A legacy that lost its way
There are two ways to view this decision. An empathetic stance would consider his position, his pressures and the system he needs to work with. In early April he was appointed captain till the end of the England tour. By the end of three series nothing much had changed with the system supporting him.
At the review committee meeting after the World Cup debacle, he had put forward a few demands. A couple of them - seeking specialist bowling and fielding coaches - were met. But the team continues to carry administrative managers who vary from plain incompetent to Machiavellian, and there is no trace yet of a media manager. The process of appointing a new coach has ranged from farcical to indifferent. Dravid has not been in sync with some of the selectors' choices, and he's probably realised, as his official reason suggests, that his batting is being affected after all.
During the England tour he spoke about the lack of proportion among Indian fans. His every move is dissected threadbare and, for the first time in his career, he is being roasted for an aspect of his game other than his batting. His frustrations were apparent during the England tour: he lambasted a television reporter for running a speculative story and, at Old Trafford, left the post-match press conference in a huff after being constantly interrupted.
Yet the move can also be seen as ill-timed and disappointing. Some may even call it a tad selfish. India are currently in a period of transition and need some solidity at the top and Dravid was providing a calming influence. Neither Mahendra Singh Dhoni nor Yuvraj Singh - the captain and deputy for the ICC World Twenty20 - are ready to lead the Test side and going back to Sachin Tendulkar or Sourav Ganguly would set the team back. Had Dravid continued till the end of the Australian tour, India would have the time to groom a younger successor.
More interestingly, for the first time in a while, the England tour saw a much happier Indian dressing room. The seniors appeared to be chipping in with valuable advice and Dravid, who'd long missed a vice-captain of the sort that he was to Sourav Ganguly, had Ganguly, Tendulkar and Anil Kumble to fall back upon. Did Dravid's personal batting form take precedence over the team's needs? Wasn't he a good enough batsman to overcome these pressures? (Incidentally his one-day average jumps by two points when he leads). Somewhere it all doesn't add up.
|Sadly he runs the risk of being remembered as a batsman who always stood up to a challenge and a captain who chose the wrong time to back away|
"Our cricketing culture has to change to some extent," he said in an interview to Michael Atherton in the Sunday Telegraph and it's no secret he strongly believed good systems make successful teams. As Atherton himself wrote in that piece: "The removal of a visionary like [Greg] Chappell has probably ended whatever chance Dravid has of making a revolutionary impact on Indian cricket as captain."
Somewhere along the line, especially after Chappell's departure, Dravid probably realised he couldn't achieve what he set out to do. It is also possible - though this is admittedly a far-fetched theory - he feared going the Ganguly way: holding his place by virtue of being a captain alone. His legacy as captain was dotted with a few question marks and he perhaps decided to give his batting his all. He has talked about the focus his batting needs - "I try to slow things down a couple of days before the game" - and would have had to change his method while leading the side.
In an ideal situation Dravid would have wanted to be remembered as an Indian captain who ushered in a new age. He would have also wanted to end his career as the country's greatest batsman. He is astute enough to see that the first dream is now a mirage and focussing wholeheartedly on the second makes the most sense. It may be a decision that's puzzling to most but Dravid, who's normally two moves ahead of the rest, must know exactly what he's doing. Sadly he runs the risk of being remembered as a batsman who always stood up to a challenge and a captain who chose the wrong time to back away.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor of Cricinfo