Tony Grieg once famously remarked during 1996 when India was touring England, that 1973 was the best year for Indian cricket. It was not just because it was the year that a certain Sachin Tendulkar was born, but because the year also saw the birth of the two batsmen that Grieg claimed at that time had the capability to overshadow the genius of Tendulkar; Sourav Ganguly, ‘The Prince of Calcutta’ and Rahul ‘The Wall’ Dravid. Both made their debuts at the Mecca of cricket – Lords, and both announced their arrival in typical fashion. Saurav Ganguly, at number 3, smashing 20 boundaries, a good chunk of them in the point region that he made his own, and scoring a 131 that is still etched in many a cricket fan’s memory. Rahul Dravid, coming as far down the order as number 7, scoring a patient workman like 95, with hardly half a dozen hits to the fence, but showing enough resilience and skill to prove to the selectors that he was the answer to all of India’s batting crises. Of course, as the years passed by, a lot of things changed. Rahul Dravid soon became the greatest Indian batsman to have batted at number 3, and Ganguly slowly slipped down the batting order as far down as number 7, and eventually out of the team. With Ganguly back in the scheme of things, this might be an opportune moment to reflect on the paths that the test careers of these two batting stalwarts have taken over the past decade.
After a blazing start to his test career, though there weren’t too many memorable knocks (with the exception of probably the Brisbane ton which set the tone for India’s awesome display for the rest of the tour), Ganguly’s ability to galvanise his side into a fighting unit, his ability to effortlessly pierce a 7-2 offside field when he was in the mood for it, his aggression that was a rarity among Indian cricketers, and to some extent the destruction he havocked at the top of the Indian ODI top order meant that Ganguly’s position in India’s all-star batting order was relatively safe and cemented.
But then, post 2004, the downward slide took a turn for the worse, patchy batting form aside, his injuries, some real, and some apparently-not-so-real meant that he missed quite a few matches, where Dravid riding the crest of his life, would lead quite impressively (impressively enough to even let critics praise in hindsight the decision to declare an innings when Tendulkar was on 194*). The powers-that-be soon realised that Ganguly’s captaincy skills were not enough anymore to override his batting failures, and after the much talked about Ganguly-Chappell fiasco, the board decided that it was time to take away the crown from the Prince.
Unlike Ganguly who took the scene by storm, Dravid almost nudged into the team without being noticed. Over the next few years, with his dependable batting, he laid stake and won his rightful number three position. He was building his career as he did his innings. He recognized fully well, the importance of staying there and that the runs and power would both come to him when they were due. Over this period, he proved himself to be the complete team man: batting at number five if required, keeping wickets in the shorter version.
Dravid’s batting is the work of a mechanic. Imagine Dravid batting and the picture is one of immense concentration, sweat dripping off the forehead, the perfectly poised head, the back-lift just right. When the stroke is played, the head is steady, the footwork decisive and the follow through complete. Every ball is a test and every shot is an answer, evaluated in terms of runs and correctness (defined by a copybook). He was making runs where everyone else was failing and significantly, when everyone else was failing. The chips are down? Dravid is the man. He had become the most prized wicket for any opposition. Dravid was also the poster boy of the Indian middle class: an educated youngster who had worked hard, understood his limitations and risen to the top through sheer hard work and strength of performance in the domestic league. Dravid’s was another face of the new India, reflecting a quiet confidence of the times.
Over the period of the Ganguly captaincy, Dravid had risen up to the top rungs of power and was the trusted ally of the Prince. When the opportunity presented itself, Dravid took over the reins with a defining victory in Pakistan. As a respected senior, an astute thinker of the game and the most prolific batsman, Dravid seemed the right man for the job. In fact, Team India was as much Dravid’s as it was Ganguly’s. He had the support of all members and with Greg Chappell backing him, was turning things around for the team. The team had become the most successful chasers in history, youngsters like Raina, Dhoni and Pathan were playing well, Dravid was batting well, the birds were singing and spring was on.
The honeymoon is now over: poor forms of Sehwag and Pathan, dismal Champions trophy performance, inept display in South Africa means that Dravid is under some pressure. And to strengthen the middle order, Ganguly has been resurrected. It will be interesting to see what happens in the upcoming series. Ganguly has shown that he is a hard man to keep down. With the fighting innings in South Africa he has indicated that he is likely to breathe fresh life -or atleast try to- into his rather ordinary test career. Dravid is too much of a team man and nice guy to field anything but the best eleven of the fittest for the test. This probably means that Ganguly will play the first test against the Proteans. But with all this history behind them, how will their relationship develop from this point on? As a lover of Indian cricket, I hope to see another successful Ganguly-Dravid partnership. Ganguly batting in the form that earned him praises in Brisbane and Dravid doing what he does best, bat intelligently and score prolifically, and a resurrected Indian team coming away with a drawn Protean series would be a good start.
Will we see a beautiful friendship or are there more surprises in this story? I don’t expect another era of Ganguly captaincy but we will wait and watch this space for further developments.
– Prof and Thejaswi Udupa
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