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Batsman vs Captain
by Partab Ramchand
Sep 16, 2007
It is never easy to succeed a successful captain. Unfair comparisons are bound to be heard thick and fast. “He is too small for his predecessor's shoes'' will be the general refrain. And succeeding Sourav Ganguly was never going to be an easy task even for someone as experienced as Rahul Dravid. He took over under dramatic circumstances at the start of the 2005-06 season and there was never any doubt at the time about Dravid being a popular choice to lead the Indian team.

Dravid's heroics as a batsman, his image as a role model for today's youth and his vast experience all combined to make him a thoroughly acceptable leader. Certainly he would lack the flamboyance that had marked Ganguly's captaincy. His leadership would be more sober, more thoughtful and more conventional rather than adventurous in keeping with his batting.

The first steps are always taken gingerly and Dravid despite the fact that he already had the respect of his teammates still seemed to be feeling his way around. The Test series triumph in the West Indies last year was certainly a feather in his cap and Dravid led admirably from the front. But things started falling to pieces during the 2006-07 season. As he commenced his second full year in charge the expectations of the country’s cricket fans as always were high. This was going to be a busy season culminating in the jewel in the game's crown - the World Cup. It was obvious that this period would be a severe test of Dravid's leadership qualities.

Very early in the season though it was obvious that coach Greg Chappell had emerged as the dominant figure. Soon after Chappell assumed charge he came through as a highly individualistic personality with dictatorial tendencies. Having got Ganguly out of the way he found an ally in the less assertive Dravid. But could `Mr Nice Guy’ Dravid keep the ambitions of a megalomaniac personality like Chappell under control? He couldn’t and it was the coach and not the captain who was controlling the fortunes of Indian cricket.

The season turned out to be one unmitigated disaster. Losing became a habit for the Indian team. One setback was followed by another culminating in the biggest debacle – the first round exit in the World Cup. And in its aftermath as Chappell took his share of the flak Dravid too did not escape criticism for his passive attitude, for being too soft and for allowing Chappell to get away with a lot of things. As captain it was generally felt that Dravid should have asserted himself and assumed the role of the boss instead of allowing himself to be upstaged by the coach in matters of tactics and strategic planning.

In the post-Chappell period all eyes were on Dravid to see whether he could finally emerge as his own man, as the undisputed leader. Over the last few months he had the opportunity to cement his place in the top job but the mixed results in England meant that he had not yet fully accomplished this. Moreover the number of erroneous decisions he took in both the Tests and the ODIs made him the subject of much ire and Dravid by now was becoming more and more intolerant towards criticism. The pressure was starting to tell on him and in an interview to former England captain Mike Atherton Dravid spoke out his mind. Asked if he found leading a cricket crazy nation a burden Dravid said ``Burden is too strong a word and people say that because of how I look. I am not naturally a cheering looking soul on the field. I do enjoy it but there are aspects I find tough. What I find hardest is the absolute lack of proportion. It makes it very hard to build a team when two or three bad games provoke such an extreme reaction.’’ Asked whether becoming only the third Indian captain to win a Test series in England would shift public opinion back in his favour Dravid replied "Ah, but that will be quickly forgotten if we lose the one-day series."

This cynical attitude summed up Dravid’s outlook and there were indications that he was not comfortable in the hot seat even if Chappell was not around to dictate terms. As he himself told BBC while stepping down ``I enjoyed the captaincy, I loved it, but it can get tough after a while and some of the enjoyment can go away, so I thought it was the right time to step aside.’’ In stepping aside however Dravid did not give the selectors any transitional time like Tendulkar had done while resigning on the eve of the series against South Africa in 2000 and like many of his decisions in England the timing of this one too was incorrect.

While resigning Dravid also mentioned that he would like to concentrate on his batting. Of late the high standards have fallen and he averaged only 21 in the Tests in South Africa and 25 in England. Apparently Dravid felt that captaincy was affecting his batting and this is reflected in his Test figures. As a player alone Dravid averages a shade over 60 from 87 Tests.

As captain the figures plummet – an average of 44.5 from 25 Tests. Significantly too all his five double centuries have been notched up when he was not the captain. If without the pressures of captaincy he can regain his old classical touch with the bat Indian cricket could benefit from the services of Rahul Dravid the batsman even if it did not make substantial progress under Rahul Dravid the captain.

 
More Views by Partab Ramchand
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