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Dravid deserves an extended term

India seem to have found the right leader, writes Arun Sivasankaran.

india Updated: Nov 18, 2005 17:15 IST

Rahul Dravid had a near perfect day at Nagpur on Tuesday, batting with abandon in the slog overs as if he has been doing it all his life and then handling his bowling attack as well as any Indian captain has in recent years. However, his best moment may have come at the post-match press conference.

"Irfan is a bowler who can bat. He made a good 80 today but I don't think people should be jumping around and calling him an all-rounder. I don't think he thinks of himself as one. At the moment, he is a bowler who can bat a bit and let's not get carried away."

Here was a captain trying to subtly deflect unwanted pressure from a young tyro, doing his best to give him the space and time needed to flower fully. Irfan's batting has been coming along nicely, but what he does not need at the moment is a nation expecting him to deliver with the bat ever time he strides to the crease. Dravid has seen players crumble under the weight of undeserving labels before, and he was not going to let that happen to his pace bowling spearhead.

The captain's sense of perspective, his ability to enjoy success without getting carried away, and that priceless quality of never losing sight of the big picture came through another time. "It's not very often that you win games by such a big margin. Everything clicked for us today. All that we planned worked out to perfection, it doesn't always happen like that," he said. Here was a man intent on keeping his eyes on the ball, on shutting all the hype out.

It is just one match of a long series, and so much can happen before the series is played out, but Indian cricket seems to have hit upon the right man. Dravid is never going to let the world know how much hair he has on his chest, and one can safely assume that he will play within the rules, both the mental games as well as the real ones on the field, but he lacks nothing by way of passion. Don't go by the soft looks.

It is not usual for a bowler to be taken off after he had taken an important wicket in his last over, but that is just what Dravid did with Sehwag who had lured Sangakkara into hitting a return catch. With a right-hander coming into the middle, it made sense to deny him the opportunity to hit with the spin. In an age when captaincy by rote is the rule; here was a leader actually dictating play in the middle, knowing just when to press hard and when to wait for things to happen. Surely, the selectors are not going to bring back Sourav as captain, not after watching such an assured and mature display.

Ganguly lay little or no faith in left-arm spinners, but Dravid sees Murali Kartik as a considerable weapon, someone who can turn a game on wickets taking spin. Against Australia in Mumbai, when India defended a small total to make it 2-1 in the Test series, Dravid gambled, tossing the ball to the left-armer even before turning to Kumble. At Nagpur as well, Dravid used Kartik as an attacking option, and the bowler, once more, responded. Kartik has a far better record playing under Dravid than under Sourav. It certainly is not an accident.

Victory in Nagpur came so easily that one will be tempted to think that things have fallen into place, that the team has turned the corner. Well, not yet. In many ways, it is the start of an era, and before one starts demanding sustained glory, the leader should be allowed to settle into his job, and the team granted enough time to feel like one.

Tuesday was one of those days when just about everything went right, right from the captain winning a very crucial toss to mistimed hits falling inches short of fielders. The trouble is, you don't get such days every often. Nagpur gave the world a glimpse of the type of cricket the Men in Blue are capable of producing, but how good Team India actually is, we will know only when the heat is truly on. After all, it takes just a few bad days on the field for the dressing room doors to open for that most unwelcome of visitors - diffidence.

Quotes do not flow from Greg Chappell now as easily as it did before his spat with Sourav, but it is fairly obvious that he has got the captain he wanted. The selectors have given him the young legs and fresh minds that he wished for as well. To make things even better, the little man is back, and seemingly intent on making up for lost time. Now, perhaps, the world will realise why the Aussie carries such a heavy price tag.

First Published: Nov 02, 2005 14:43 IST