The steel beneath the calm…

The first time I saw you was in Singapore, a match after you had already debuted against Sri Lanka, this time it was arch rival Pakistan and all I could see was one stylish batsman, tall, upright, confident,  probably a bit too correct I must add, someone who was run-out and was gutted at that fact. I felt for you then as all those dreams, expectations, fantasies being dashed !!! Yes, it was 3 on debut and 4 in the match after ! Hardly a dream start but you had only begun..

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Who would have predicted what was to come though !

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Then came the terrible tour of England which saw everything – infighting, blaming quota selection, brilliant batting, pathetic teamwork, dream debut’s and a new beginning….

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Fate has its own whims and has always been unkind to you somehow it always wanted to test you ! Throughout your entire career limelight would always be hogged by others ! You couldn’t make it to the honors board at Lord’s on that day having played equally well but you couldn’t care less as you hugged your left handed pal who glided there smug and drawing all the attention. I am sure you never seeked the attention, you quietly basked and smiled for you had found a place in the Test team. Yes for further battles were to be waged, for futher peaks had to be scaled.  Yes, you had arrived !

Behold one of Indian crickets fiercest fighters !

Then came the series in South Africa where you averaged higher than all else, where only once were we in a position to win a Test, for your hundred, but all people remember from that tour is the blazing tons by Sachin and Azhar in Cape Town in a Test we lost by 282 runs. The Indian fans, the masses, could only rave about that, never wonder about the lost opportunity in Johannesburg where your maiden hundred went in vain. Yes, you had established yourself ! 

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In 1999, your team and you had your worst run, losing 3-0 and you came a cropper against what was expected. Of all batsmen it was thought you were a guaranteed success down under and you were handed an average of 15.50 at the end of the series. Yes, you had faltered big time, but you didn’t sulk, for you thought you had learnt a lot about yourself ! 

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Then when the renaissance man took the reins of Indian cricket you probably played the best innings of your career till then, it was a fine innings amidst the most toughest of situation against the best of teams I have ever witnessed. You fought tooth and nail and yet there was this favorite batting partner of yours since junior cricket who churned out 101 runs more than your 180 which by no means was a mean feat. You were again in the midst of all the right things but the limelight would be hogged by an elegant Hyderabadi and fiesty Sikh youth. You had established yourself as a the silent contributor, the fighting team man. Yes, you also revived your career !

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Then one cloudy, damp, heaven for swing bowling day your brash friend, our skipper threw the gauntlet as much at his own men as to the opponents and you couldn’t care less but, about your own batting. You had a mission, to protect your mates batting behind you. You left alone deliveries outside the off stump with immaculate precision making the bowlers scratch their heads, with a mind as strong as an ox you resisted all temptations, didn’t flirt and probably played an innings of a life time for many a great batsmen. It was you who had made the platform for the high rise to happen. Amazing that you had to be out stumped for 148 runs, each of them valuable but even more valuable were the 429 balls you made the bowlers toil. Your mates absolutely couldn’t thank you more for your efforts and they repaid by carting the hapless bowlers all around the park. You smiled as India won a famous victory ! A victory that signalled the change of attitude in Indian cricket but didn’t quite mark the fine efforts of yours. The fickle Indian fan couldn’t understand your contributions they could only clap at the masterly 193 scored ! But you had no business with glory you were too busy scoring hundreds !

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You were a fierce warrior and a humble servant, you couldn’t say no, you kept wickets for us looking ugly only to make our team look better. You tried your best and gave it a gallant try with all your heart but what you never gave, were excuses. You had established yourself as a proud servant of Indian cricket but alas the Indian fan could only take you for granted. You still wouldn’t fret for you just had to challenge yourself and prove to yourself how good you could be. For you the team always came first !

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For once though, God had to give in to your sincere humble efforts. 2003, Down Under, there was no one who could steal that moment from you I can never forget …

That endearing image…
that day…
when no one could steal his thunder…
that winning feeling…
the joy…
the tears…
the adrenalin rush…
the grinding of teeth…
the clenching of fists…
that don’t know what to do feeling…. !!!!

Rahul Dravid Claiming Victory for India in Adelaide.

