Rahul Dravid made a decision that he believed was the best for his team and for India, writes Nirmal Shekar
One of the worst decisions ever arrived at by a captain in the history of Test cricket was, in fact, made by one of the greatest warriors the game has known, a man of gladiatorial courage who possessed marvellous natural leadership qualities. But we had to wait more than two full days — during which a batting miracle of the sort witnessed in Test cricket only once every generation was enacted — to realise that Steve Waugh’s decision to ask India to follow on at the Eden Gardens in 2001 was suicidal.
The wisdom of hindsight makes heroes of all of us; it turns us all into modern-day Nostradamuses. You know, we got that right; poor Steve couldn’t. What a no-brainer that was!
Indeed, it was all that, looking back. But only because a stylish, laid back Hyderabadi — whose batting, at the best of times, is all gasp-eliciting grace and beauty — chose to seek out his redemptive destiny when India was teetering on the edge of the abyss.
That innings by V.V.S. Laxman, an epic that is unlikely to be matched in a similar situation in Test cricket in India in the near future — and his record partnership with the estimable Rahul Dravid — not only shut Australia out of the match but paved the way for the feisty Harbhajan Singh to bowl the home team to a famous victory.
At The Oval a few days ago, one of the heroes of that believe-it-or-not Kolkata triumph chose not to ‘do a Steve Waugh.’ Well, Dravid did not win the match for India; nor did he lose it.
Yet, the man from Bangalore — only the second Indian captain in history to win Test series both in the West Indies and in England — has been pilloried for his ‘mistake.’ It’s clearly a case of being damned if you did and damned if you didn’t.
It appears that a full-scale investigation is on in every section of the media, as well as in public bars and private drawing and dining rooms, not to speak of college dorms.
You know, Rahul, that was such a foolish thing to have done; even a 10-year old would have got that right. Those Englishmen were down and out with barely a chance, and you threw them a lifeline.
Of course, it did appear that Michael Vaughan’s team did not have a ghost of a chance of turning things around after allowing India a 300-plus first innings lead. But, then, so it had seemed six years ago at the Eden Gardens for India.
At The Oval, in Kevin Pietersen, England had a batsman eminently capable of matching Laxman’s once-in-a-lifetime heroics. And if India’s mini-crisis of the second innings — three down for 11 — had come when it was chasing a small fourth innings target, that might have thrown a little more clarifying light on Dravid’s decision.
The point is simple: India had bravely taken advantage of its good fortune in the series to make the most of the chances that came its way. After the wretched English summer weather bailed it out of prison at Lord’s, Dravid won a very important toss at Nottingham before inserting England on a day when, for the batsmen, the conditions were virtually unplayable.
In the event, to push the team’s luck further in quest of a more substantial series-victory might not have been the wisest thing to do.
Sport is a capricious business. Whole matches, and series, can turn on seemingly the most trivial of things. And in this age when there is so much at stake for so many in Indian cricket, a dash of conservatism is never going to hurt a good leader of men.
Many, many summers ago, in the Caribbean, in an attempt to infuse some artificial life into a dead Test match, Garry Sobers set England a sporting fourth innings target of 215 in 165 minutes on the fifth afternoon. Colin Cowdrey’s men raced to the finish in style to win the Test and the series.
Over the next few days, Sobers was promptly vilified by the West Indian media.
Imagine what might have happened in India if Dravid had asked England to bat again and by some miracle the home team had managed to level the series. No civilised person who knows sport for what it is — that it is an enjoyable thing only because it is not a matter of life and death — would have wanted to switch on the television or turn to the sports pages of a newspaper for a few weeks.
Surely, Dravid would have become the most unpopular captain in the history of Indian cricket.
The truth is simple. At The Oval, Dravid — an honourable man who has always done the right thing when it comes to his team and country — made a decision that he believed was the best for the side and for India. He is man enough to stand by that.
If only all of us were sporting enough to accept it for what it was…