old-fashioned brewed coffee over a period of time, has been appreciated more by the connoisseurs of the game and not the aam janata, who want to see the big shots into the crowds or out of the ground. The janata has enormous respect for what Dravid brings to the team. They also know that they breathe easy when he is at the crease because of the solidity that he brings with his technique and temperament. His work ethic, his preparation for a game and his concentration are such that a young player would do well to try and not just follow but also emulate.
To Indian youngsters to share the same dressing room with Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman is a blessing for they can teach more about batting and how to get big scores than any university could. There is also Sehwag, Yuvraj and Dhoni who can teach them how to keep cool and then go out and smash the bowlers, but they have a special skill set that not many others have and the temperament too and therefore are harder to emulate than Dravid who brings a method that can be easily followed.
It would have been fitting if Dravid had bowed out of the one day game with an India win but it has been such a forgettable tour that India just have not been able to find a combination that has worked and have not been able to finish the opponent when it was down. Injuries of course have not helped but what it also shows is that India must find bowlers who can take 20 wickets in Test matches and not rely on its batting to bail them out.
Indian cricket has been on an upward curve but the England tour has shown that the slide down has begun. Let us hope that it is not a steep one but a slow one.