For once in life you had no one to wretch glory from you. For once the Indian fan had no option but to acknowledge your Fighting Bulldog Spirit. They finally realized the worth of your fierce focus, your dedication, your class, your champion status. Again none more fitting compliment then the one  that came from your same left handed mate who debuted with you.

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“He batted like God out there” – Sourav Ganguly

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But life had to move on, it couldn’t be as gracious always to people who were as humble as you.

It was you who scored the 270 in the decider in Pakistan to win that Landmark test series, but it was a portly lad from Najarfgadh who would always be remembered by the public for his disdainful treatment of Pakistani bowlers. The series victory was as much yours as all of your team mates. You probably quietly sank in that winning feeling in a swimming pool in Rawalpindi while all and sundry couldn’t rave enough about the Multan bashing of Shoaib Akhtar. You were never symbolic for the Indian fan but all you cared for was the series victory !

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Being a Skipper was never a bed of roses and you never one who asked for the roses. You never asked for a quarter and gave none. The thorns had to be taken as you thought it was your responsibility. You could never turn Indian cricket down !

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You took us to a Test Series win in West Indies after 35 years, averaging 82 in the 4 match series it was a significant achievement for a batsman who was also a captain leading from the front. You missed out tragically in rewriting India’s record as a Test touring team in South Africa and then your wonderful career as captain had to bear the shock defeat of the World Cup. The daggers were out and you were to be a scapegoat. You took all the blame along with your team mates you apologised, whilst all could see the apology very few could see the angst inside you. No one would be more disappointed than you I am sure.

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Life moved on and you were back to scoring runs regularly, catching everything that came your way in slips and always volunteering whenever Indian openers were injured or they had new ball-itis !! How could you ever back down, for you couldn’t ever imagine saying ‘no’ to your beloved team India !

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You were the steel that the team stood upon in the last decade especially when touring abroad. You were one of the prime reasons that Indian cricket witnessed one of its finest decade in its cricketing history. Your contributions were second to none !

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Today writing about you and thinking of those moments you gave us to rave about I have my eyes over flowing. I myself never knew I felt so much for you.

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Rahul Dravid you were one of the most Fiercest Fighters Indian cricket ever possessed. No, being fierce doesn’t mean snarling at the opposition. You never did, you were the finest, most humblest of members of Indian cricket fraternity. Adjectives wouldn’t do justice to your contributions.

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But you knew how much you were one of the most fierce opponents when the skipper of the most dominating team of your era sent in a request to write the ‘Foreword’ of his autobiography.

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Your chest surely would have swelled with pride reading Glenn Mcgrath quoted in papers saying if there was one Indian player who would get an automatic entry into an Australian team filled with stars, it would be Rahul Dravid.

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The fact that you were the fiercest of opponents can be made out from this statement by Mathew Hayden “All this going around is not aggression. If you want to see aggression on cricket field, look into Rahul Dravid’s eyes”

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Never mind the fan, your opponents always knew your worth and dreaded it. Thank you for the memories Rahul :) Wish you all the very best in life ahead :)

The race to the top !!!!!

 

The lions have aged and retired… the cubs still to mature into lions… the territory is up for grabs… Every week there is a new number one in the rankings these days… these indeed are exciting times for cricket and the top of the table was never as open as now…

 

Australia is no longer the powerhouse it used to be, their aura of invincibility shattered. The 6-0 series lead notwithstanding the fear of the Kangaroos is gone… The Indians defeated them 2-0 in 2008 in India which incidentally was their worst defeat in 25 years. The South Africans beat them in their own den. The top spot in all forms of the game is open for all and there is going to be an interesting race in the coming two years which will firmly establish who is the best. The Sri Lankans are the only other team that may harbour any such aspirations of trying to contest this claim of the top team in the world but for that their overseas record needs to improve.

 

That leaves us with two contenders, the Proteas and the Indians.

 

The Proteas have always been a bunch of hardened cricketers who always give their best however they have always been humiliated time and again by the Aussies and even though they beat the Aussies in their backyard for the first time last year the Aussies promptly exacted their revenge. Over a period they have never matched up against Australia and so we need to see if they can do this over a consistent period of time. The one problem South Africa face is their selection policy with quota’s and second their over dependence on just seam bowling. However the emergence of Johan Botha and Paul Harris augurs well for them. They have some exciting youngsters and it will be interesting times for them as they seem to have finally got the Australian monkey over their back.

