Sir Ravindra Jadeja’s Excalibur: It cuts. It cuts deep

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November 5, 2009 brings back bittersweet memories for every Indian cricket fan. In a cliff-hanger against the mighty Australians, Sachin Tendulkar produced a modern age classic. Chasing 351 runs to win, Tendulkar scripted an epic knock of 175. But India fell short. India fell heartbreakingly short. India lost the game by mere three runs.

The superhero’s carnage made it into the history books but that night India found a new villain. A 20-year-old. He didn’t do much wrong. He scored a 17-ball 23 and looked steady. He almost took India home. He faltered at the finish line. He ran for a non-existent single and became the whipping boy for a billion people.

That was the start of a hate story.

It gathered wind in 2009. While chasing 7.5 runs an over, he blocked his way to a 35-ball 25 against England. It became worse in the 2010 World T20s. First, a walloping against South Africa. Then, an Aussie chastening. Finally, a pestering in the hands of the Windies. He single-handedly confirmed India’s exit from the tournament.

The ‘Rock star’ label peeled off and Sir Ravindra Jadeja became a cult figure. With every failure the legend grew. So did the boos. Sir Jadeja became the toast of the internet, the darling of the Twitteratti.

The axe came down in 2011. India won the World Cup and Sir Jadeja began his journey towards oblivion. But fate wouldn’t have it. Yuvraj Singh’s health gave in and India needed an all-rounder — a player who can blast the ball in the end overs and can chip in with valuable breakthroughs. Yusuf Pathan failed. As did Piyush Chawla.

The selectors turned towards MS Dhoni and the man from Ranchi fixed his gaze on IPL’s ‘rock star’. He threw Jadeja into the deep end. He made Jadeja swing his bat. He made his left-arm fall off his shoulders. He made him cover every blade of grass. Jadeja dropped short. ‘Aage daal Jaddu‘ – shouted Dhoni. Jadeja threw darts. ‘Ek chakka khake dikha’ – screamed the skipper. Then, Jadeja turned one off-the-track. ‘Howzaattt’ – Dhoni whipped the bails off in a flash. Jadeja failed. Dhoni pushed. Jadeja failed again. Dhoni pushed harder. ‘Are you out of your mind?’ – The nation wanted to know. But Dhoni never answered.

He didn’t because Merlin had found his Arthur.

He took him to England. With India struggling, Jadeja walked out at Lord’s. Moeen Ali was spitting cobras. Liam Plunkett had his tail up. Then, there was Jimmy Anderson. India needed a partnership but Jadeja decided to make a statement. Out came the sword from the scabbard and the ‘Saurashtra Bradman’ tore into the English bowling in true Rajput style.

That was the start of a new love story. Sir Jadeja’s cult was now official.

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“Some time ago people didn’t consider me a Test bowler. This season is a good response to them”, said Jadeja after picking up his Man of the Series award.

In December 2012, he was ranked 89 in Tests as a bowler. December 2014, he was at 20. 2015 saw him at 23. Then, he took off. December 2016, he chased Ravi Ashwin. Now, he isn’t Ashwin’s plus one anymore.

Sir Jadeja has finally taken over.

The ‘Jadeja story’ should be widely celebrated. It should be because he is scripting our story. He’s fighting those scorns after failure and the disapproving nose twitches. He taking on the bullies for us and explaining what m*d**c**d really means. He’s teaching us a power packed lesson on improvement and self belief. The best part, he’s doing it with aplomb — he’s put his arm on auto mode, picked up his Excalibur and is swinging it.

He’s swinging it bloody hard.

Rahul Dravid – a flop mentor but the one that Team India needs

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Rahul Dravid: Flop as a mentor but still the man for Team India

2013 – Play-offs
2014 – Group stage
2015 – Play-offs
2016 – Group stage

That’s Rahul Dravid’s CV as a coach/mentor. Add a Champions League final loss and a defeat in the World Cup U-19 final to that.

