[Note: I started writing this post about a week ago. A weekend of fun with friends meant I could only complete it today. In between, Dravid scored an almost-double-ton, perhaps rendering a bulk of my argument moot at least for the time being. Nevertheless, read on.]
Now don’t get me wrong. I respect the guy, his long illustrious career, the several times he has saved India and even taken the team to famous wins. I just don’t enjoy watching him bat. It’s a purely subjective dislike.
So as a Dravid non-fan for life, let me say this to those who are clamouring for him to retire – what the heck have you been smoking? Rahul Dravid should absolutely NOT retire any time soon. And I say that based on not having the answer to one simple question – who is a ripe enough replacement?
Some say Cheteshwar Pujara. Sure, he made a great debut. He has scored truckloads of runs in first class cricket. And he seems to possess the temperament and the technique to eventually replace Dravid at the crucial number 3 spot. The key word being “eventually”. He may flourish and grow. And he may even end up having a career that rivals or outshines Dravid’s.
Others talk about Murali Vijay replacing Dravid at number 3. If that does indeed happen, Indian cricket will have come an ironically long way – from forcing lifelong middle order batsmen into opening roles to forcing a lifelong opener into the middle order. But I digress. Yes, Vijay has done very well whenever he’s gotten a chance. And with the Sehwag-Gambhir combination on the top, his eventual permanent spot in the team might be in the middle order.
However, neither Pujara nor Vijay have shown the level of technical finesse and the blatantly obvious staying power that the Dravid of 1996-1998 did when he pushed out Manjrekar and/or Kambli. In a batting-rich country like India, you need to do a lot more than score cute half centuries to get an assured spot in the batting order. Yet, people hope and wish that Dravid will retire and “make way” for younger talent. It seems like an easy call for them.
I for one don’t think the decision of replacing a still-fit still-hungry albeit out-of-form test legend with 3 tours each of South Africa and Australia under his belt with a promising newcomer, right around the time we will be touring those countries in successive winters is as much of a no-brainer as some people think it is. I don’t feel confident enough in Pujara’s or Vijay’s abilities to emphatically state that either of them will do better than an admittedly off-color Dravid against the best pace battery in its own backyard.
The Indian team has taken similar steps in the past. Ganguly was pushed aside in favor of Yuvraj. We saw how that turned out. There have been calls for Laxman to retire in the past couple of years and the recent few series have shown what an idiotic decision that would have been. The 24-hour media demon even took potshots at Tendulkar for a while before his astonishing second coming. And now the detractors have their guns trained on Dravid.
Even after witnessing how Ganguly, Laxman, and Tendulkar spectacularly returned from what seemed to be career-ending bad patches, the Dravid-baiters treat the possibility of his hitting a purple patch like science fiction. His recent success against New Zealand will hopefully silence them for a while. And Dravid’s game will be back at his dogged old consistent level when we go to South Africa.