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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dravid must make his return relevant

Considering last week's events, diehard romantics of Indian cricket might be excused in believing that they were watching a rerun of an old blockbuster instead of a new film for a new season.

Sourav Ganguly and John Wright, it is being widely speculated, will team up again as captain and coach -- albeit for Kolkata Knight Riders -- and Rahul Dravid finds himself back in the one-day squad.

Of these, Dravid's return is obviously the more significant, but in some ways also the moresurprising. For almost two years, the formerIndia captain has not even been within miles of being in the one-day team; just when he would have decided to consign the blue uniform to the attic, Messrs Srikkanth & Co have asked him to revise his calling card.

From every available indication, Dravid's return is not based on compassion. There has been undisguised concern within the administration (and which has also spilled over to fans) over Team India's recent results: a quick exit from the World T20 and a huff 'n' puff victory over the West Indies. This could have compelled the selectors to plump for experience to steady the boat.

Hacking youngsters in favour of a senior statesman when the stated policy had been to build a young side for the next World Cup is contentious (some might argue retrograde), but the precious Rohit Sharma has sadly muffed up far too many opportunities to retain the faith of even his supporters.

It is no secret that MS Dhoni has not been enamoured of Dravid being in the limited overs sides, but the past three months have not been particularly kind to him as captain. Several young batsmen have proved inconsistent or technically inept and with Viru Sehwag still injured, he might be fortunate that someone with vast experience is still around.

Indeed, Dravid's fantastic ODI record could provide relief to Dhoni. With 10,585 runs to his name (the third highest aggregate by any Indian) and an average just short of 40, he has been a class act. However his strike rate is a none-too-daunting 71.22, and while this includes scores of matches where he played the pivot to the strokeplayers, Dravid has to improve this rate substantially to make his return relevant.
Like all lovers of Test cricket, I have been delighted by the Ashes contest which reaches its climax this week. What has intrigued me, however, is the hostile reception Ricky Ponting has received from the crowds at most grounds.

There must be something about the Australian captain's personality (it can't be his batting surely) which people other than just Harbhajan Singh and Sunil Gavaskar also find irksome. Among post-War Australian captains the English have loved to hate, Ponting now stands alongside Ian Chappell.

In the all-time list of most disliked captain from either side in an Ashes contest, however, Douglas Jardine remains unmatched.

The story goes that during the controversial 1932-33 series, the England captain was waving flies away from his face on a hot, humid day when a voice boomed across the stadium, "Hey Jardine, let them be, they are your only friends in Australia." Ponting, all said and done, has more.

And finally, cricket's big sacrifice has not been in vain. By all accounts, Usain Bolt was a promising fast bowler in his school days in Jamaica, till he was weaned away into athletics.

Would Bolt have been in the same class as, say Mike Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose et al? Perhaps even better, but perish the thought. Who then would have run the 100m in 9.58 sec and redefined the limits of human achievement?

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