For someone whose batting form and consistency has been as unshakeable as a walrus (but I was different..) RD’s story in recent months has surprisingly unfolded like a mysterious episode of an Indian tele-serial written by a guest screenplay writer. Some fear this may even be the last episode.
He has the second highest Test batting average amongst contemporary batsmen. All those stats, though, come to nought when his recent form comes under the scanner. The unthinkable has happened in this period – Rahul Dravid has gone through two consecutive Test series (vs. RSA in RSA and vs. Eng in Eng) without a decent score under his belt. Only once in his career has this occurred – in the last millennium. Worse, it has happened when he was touring. Before India went to South Africa last year Rahul averaged 65 on tours.
His one day form has not helped him either. Add to that his recent catching woes in the slips and selectors were forced to look for fresh faces in ODI’s, especially in the aftermath of a Twenty20 world cup where India, of all teams, highlighted the worth of sharp catches and direct hits. Isn’t it ironic, quite like Sourav’s case, that the selection panel went ahead and brought in Virender Sehwag as his replacement in the ODI squad? Viru, the same guy that was included in the World Cup squad earlier this year only because Dravid the skipper insisted on it.
And now the irony continues. Dravid, who has easily been the best Test batsman at any of the positions he has batted for India since the turn of the millennium, has been pushed to open for India. And Viru stands by, in case Dravid fails.
Dravid opened in Pakistan two seasons ago when he was also the captain. He got two centuries in the first two Tests but his twin failures in the decisive Karachi clash once again proved that the Indian middle order desperately needs a Dravid-ian launch pad to get that big score in a crucial match. His early dismissal can open the floodgates for the opponents. On that occasion he reverted back to no. 3 in the subsequent matches.
But what now? There is little scope for Dravid’s return to his customary number three slot unless another promotee, the forever-in-the-line-of-fire Laxman, does miserably in that position. You don’t back Laxman to fail against Australia, do you?
The only space visible right now is a mysterious hollow commonly known as the selectors’ collective thought process. Sehwag is not in bankable form and Yuvraj Singh is in one helluva form. Does that make the move to promote Dravid and accommodate Yuvraj partly understandable? That was not the selectors’ plan but the team management’s response to a dilemma. But the fact remains that a suspect Sehwag was picked ahead of an in-form Akash Chopra, that forgotten hero of India’s last visit Down Under. Of course Sehwag can put an end to that question in just one brilliant innings but his selection will still remain a gamble, albeit a successful one.
Perhaps there are no takers for the big lesson taught by Akash and Viru during that tour - we do not need one flashy 150 opening stand out of the 8 innings we got to play against the Aussies; we need 50 plus in 4 or 5 of them. Akash was surely the man for that?
Coming back to the topic, are we seeing Rahul Dravid at the biggest crossroad of his career yet? Who’s writing his script? I’m afraid ‘RD’ has no script ready for him; he has to write one on the napkin-thin paper supplied to him for cleaning up selection messes.
On the 4th of January we will be halfway through the 2nd Test and the story would have taken a shape by that time. I refuse to read too much into the coincidence that 4th January happens to be the death anniversary of the man originally known as RD in India, Rahul Dev Burman. The RD of cricket is a Rahul too; but I back his career to live through 4th January 2008. Who knows, Rahul Dravid the batsman may have just completed a rebirth by the time he celebrates his 35th birthday on 11th January. If he does I shall not hesitate to rate him as the greatest Test batsman of this decade, ahead of one Mr. Ricky Ponting.
If not, RD is still the best India have got in Tests.