March saw the return of not only a dejected Indian cricket team from the dreadful tour of Australia but also, the retirement of one of the leading icons of the game. As Rahul Dravid leaves behind a void, particularly in the Test cricket arena, it is time to introspect on whether India do have a succession plan in place because this will be no easy replacement.
Rahul Dravid’s is a case that could be argued both ways. For one, he would be pushing the limits of the age of the traditional Test cricketer, approaching as he does the milestone of forty years of age should he have continued to play Test cricket. On the other hand, Dravid’s decision to announce his retirement from all forms of cricket (technically he had retired from one day internationals and Twenty20 matches in England last June) came as a bit of a jolt.
Dravid has had several nicknames through out his career. Apart from the more casual ‘Jammie’, he has had the indubitable authority on being labeled ‘the Wall’: a term that significantly elevates his stature in the game as one of the finest defensive number three batsmen in the world. Having said that, to stand tall as the second highest Test run getter in the game, second only to Tendulkar, Dravid has shown that sound technique even in defense can produce extraordinary results for the team.
To add to the distinction that separates Dravid from some of his more illustrious contemporaries is the fact that Dravid has more than held up his bargain for the India cap, serving as wicket keeper when required and also, being ranked top in his catching ability in the slips, a vital role in the success of any team. He has withstood disappointment and dejection with the same subservience as he has been India’s need of the hour as the game and time have progressed.
The reason Dravid’s decision to hang up his boots comes as something of a shock is because after all, if one were look back on India’s recent past, Dravid shines out like a beacon on shipwrecked seas. While in Australia, he failed to make a dent – although there were a few unearthed, broken stumps as the Australia bowlers kept finding the gate, Dravid was the man for all seasons in England, holding up the fragile image of India on an otherwise bleak tour. His stature was growing immensely at a time when the call should have been for the so-called seniors in the game to retire. Yet it seems India could ill afford to lose Dravid.
What is worrying about Rahul Dravid’s retirement though is the fact that he leaves behind a void in terms of a determined successor. India will have to go through a phase of trial and error before they will be able to chalk out the team that will once again stage a coup for the title of the world’s best Test team.
One of the side effects, albeit unintentionally, has been the lagging behind of grooming the men for the future with the stalwarts performing as if there were no sunset. With Dravid’s defense that can hold up the opposition to his run scoring ability which has often turned the tables on the team’s fortunes, Dravid provides an impeccable balance of an impregnable yet prolific cricketer, something the younger cricketers on the fringe will take their time to figure out. Slip fielders are difficult to replace as also those that occupy the pivotal number three in the batting order. With India yet to unearth Sourav Ganguly’s suitable replacement, chances are that Dravid’s role will be even heavier to fulfill and the youngster that steps into his role will have his work cut out for him.
This is not to say that another in the mould of a number three batsman cannot be found. Having said that, Dravid himself remains irreplaceable, a word used by several within the BCCI and amongst his own colleagues and team mates to describe the value of the man in the dressing room. However, in India’s case, the process is likely to take a period of uncertainty, transition and scrutiny. For a wall that has held up the opposition for so long, the gates do seem vulnerable. One would like to think, as Dravid does, that had the tour of Australia been any different result wise, Dravid would still stand by his decision. The reason one says this is because while Dravid has had India’s back for sixteen long years in international cricket, the time has come for the selectors to find his.