'There's absolutely no issue between us' - Dravid
India's defeat in Durban triggered off the sort of hysterical over-reaction that has become a sad accompaniment to the country's cricket, but Rahul Dravid, who has faced much of the flak - along with Greg Chappell, the pet peeve - was philosophical when asked about the viciousness of some of the criticism. He insisted that his team were doing the best, and that he couldn't afford to expend energy thinking of things beyond his control.
"My team is not pretty aware of what is happening," he said. "We're very much focused on our cricket. It's a country of extreme reactions and extreme emotions. We're trying to play good cricket. We know we can play better and we're focused on trying to put up a better performance on tour. We're not aware or worried about what's happening back home.
"We're always feeling the pressure to win, but that does not change the situation. We need to win after that loss and we needed to win before that. We need to win all the time."
An official of the Indian board had gone on record to say that the player shouldn't be paid for the Durban match, and the parliament in New Delhi had resonated with voices calling for Chappell's head on a platter - with or without an apple in his mouth. "Can I be worried about something which I cannot control?" said Dravid with a shrug, when asked about the flames being fanned back home. "Somebody's going to make a comment and someone's going to react. We're all entitled to our opinions, and I'm just as entitled not to react."
He also rubbished suggestions made by an Indian TV channel that he and Chappell had a serious altercation prior to the Durban game. "I'm having to laugh at some of these things," he said. "There's absolutely no issue between us. It feels funny to even deny such things. Everyone is allowed to say anything they want. You don't have to prove it [these days]."
Asked whether the criticism would act as a spur to his players, Dravid reiterated that it shouldn't be the case. "I don't think that should be a motivating factor for anyone," he said. "It has never been for me. Every time you walk out to play for India, you should be proud enough to go out there and compete. You might not always do well and succeed."
There were some similarities to be drawn with 2003, when India followed up a disastrous 2-5 reverse in New Zealand with an embarrassing nine-wicket defeat against Australia in their first big game of the World Cup. Perhaps stung by the vitriol, the players put together an eight-match winning streak that only came to an end in the final. "I'd like to think that we fought back because we played good cricket and not because we were criticised," said Dravid. "You shouldn't need anything other than the fact that you're playing for your country to motivate you. I'm pretty confident that my boys have really worked hard, irrespective of the results. They've shown enthusiasm, energy and a lot of desire to get things better."
|"Probably with the exception of Sachin Tendulkar, everyone in this team has gone back to domestic cricket, and come back a better cricketer for it. And sometimes, they haven't come back" - Dravid|
He stressed that no board official had been in touch with him since the Durban loss, and added that criticism was par for the course no matter how accomplished a player you were. "I've withstood a lot of criticism as a batsman," he said. "I've been out of the team for a year. I was going through a period in 2001 and 2002 where I attracted a lot of criticism. So I've had my share. It's not always been smooth sailing as a player. It's no different [as captain]. It's not hard to accept as long as you know you are doing your best and trying to get the best out of your players.
"You're going to make mistakes, and things won't work out as planned. You have to accept that some amount of criticism is justified, and some of it is obviously over the top as well. There's only so much you can do as a player or a captain. You have to take some of the criticism with a pinch of salt."
And with the axe being sharpened for the likes of Suresh Raina, Dravid said that it was hard to draw a line when it came to success and failure. "If you fail consistently at this level, then the decision will have to be taken by the selectors," he said. "Some will be better off going back to domestic cricket.
"Some of these guys have been through that. It happens constantly. You can't put a number to it, but there does come a time you have to reassess and look at your game. Probably with the exception of Sachin Tendulkar, everyone in this team has gone back to domestic cricket, and come back a better cricketer for it. And sometimes, they haven't come back."
If Andrew Flintoff and friends think that they're having a hard time of it in Brisbane, they have no idea. Along with English football and South African rugby, Indian cricket remains sport's biggest soap opera, with fickle fans and inflated expectations making for an incendiary cocktail that even Molotov couldn't have thought up.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo