The man who has played a key role in shaping the team’s fortunes will not be available for the final of the Ranji Trophy against Mumbai next week. Karnataka will certainly be the poorer for Rahul Dravid’s absence, but they will also be equally determined to present their skipper with the perfect gift for his 37th birthday, which falls on the opening day of the title clash.
The likes of Manish Pandey and Ganesh Satish with the bat, and the mercurial A Mithun and R Vinay Kumar with the new ball, have been the cynosure this season, but the man that has got the parts to perform as a unit has, typically, shied away from the limelight.
Tactically and technically, as skipper and as batsman, Dravid has been in a class of his own. His impeccable work ethics and the intensity with which he has approaches every match has rubbed off an enthusiastic and eager young bunch.
The selectorial quartet of Syed Kirmani, PR Ashokanand, Raghuram Bhat and R Ananth pulled off a masterstroke by convincing Dravid to handle the reins of the State side whenever he was available. Dravid’s plan was simple -- place faith in youth, give them the confidence and the assurance that they need not look over their shoulders after every failure, and lead from the front, as is his wont.
Karnataka’s international stars have always been strongly attached to domestic cricket. Increasingly packed schedules on the world stage made it proportionately difficult for the likes of Javagal Srinath, Anil Kumble and Venkatesh Prasad in the later stages of their career to turn out with any regularity for the State side, and it has been no different with Dravid.
In some perverse way, Dravid’s non-inclusion in the national one-day side following the Champions Trophy has worked out just fine for Karnataka. With Test matches being as sporadic as they are, the classy right-hander was in a position to devote adequate time and attention to domestic cricket.
What has been admirable this season is just how deeply Dravid has been involved in the entire process. With due respect to the selectors and the support staff, this is Dravid’s team, and it is a team that has responded splendidly to its captain’s urgings, each crisis throwing up a new hero, every challenge extracting a fitting reply from a different lionheart.
For the likes of Pandey, Satish, KB Pawan, Amit Verma and CM Gautam, the opportunity to observe Dravid’s preparations before a game -- which remain the same, be it first-class or Test cricket -- has been a godsend. Dravid had an influential part to play in Mithun making his debut right at the start of the season, and what a debut that was, too!
In the past, Karnataka have suffered from starting poorly. This time, on the road, they registered an excellent outright win over UP in their season opener. At 27 for three, the horrors of years gone by stared everybody in the face before Pandey and Dravid orchestrated a brilliant recovery with a stand of 273.
Then, Mithun scythed through the UP batting twice and suddenly, the team was buzzing. A second away win was denied by a combination of poor light and poorer decision-making in Delhi, but the momentum had been gathered.
By the third game, Dravid was away on Test duty but already, the boys were turning men. Robin Uthappa kept up the good work by leading the team to three outright wins, and by the time Dravid returned for the knockout stage, the team was ticking over like a well-oiled machine.
Minus Dravid’s nous and skill, the boys-turned-men face a true test of character. If the last two months are any indication, there is no reason why they shouldn’t pass that test with flying colours.