November 01, 2007

Dravid’s exclusion – India’s mehman nawazi for Pakistan

By H Natarajan

1946. Wally Hammond’s English side is gearing up to take on the Old Enemy in its own backyard Down Under. Then something inexplicable happens. The Australian selectors drop Don Bradman – the man the English fear the most. The Don is 38 and the selectors felt it was time to go.

Remember reading about it?

No?

Well, stop thinking! Nothing’s wrong with your history as no such thing ever happened! The Don not only played that series but went on to play a few more series before he retired just a few days before his 40th birthday.

If there is anything in cricket that exceeds the passion of The Ashes it’s unquestionably an Indo-Pak cricketing encounter. The violent history of the two nations has been kept fresh in memory by celluloid, jingoism and motivated politics on either side of the border, all of which ensures that cricket between the two nations is almost like war minus shooting.

Paradoxically, both nations have also gone on to show the kind of hospitality that they do not accord to people from any other country. Ask Indian who has visited Pakistan or any Pakistani who has visited India and they will have a great story or two to relate about the mehman nawazi. The Pakistanis would have expected the same off the field this time around, too. But the Pakistan team got an unexpected taste of the famous Indian hospitality even before they have landed on Indian soil with the selectors deciding to ‘rest’ 34-year-old Rahul Dravid – the equivalent of Australia keeping out Bradman against England! – for the first two ODIs.

The BCCI would do well to remove from their lexicon clichés like “the selection was unanimous” and so and so senior player is being “rested” because even somebody with a terribly low IQ does not believe such statements. If the selectors have taken a decision to drop a player then let them have the courage of their conviction to say so openly. “Rested” is nothing but euphemism to explain the dropping of a senior player and hiding behind seemingly clever play of words betrays lack of conviction in the decision taken.

What is particularly galling is that such decisions are taken by selectors – and one is not just talking of those in command now – who have themselves felt strongly when they had to themselves undergo such treatment in their playing careers. Their insensitivity and lack of empathy is, thus, difficult to understand.

One of the major newspapers carried a poll which said that 87% of the country was in disagreement with the axing of Dravid. And in the growing list of outraged voices are many former India players, among who are Sanjay Manjrekar and Sandeep Patil - two men whose cricketing acumen and sense of fairness in their thinking is widely respected. Even team manager Lalchand Rajput was blown away by the decision and spoke publicly against the exclusion.

If the selectors feel that senior pros of the calibre of Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly need to make way with an eye on the future, then they firstly need to take the players into confidence. The troika have served Indian cricket with rare distinction well over a decade and deserve that respect. They cannot be dealt like goats in an abattoir. Secondly, the nation also needs to know that the step has been taken in the context of national interest. But all one has heard from the selectors are confusing bytes – that Dravid is “rested” and that he could make a comeback. How? By proving his form in the conventional format to get into one-day team? And who have they brought back? Virender Sehwag, a player who was given one the longest ropes in Indian history but still kept failing. While I am admirer of Sehwag’s batting, I am not convinced that he deserves a place in the side ahead of Dravid.

In my book, Dravid is the most selfless of all Indian cricketers. He could well have exercised his right as a captain to bat at his customary No 3 slot and accumulated run, but he did not. Nobody puts the team as consistently ahead of personal interests as Dravid does.

If seniors had to go, then Dravid should not have been first in the queue. Indian cricket does not remotely have anything close to match his ability in building the innings and standing firm in crisis. If the selectors still went ahead and axed him it’s because it’s much easier dropping Dravid than Ganguly or Tendulkar. Dropping Ganguly would have whipped up extreme reactions from Bengal and omitting Tendulkar, despite the Master enduring more criticism in recent years than he has in his entire career, would have been equally difficult. Dravid was the soft target. Whether this prepares the ground for getting rid of Ganguly – older to Dravid by a year – and Tendulkar remains to be seen. While both Ganguly and Tendulkar would be understandably concerned about their respective future following the sudden axing of Dravid, it’s quite possible that the selectors may not bite that bullet following the tsunami of strong reactions.

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