AS THE World Cup '99 draws nearer, so do begin the preparations for it. With a sudden spurt of "foresight", the BCCI decided that it would prepare a list of 21 probables for the World Cup, to be held in England next year. Due to certain reasons, the list, which was supposed to be made earlier, was postponed. As we wait in anticipation, one tends to wonder just how much foresight the BCCI really has.
The list will almost certainly include players like Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Ajay Jadeja, Saurav Ganguly, Javagal Srinath, Anil Kumble and Nayan Mongia. But what about the rest of the lot? The name that first comes to mind is that of Rahul Dravid. This unfortunate "dependable" now sits at home wondering about the future of his one-day international cricket. In Tests, no doubt he is a very valuable asset, a must. But does the same go for one-day matches? There is no doubting his technique, fitness, skill, talent and capability. The only thing that goes against him is his strike rate in ODIs. With a career strike rate of around 64 in ODIs, the selectors seem to find that not up to international standards!
For a player who has stood steadfast when all around him have crumbled, a player who can be depended upon when the going gets tough, a player who took on the might of Allan Donald in South Africa, and who challenged the Pakistanis in the Independence Cup, when everyone around him fell like ninepins, a player who weathered the West Indies attack on their own ground, it seems a strange twist of fate and cruel irony, that he doesn't know whether he will ever play international one-day cricket again.
Rahul Dravid played cricket for India at a time when Tendulkar had taken on the captaincy, not very successfully, and when things never seemed to go India's way. The captaincy affected Tendulkar's form, and Azhar played like he was earning peanuts for being part of the team. Ganguly, at that time, was still not at his best, and the team's middle and lower order didn't really seem to exist. Even in tough times like that, Dravid was the only one who stood steadfast in his resolve, his never-say-die attitude, that made the Indian team look better than it really was.
Now everything seems rosy for Indian cricket. Tendulkar and the rest of the team seem to have found the way to click and have indeed hit a purple patch. The most important factor contributing to the team's success this year has been the form of Tendulkar. The very fact that he and Ganguly shared a world-record opening stand of 225 runs for the first wicket, and were separated only in the 42nd over, illustrates that fact. It is because of this that the middle and lower order have never been under much pressure, because they always have had a big score to back them, and all they have to do is hit and run.
The scenario when Dravid was playing was nearly the opposite. The truth of the matter is that Tendulkar changes the course of a match, and almost always decides its result. If he plays well, then India wins. And if he doesn't, we invariably seem to lose, whether it is a close margin or a huge one. In 1997, when Tendulkar's form was down in the dumps, Dravid was invariably the one to hold the fort, to play the anchor role. He was indeed 'Mr. Dependable'. With no offence to Kanitkar and Co, in my opinion, they have hardly had anything to do, the way Tendulkar has been playing lately. They still haven't been tested outside India, where the conditions are not so favourable to batsman, and where the true test of a batsman's skills takes place right on the field. Dravid is one who has seen all of it, and come out unscathed.
The BCCI seem to be revelling in India's triumphs in the subcontinent, and they seem to have forgotten that this time, the World Cup is to be played in England, and nowhere even close to the subcontinent. India have always been known as tigers at home, but paper tigers abroad. A win in the World Cup would elevate their status to one close to the top. In English conditions, no longer would scores of 275 plus or 300 plus be so common. And people like Dravid, who have weathered such conditions can, in my opinion, tackle them best.
Dravid definitely deserves a place in the list of 21 probables for the World Cup. And what's more, he certainly needs to play in the World Cup. That's the only thing that will restore his confidence. Ultimately, if he is left out of the ODI squad, it will undoubtedly affect his performance in the Tests as well. And then India would certainly lose a fine cricketer...