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Old dogs teach us a few new tricks
No Country for Old Men - the signpost was firmly rooted into the landscape of the Indian Premier League when it all started four years back. The first one to challenge the theory and virtually throw it out of the window was Shane Warne. The maverick genius from Oz proved that age is just a number when it came to the IPL and then there were a few others who followed suit. Anil Kumble proved he is as good as anybody else in this format after his international retirement and now the baton has passed over to a couple of grand old men of Indian cricket - Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid.
Both are touching 40, both have bid adieu to international cricket, but when it comes to the IPL the competitive juices keep flowing. Ganguly is still the feisty, street-smart, authoritative leader that he used to be over the years while Dravid remains the quiet, unassuming and matter-of-fact operator who took Indian cricket to unbelievable heights during the first decade of 2000s.
But it's not just about their approach to captaincy that makes Dravid and Ganguly work in this slam-bang summer madness. The IPL believes in brands and these two men are still among the most saleable products in the Indian cricket market.
Former India wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta, who is now in charge of cricket operations with Team Pune, explains the importance of Ganguly in the team. "He is like an elder statesman in the team. And it's not just about the runs he scores on the field. It's more about about the Package Dada that makes him click even to this day, " Dasgupta, who has played under Ganguly both for Bengal and India, says.
While Pune needed a character like Ganguly to bring them out of the doldrums following Yuvraj's cancer setback, Rajasthan, too, were desperately looking for a man who could take them forward after Warne.
Warne and Dravid are like chalk and cheese but it didn't matter for the Rajasthan bosses. Dravid was all they had to guide a bunch of youngsters and the man, who has nothing more to prove to anybody, took up the challenge.
"He doesn't show his aggression on the field, but don't forget he is an extremely competitive cricketer who knows how to get the best out of his players on the field. . . And it's a completely wrong notion that he is not a good captain, " former Indian opener Aakash Chopra, who has been following the IPL very keenly as a commentator for the official broadcasters, says.
"Under Dravid, India won in the West Indies after 36 years and then they went on to beat England in England. . . Don't write him off as a captain because of one World Cup failure (West Indies, 2007). He could have stayed on as the Indian captain if he had chosen to, but such is the nature of the man that he chose to quit after winning the series in England. You don't get people like that in a hurry and his teammates appreciate this quality of his. He is a leader by example, " points out Chopra.
Chopra is right. Both Ganguly and Dravid lead by example, just that their modus operandi is a little different. While Dravid is somebody who believes in playing by the book, Ganguly is in the Warne mould. He will take charge of everything - from team building to chalking out tactics with the owners to extract the best deal out of BCCI - and that works for him.
Every player in the current Pune team who has caught the imagination in the initial stages of this edition of the IPL with gritty performances, has been handpicked by Ganguly. Be it a veteran like Ashish Nehra, a controversial competitor like Marlon Samuels or a fiery spearhead like Ashoke Dinda - they are all Ganguly's choices.
Dinda, who is regarded by his captain as the best paceman in India right now, explains how crucial the man is, not just for Pune but also for his own future and many other young players who wait for the IPL to be the launching pad.
"If I tell the captain 'I want this field', he should have the confidence in me. Luckily I have known Sourav from my younger days. He has more faith in my talent than I do. From the field he sets I know what I have to bowl, and from my field he knows what I am going to bowl, " Dinda says, referring to a rapport with Ganguly that has worked very well.
The paceman speaks of how Ganguly keeps working with the juniors, trying to make them understand how to succeed at this level. "Sourav keeps saying, 'Think what the batsman wants to do'. He can read a batsman quickly. I would need five or six balls to do the same, but he would know from just one ball the batsman's weakness and immediately changes the field, " explains Dinda.
If Dinda is the ace up Sourav's sleeve, it is Ajinkya Rahane for Dravid. Many believe that Rahane has the temperament and the class to take over the No. 3 slot in the Indian Test team. The IPL stint with Rajasthan has become the perfect platform for the Mumbai youngster. Opening with his idol, Rahane now has the Orange Cup and he acknowledges Dravid's influence.
"Along with Sachin, Rahul Dravid is my role model, " says the youngster. "I am lucky to have shared the dressing room with them. Rahul's commitment and dedication towards the game is amazing. He tells me to be positive and keep the things simple and he has his quiet way about things which works wonders, " he adds.
Kevon Cooper, on the other hand, is a complete unknown quantity who has taken the IPL by storm. In his earlier days as India captain, Dravid would probably have waited for a while before throwing the Trinidadian into the deep end, but he understands the demands of a format like this. Cooper, too, is all respect for his captain, despite their completely different approaches to life and cricket.
"To be in the team bus with Dravid is a dream-cometrue for me, " says the gangly 23-year-old. "He has scored so many Test hundreds, he's a very cool customer... He's down to earth and doesn't show any emotion. He gives us advice and always speaks to us softly. We have a lot of respect for him in the camp, " Cooper says about the first few days he had spent with Dravid.
This is how times change. In the typical Rahul Dravid mould, it was not all hunky dory. During his first year as an IPL captain - Team Bangalore in 2008 - Dravid wasn't exactly a runaway success. He, at times, found it difficult to understand the mindset of these youngsters who were out to enjoy themselves in these two months of masala cricket. At one point his dour approach and ineptitude at tackling this instant format, invited the ire of team owner Vijay Mallya, prompting him to wonder whether he had picked a Test side and not a T20 one.
"That is the transformation Rahul has undergone over the last four years, " says Chopra. "He has understood what IPL is and that every player in the world won't be as intense about the game as he is. . . And that's working very well for him. "
Cooper adds: "Before the tournament, Rahul told me to simply enjoy my debut season. His words 'We believe in you' motivated me. He said the team will back me for they know what I am capable of. "
So far, so good but if we put captaincy and brand value issues on the back burner, do Dravid and Ganguly have the fitness to survive 55 days of T20 cricket? The jury feels they are. "I was Bengal's chairman of selectors for this season and I have seen the amount of work he put in just to be ready for IPL. Dada wouldn't have been playing if he knew he wouldn't be successful, " Dasgupta says.
Dravid, on the other hand, was playing the best fast bowlers in the world till January and according to Chopra, doing reasonably well in the IPL is child's play for him. "These are fantastic cricketers we are talking about. They have played everything and adaptability comes naturally to them. Dravid will never be the slam-bang T20 opener, but he perfectly knows what his job is and I believe this Jaipur team will prosper around the fantastic skills of this legend. "
The cricket world, too, is waiting for these two greats to bid adieu after showing glimpses of those magnificent afternoons when they were ruling Indian cricket.
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