First steps towards stardom - Perhaps if there had been a lot of

First steps towards stardom

- By Vedam Jaishankar

Perhaps if there had been a lot of international cricket for juniors those days, then Rahul Dravid might have got an opportunity to develop as a bowler.

Rahul movesh
A young man with a
dream....Rahul moves towards
his maiden Test hundred against
South Africa at Johannesburg,

Instead he played just that one series against New Zealand as an Under-19 cricketer. "These days, youngsters have so many opportunities at the Under-15 and Under-19 level. There's the Asia Cup, World Cup and also reciprocal tours. We had nothing of this sort. The only international Under-19 cricket I played was when I was virtually a few months short of my 19th birthday,'' he said.

That India Under-19 team had a number of promising youngsters. Tamil Nadu's S Sharath, for one, scored tons of runs in all levels of the game, yet was never given a chance to represent India at the highest level. He simply could not get past his own state selectors. Then there was Tanveer Jabbar, another fine player; Akash Malhotra, Amit Pathak, Gautam Vadera, Abhijit Kale, Gautam Dutta, Suresh Kumar, et al. Yet from that India Under-19 squad only Rahul went on to play Test cricket.

"I think if there had been more Under-19 tours a few from that crop would have played Tests,'' offered Rahul. "Many of them were good but lacked opportunities to further develop their skills.''

Rahul's stint with India A was just as satisfying for him. He played a lot more cricket at this level, with the toughest one being against England A in India. England had a very good mix of players who had already made it to the international level and some extremely promising ones. All had played first class cricket and were therefore quite seasoned compared to the India A players.

Leading the pack of experienced players was Mark Ramprakash, skipper Allan Wells and Ian Salibury. They also had a number of fine players in Michael Vaughan, Nick Knight, Damien Cork and Richard Stemp. Besides, Min Patel who was to grow close to Rahul when the latter spent a season with Kent, was also a member of the team.

The Indian side had some excellent youngsters in Rahul, Saurav Ganguly, Vikram Rathore, Vijay Yadav, Rajesh Chauhan, Sairaj Bahutule, Paras Mhambrey, Abey Kuruvilla and Amol Majumdar. The captain was former Test batsman Praveen Amre.

It was a good series between a strong side and a talented, but young team. England, riding on the strength of their batting, won the `Tests' 3-0 and the one-dayers 2-1. Rahul himself had a good series, notching up four half-centuries. He made a 47 in one innings and on another occasion, at the Eden Garden, he was batting on 25 when his partner Saurav Ganguly ran him out.

Rahul had played the ball to deep mid-on and came down the track for what would have been a simple single. But Ganguly, even as the ball went past him, turned his back on Rahul. Both were in the same crease and with Ganguly refusing to budge Rahul tried to unsuccessfully scamper back to the striker's end. It was only one more of the run outs involving Ganguly.

Just before this series, Rahul had gone with the India A team to Dhaka for the Saarc cricket tournament. The Indian team got the better of all the other Saarc cricket-playing nations, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It was a particularly low scoring tournament on pitches that decidedly favoured bowlers. The highest total before the final was Bangladesh's 172 in their one-run win over India. Pakistan, for instance, was shot out for 120 in 47 overs by India. In another match, India defended a low total of 182 against a Sri Lankan batting line-up that had Marvan Attapattu, Hathurasinghe, Samarasekara, Russel Arnold, Indika de Saram and Upal Chandana and won by 44 runs!

The Indian team had Rathore, J Arun Kumar, Amre, Ganguly, Atul Bedade in the top order. But it was Rahul's batsmanship with scores of 44, 16, 33 and 37 that clinched the issue for India. On pitches that the others in the side struggled, Rahul put his head down and grafted for these small but crucial scores to pilot India to a triumph.

His performance in that low-scoring series proved that he was the man of the hour when it came to batting in crunch situations. And so it has been right through his career.

At that time, the national selectors took note of Rahul's performance in the two India A tournaments, in Dhaka and at home against England A. The following year, even as Rahul failed to make the Indian World Cup team, the selectors chose him for the India A's challenge in the Interface Cup in Sharjah.

Once again Rahul underscored his potential with some sparkling batting and cool temperament. His unbeaten 69 which helped India squeeze out a thrilling penultimate ball win over Pakistan was the high point of the series. Rahul with scores of 40, 69 n.o, 63 and 45 n.o. bagged the man of the series award. India beat traditional rivals Pakistan by seven wickets in the final to make it doubly sweet for Rahul.

Things, thus, were falling in place for Rahul. He had made tons of runs at the Ranji Trophy and Duleep Trophy levels, was seen as a success at the India A level and had even smashed an unbeaten 145 for Board President's XI against the visiting New Zealand team. It just required the selectors to see that this 22 year-old was indeed the batsman they were looking for to shore up the national Test line-up.

Extracted from Rahul Dravid A Biography by Vedam Jaishankar.