The problem with Dravid, the mentor, is that his teams don’t win trophies. In fact, when the big match arrives, they do a South Africa, every time.

So, when he was appointed the mentor of Delhi Daredevils this season, you knew what to expect — a team brimming with young talent that will play exciting cricket but will fail to deliver on the most important day.

The major problem with the Dravid, the mentor is that he is fantastic at nurturing skillful young players but fails to create ‘badass’ superstars who will bully the opposition and deliver the trophy.

Look at the teams he has mentored. Rajasthan Royals was called the ‘nursery’ for Indian cricket. Except Ajinkya Rahane, they have done nothing for Team India. Three years back, Sanju Samson was supposed to be India’s heir-apparent to the ‘MS Dhoni’ throne but even now, he’s struggling to decipher his role in the side.

Take the Delhi Daredevils, Karun Nair and Shreyas Iyer were the men to look out for this season. While Nair offered flashes of brilliance, Iyer was canned after a string of bad performances.

Now, look at the Indian U-19 team. For the first time in the last 15 years, an Indian underage team has failed to deliver a big name. Every season whether India wins the U-19 World Cup or not, we hear at least one name ready to romp into the senior side. Yuvraj Singh, Md. Kaif, Virat Kohli, Ambati Rayudu, Sanju Samson, Unmukt Chand, Baba Aparajith, Kuldeep Yadav — the names buzzed after every youth World Cup.

This season, even after making it to the finals, not a single player has staked a claim for promotion. The U-19 captain has vanished, Sarfaraz Khan has been sidelined due to ‘weight’ issues and every other player, including Rishabh Pant, has looked half-cooked in the IPL.

Dravid is a bit like Arsene Wenger. Like the Arsenal manager, he has an eye for young talent, has revolutionary ideas, encourages an exciting brand of sports but somehow, cracks at the moment.

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Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan did things differently for Delhi Daredevils

Yet, as the BCCI head, Anurag Thakur should draw up three contracts, right now. Rahul Dravid as head coach. Paddy Upton as assistant coach and Zaheer Khan as the bowling coach.

He should because even after his failure to deliver a trophy, Dravid is the one for the Indian coaching job. He should because Team India and Rahul Dravid cancel each other’s deficiencies out.

With Team India, Dravid doesn’t need to worry about creating ‘badass’ superstars. In Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin, they have quite a few. They are skilled. They are bullies and they know how to win.

However, those superstars need a man to fix their problems. Remember the England series when Kohli couldn’t put bat to ball? Remember the Australian ODI series where he kept struggling with hard hands and wobbly front foot?

That’s when you need a Dravid. You need him to correct Shikhar Dhawan’s weakness against off-spinners. You need him to sort out Suresh Raina’s jammed feet against the short ball.

You need a Dravid because a Kohli can’t be fixed with a Bangar.

But most importantly, Team India needs Dravid to aid Virat Kohli, the captain. For all his batting exploits, Kohli is an ordinary captain and loses the plot too fast when under the hammer. He doesn’t have MSD’s poise and he’s no where near Ganguly’s tactical acumen.

That’s where Dravid needs to float the ideas just like he did with the Daredevils. Let’s be honest, Delhi didn’t have a champion side yet they caught the attention. They did things differently. Stupid at times, but different. They didn’t know their best eleven, hence went for the ‘horses for courses’ theory. It worked, it didn’t work but it was different.

In Team India, the nucleus is settled and solid. Even the fringe players have quality and in MS Dhoni, Dravid will find a strong ally in the limited overs format.

And in Test cricket, with Dravid with Kohli at the helm, India can replicate a Hesson-McCullum partnership. Not replicate but do better because Team India has players who can handle crunch moments way better than New Zealand.

This IPL has been boring but Kohli’s prolific form and Dravid’s toying around with the Daredevils might have given Indian cricket a new direction all together.

Remember what happened when Arsene Wenger led a team of skillful ‘badasses’?