The Fall of 'The Wall'
By H Natarajan
In 1971 when India beat England in England, captain Ajit Wadekar and his team were given a red carpet welcome back home. Cricket then did not have the maniacal following it now has, but Mumbai came to a standstill to honour the heroes. Lakhs along the route from Santa Cruz Airport to the Brabourne Stadium thronged the streets and showered the team with flowers as the players drove in a long cavalcade of swank, open cars.
2007. The Indian team under Rahul Dravid has beaten England in England in the Test series. Oh no, India has not exactly made it a habit of winning in England; the only other time an Indian side won a Test series in Ole Blighty was two decades back. But how things have changed! While captain Wadekar met the then Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, and was lauded, Dravid met the BCCI president, Sharad Pawar, to tell him that he was quitting as captain!
Why did Dravid quit a job that cricket-crazy zillions in the country consider it as the second most important job after Prime Minister’s post? The truth may never be known, especially if it has the potential to stir a hornets’ nest as Dravid will be the last man to stir a controversy.
Dravid’s decision stunned the entire cricketing world. Nobody got a whiff of what was coming – not even the team management or his team mates. It raises suspicion that “something seems amiss", as Steve Waugh aptly put it, going on to explain, “It does not seem like something Dravid would do.”
Kiran More, the former selection committee chairman placed the blame squarely on his successor, Dilip Vengsarkar, for Dravid’s bombshell decision. Dravid is not immature to take a knee-jerk decision on what is basically an opinion of a selector. If he felt so strongly about the chairman’s comment, he could have escalated it by taking up the matter with the right persons. In my personal opinion, Dravid’s resignation may well have been brought about by the culmination of several things that were not palatable to his taste.
For more than a decade, Dravid has come remained squeaky clean, free of controversies and someone which every mother would like her son to be like. Yet, it was becoming increasingly evident that Dravid’s personality was undergoing a visible change in public, pummeled by circumstances that went, what he believed, against his grain.
Last year, he stormed out of a press conference following a chaos triggered by angry war of words between TV cameraperson and still photographers. Earlier this year, Dravid reacted uncharitably and uncharacteristically in public while questioning the credentials of the Indian team manager in South Africa. A Shane Warne, a Ricky Ponting or a Sourav Ganguly would not shock anybody if they had said the same things, but not Dravid. Then, on the tour of England, he lampooned a TV reporter for an unsubstantiated story and staged another walk-out from a press conference, upset by the lack of order in the media.
Even as these unlikely events unfolded, unsubstantiated rumours of dressing room conspiracies were floating thick and fast. And given the lack of transparency in Indian cricket, such masala only got spicier by the day.
Nobody has shouldered added burden for the team’s cause for as long as Dravid has done. His attitude in keeping wickets for 73 ODIs is exemplary. It’s painful thus to read words like “throwing in towel” while describing his decision to step down. Throwing in the towel is used for a quitter and Dravid is no quitter.
He was the vice-captain who gave his 100% to Ganguly. After being part of international cricket for a decade, he knew what he was getting into when captaincy came his way. In fact, he had gone on record to say: "I do enjoy the captaincy. I see it as a great honour and privilege and think I have enjoyed everything that comes with it. You got have to accept that there will be tough days as a captain…You turn from being a good boy to everyone's whipping boy. I don't take it personally though there will be a captain after me and he'll go through the same thing, the captain before me went through it as well. It's not about Rahul Dravid, but the position that one inherits."
If Dravid has relinquished the most coveted job despite his philosophical acceptance of the downsides to the job, if he does not want the job after winning a Test series overseas, there must be extremely compelling – and possibly very serious – reasons which needs to be probed.
Was it intrigues and camps within the team? Was it the politics and unprofessional functioning of the board? Was it the extreme reactions of the fans which go to the extent of targeting innocent family members of the players? Or was it something else?
Whatever be the reasons, with the unceremonious exit of coach Greg Chappell first and now Dravid’s unexpected and intriguing decision to step down from the captaincy, the message out that has gone out to the world is that there is no place in Indian cricket for straight forward, hardcore professionals.
There is personal dignity in Dravid’s exit, but I am not sure if Indian cricket can say the same.