Shades of Glory
An ex-captain, a great icon of the game, is dropped and at once the atmosphere is charged. We've been over this territory. The irony is that the man in question is Rahul Dravid, the one who had reiterated at every juncture that far too much of Indian cricket is about the individual. Yet, as many who equally stood by that tenet are now finding, it is indeed.
The reason for this is that sportspersons touch followers in a way that is unique. You watch them in strife and in glory, in unremarkable situations and dramatic ones, exposed always, unfolding slowly - most slowly and revealingly in cricket. Soon you let them into your life, consider them somebody you know well. That - the assumption of intimacy - becomes a premise that is in fact more accurately a reflection of how you see the world. And in the case of Dravid the verdict is unanimous: we see him as a saint.
At some point or the other, every cricket writer in India has dealt with Dravid on those terms. I know I have. It is an easy thing to do, to transfer every possible ideal onto him, because he seems so capable of encompassing it all.
In the episode currently playing Dravid has been cast as the perfect victim, first as captain vanquished by the system, then a batsman paying the price for selflessness. Both points are correct to a degree - and, while we are on the point, there is little doubt that his equation with Dilip Vengsarkar has had a bearing, and that the squad chosen is absurdly lopsided.
Yet it is dismaying to find that opinion-makers are unwilling to consider Dravid as a man who contains complexity. Rather than also allow for his human failures, which make him all the more real, all the more interesting, it is simpler to confine Dravid to our mould.
For instance, administrative callousness certainly impeded Dravid, but there is a great reluctance to also acknowledge that he was unable to catch the pulse of his team-mates, which must have been as isolating for a leader as the lack of organisational back-up.
Also, for instance, it has been argued that selflessness in batting down the order cost him the numbers that would have clinched his place. Well, nobody made mention of the fact that Dravid also slotted himself at no 1 last year. It began swimmingly well, as he chalked up four fifties and a century in his first seven innings. But once the going got rough - the next seven innings brought 57 runs - he did not expose himself to the position anymore, so there you go.
Naturally both decisions were prompted by what he thought was best for the team; as captain anything else would be remiss. But to suggest that he took them at the expense of his own performance is either a lazy or a dishonest claim. If anything, Dravid's shuffle up and down the order was the symptom of one of the failures of his tenure: the reluctance to fix even the semblance of a one-day batting order.
That Dravid is prone to the failures of every other accomplished sportsman does not in any way diminish him. In some ways it is a relief. It is liberating to be able to criticise him as one does others. How much perfection must one man have to carry? Perhaps he will be liberated by it too.
It is a comment on the indestructibility assigned him that no room has been made for even the possibility that he may benefit from a break, though we have seen the recent examples of Sourav Ganguly and Zaheer Khan.
Was it so surprising after all that he has cut an abject figure at the crease in this Australia series? When he relinquished captaincy, he also at some level accepted defeat when he probably need not have. Yet he must have hoped that his batting would blossom. But is it possible to admit defeat on the one hand, cocoon oneself in silence, and yet be so absolutely positive on the other. Can a person, even as mentally disciplined as Dravid, so neatly compartmentalise himself?
If returning to four-day cricket can help Dravid get out of the funk he seems to be in, if it can help him regain the art of making double-hundreds in Test cricket, a few one-day games is no price to pay. For once, Rahul Dravid should be allowed the latitude of fallibility. And sooner or later he will be back, not because he is a saint, because he is that even rarer thing in Indian sport: a champion.
(Rahul is a cricket writer and the author of the acclaimed Pundits from Pakistan)