 

However lets take a look at India’s fortunes more closely…  

 

India started playing test cricket in 1932 and from then to the November of the year 2000 India had won just 13 Test matches abroad. We always had a couple of stylish batsmen and a bunch of excellent spinners with maybe a seamer thrown in here and there. However the true test of a cricket team is when they go abroad and it is only fair to say we had an abysmal record. We were favourite whipping boys when we travelled abroad.

 

But in November 2000 Sourav Ganguly was handed the reins of Indian cricket while it was probably at its nadir with the match fixing controversy. Under him a group of youngsters gathered, he along with Sachin, Rahul, Anil and Laxman have laid a great platform ahead. The new crop of youngsters have tasted success very early in their careers and the fearlessness that we see in the Sehwag’s, Yuvraj’s, Zaheer’s and Bhajji’s can be attributed to this early success in their careers. Sourav Ganguly injected a steel in Indian Cricket which was missing, this led to the change of attitude and a team that used to dread going abroad suddenly was raring to go abroad.

 

The talent apart the sudden transformation of Indian cricketers under Sourav’s leadership where they would stare the opponent in the eye and not blink and the tendency to give back as good as they got or even better then what they got has gone a long way in helping India building a fearless image in the cricket world. They psychologically even disintegrated  the father (Tugga – Steve Waugh) of this theory called Psychological Disintegration 

 

India started playing test cricket in 1932 and from then to the November of the year 2000 India had won just 13 Test matches abroad.Quite amazingly since November 2000 when Sourav became captain to today India has won 19 Test Matches Abroad including series wins in England, West Indies, New Zealand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. They also were leading in Test series in South Africa and Australia but eventually squandered the lead.

 

 

 

Mindset has changed today when India travel’s abroad it goes with a belief that they can win. The main reason behind this has to be the amazing bench strength of fast bowlers to choose from provided they all are fit. Ishant Sharma is already the envy of all cricketing nations. Zaheer at the peak of his career and they are well supported by Ashish Nehra, R. P. Singh and Sree Santh. They have back up and even in the domestic structure there are still quite a few who can make the cut like Sudeep Tyagi, Munaf Patel & Irfan Pathan to just name a few. These fast bowlers are a big reason why India is starting to win tests and for a change we don’t have just one or two fast bowlers like a Kapil here and a Srinath there… we have 4-5 bowlers and that is the most heartening thing.

 

 

The batting line up is as awesome as it can ever get. Today arguably we possess the most explosive opening pair in Tests in Sehwag and Gautam followed by ever solid Rahul Dravid, the never ageing Sachin and the elegant Laxman. The best part is this doesn’t end here, we have Yuvraj who can be mercurial on this day and Dhoni a player who can easily be in any Test Team in the world just for his batting. The prescence of the youngsters like Rohit Sharma, Uthappa, Virat Kohli, Raina, Yusuf Pathan can only be a blessing.

 

 

The spin department is also well taken care of with Harbhajan, Amit Mishra & Pragyan Ojha. Thanks to the IPL the Indian domestic players will receive a lot of encouragement and also exposure to top flight cricket. It also means a lot more cricketers can now harbour living life simply playing domestic cricket even if they don’t get to play for India coz they can earn enough. More cricketers could only be a blessing.

 

 

In the coming two years India will have to stake their claim for the top spot, the race is tight between Australia who are undergoing transition, South Africa who are at their peak probably and India who have consistently given Australia a run for their money and beaten them on several occasions for almost a decade that too while Shane Warne and Mcgrath were playing.

 

 

Under Mahendra Singh Dhoni we have a skipper who will have to carry on the good work started by Sourav and place India on a pedestal befitting its following… the interesting times they say are just beginning… The Champions trophy will be ideal place to start this new season and a victory in all the matches should put us on top of the ODI rankings….

 

Quite interestingly since the 2006 Champions trophy India has won 11 out of the 17 ODI tournaments it has played and we currently have won 6 ODI series on the trot. Is Champions trophy going to be the 7th on the trot ????

 

Tighten your seat belt folks !!! Its gonna be a helluva interesting period for Indian fans to watch…

 

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