Things Fall in Place - Rahuls days as a wicket-keeper seemed to..

Things Fall in Place

- By Vedam Jaishankar

Rahul's days as a wicket-keeper seemed to be over when he stepped out of school cricket and into college. He was not a regular wicket-keeper for college, club or even the State juniors and therefore seemed to have reached a dead end as far as that aspect of the game was concerned. But just as one door was being shut in his face, another was slowly opening up.

school cricket
Man of the Ahmedabad Test
against New Zealand, 2003-04

It started innocuously enough. Rahul, at 16, told the selectors he was no longer interested in keeping wickets. This led to him not keeping wickets in the nets either. Before this typical nets for Rahul meant some physical training, fielding practice with him as wicket-keeper collecting the throws from the fielders, batting at the nets and a lot of wicket-keeping. This regimen ensured that he stayed involved in the nets most of the time -- when he was not batting he was keeping wickets and vice versa.

But once he gave up wicket-keeping, Rahul had plenty of time in his hands. ``I hated the system of finishing batting and then hanging around in the nets. I was very uncomfortable with it. I simply had to do something or the other. So I did what seemed very natural - finished batting, picked up a ball and started bowling right through the nets session,'' said Rahul.

Rahul reasoned that he had neither the physique nor the rhythm to be a fast bowler. So he experimented with off spin. The best part of this is he started doing it pretty effectively. This opened an entire new range of options for him and his team.
He enjoyed bowling and soon started to bowl for Karnataka at the Under-17 and Under-19 levels. It began with a few overs, and soon he was turning his arm over pretty regularly. Of course, with all the runs that he was scoring, he was still being considered as only a batsman, but his off spin bowling was opening a few avenues.

It came to the fore when a young New Zealand team toured India. The Indians fielded an Under-19 outfit but the Kiwis did not restrict themselves to any age group and had a lot of older boys in the team. This enabled them to come up with an excellent New Zealand team which provided very good competition on the field. But off it they constantly cribbed about India and the facilities provided at many of the centres.

The visitors had Stephen Fleming, Dion Nash, Mathew Hart, his brother Robbie Hart, Jeff Wilson - who went on to become an All Black star - and a whole lot of others. They played a lot of good cricket on the tour. They lost one Test by a mere 12 runs and went down in the one-dayers by a 2-1 margin.

Rahul, who led the India Under-19 team in that series, did well with the bat. But it was as an off spinner that he sprung a surprise. He bowled a few overs in the second Test and then followed it up with some superb spells in the three One-dayers. His bowling analyses in the three matches speak for themselves: 10 -0-28-3; 10-1-27-1; 10-0-34-1.

Rahul was not a big spinner of the ball, but was spot on target. He brought variations in flight, trajectory and pace into play and was by all the means a pretty effective bowler. Unfortunately though, Karnataka, for whom he played in the Ranji Trophy, had far too many frontline bowlers -- Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, David Johnson, Dodda Ganesh, Mansoor Ali Khan, Raghuram Bhat, Anil Kumble, Sunil Joshi, K Jeshwanth and R Ananth -- right from the time Rahul came into the side. Of course all of them did not play together. However, any four in any combination was still a pretty potent bowling attack and by the time they were through most sides were dismissed. Rahul, therefore had very few opportunities in bowling at the first class level. And unless a bowler sends down at least 500 overs in all forms of the game each season, he would not have sufficiently honed his skill.

It is possible that Rahul might have become a top all-rounder if he had turned out for some other state where his bowling prowess would have been allowed to develop. But playing for Karnataka that aspect of his game was never allowed to flower.

Interestingly, Rahul had the temperament to be a good bowler. Rajesh Kamath, former State player and assistant coach at the National Cricket Academy, revealed how Rahul had bowled at the death in a league encounter between HAL and Syndicate Bank. Those days, when still in college, Rahul turned out as a guest player for HAL in the Banks and Industries League. Syndicate Bank had a number of first class players in Sudhakar Rao, AV Jayaprakash, Ramesh Rao, Rajesh Kamath, Shavir Tarapore and Sanath Kumar.

In Kamath's words, ``the scores were tied. HAL had made 185 and we were 185 for six when Rahul started the last over. Okay, we took it easy. But suddenly in one over, without adding a run, we lost all the remaining four wickets. Two batsmen were run out and two others got out to Rahul and the pressure. Right through that over Rahul kept his cool and bowled on the spot.''

Extracted from Rahul Dravid A Biography by Vedam Jaishankar.