Exceptional times for Rajasthan Royals

Speak to any Royals player - seniors such as Rahul Dravid and Shane Watson, or newcomers such as Menaria and Samson - and they will gush about the team culture.

Updated: September 23, 2013 15:20 IST
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"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." - Martin Luther King Jr.

Vikramjeet Malik, Sanju Samson, Rahul Shukla, Ashok Menaria and Stuart Binny.

Between them, these Rajasthan Royals players bowled ten overs for returns of 4 for 52, took three catches and effected a run out, and then scored 81 runs from 61 balls in the opening match of the Champions League T20 against Mumbai Indians on Saturday night.

At least on the night, they came to embody exactly what the Royals stood for - a feeling intensified by the fact that these five cricketers have never represented India.

I hold no brief for the Royals, but it's a team that appealed to me early on in the IPL story. Due to cash constraints in the main, but also partly because of a deliberate plan to look beyond the top layer of domestic talent, the Royals have always given us new faces, many of whom have moved up the ranks as a result of the exposure. They have always been the underdogs, the team without the glitter. They have been a welterweight boxer having a go at a cruiserweight slugger - snapping at the heels and, often, landing more than one sucker punch.

Speak to any Royals player - seniors such as Rahul Dravid and Shane Watson, or newcomers such as Menaria and Samson - and they will gush about the team culture, the freedom given to rookies to play their way, the fact that failures are not punished with ostracism. Of course, it's a bit rich to talk about team culture in a set-up from which two cricketers were recently banned for life and some others were handed shorter bans. One other, Ajit Chandila, looks set to spend the rest of his life away from the playing fields too. What team culture then?

When the Royals, towards the latter bit of IPL VI, had three of their cricketers arrested and a dark cloud hanging over them in general, it must have been difficult to go out there and play. They did though, but when they were finally knocked out, Dravid's words reflected the relief he felt. "I am happy to have got over it," he said. "When we go back to our houses, the whole thing is going to take some time to get used to."

Four months have passed since then. Dravid claims that the team has "put it all behind" and there's no "hangover of the last season" of the IPL. Still, even now, each time Dravid or anyone else from the team goes out to attend a media conference, the questions are posed. It isn't entirely up to them to put it all behind.

But it is where the Royals stand, collectively and as individuals, in these times of challenge and controversy that defines them. That they haven't given up is a comment on their resilience and, hang me for this, on their integrity as cricketers. All the guys who were up to no good have been removed - one hopes. This lot, led by a brave and resolute man who has refused to desert his post, deserves its time under the sun, or the floodlights as the case might be.

If you're a cynic, you'll say they are all in it only for the money. Perhaps. That said, is pride not a valid motivator?

That's about the character shown by the boys, what about their ability? When it comes to corrupt cricketers, the use of the word tragedy might be wrong, but the loss of personnel to the team is a blow however it comes about.

Before Manchester United lost ten players (eight died and two were incapable of playing again) in the Munich Air Disaster in February 1958, they were tipped to win the treble. They couldn't, obviously. But 41 years later, they did eventually become the first English club to achieve the treble of wins. Forty-one years! That's how long it took to replicate the same standards, especially if the standards are lofty.

Now think about the Indian cricket team circa 2000. There was the loss of personnel. There was the loss of face. A question mark hung over the head of every individual in the team. To deal with it couldn't have been easy.

The Indian team managed the trick quickly enough because it decided to overhaul itself. Soon, it became even better than it was before 2000, riding on the shoulders of some of the best players, indeed some of the best men, Indian cricket has ever had - together at that.

The Royals haven't done that, yet. What they have done is showcase the sort of resilience that allowed a second-string United to beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 in the team's first match after Munich. United had immense public sympathy helping them; the Royals shouldn't expect much of that either. And for someone like Dravid, it would have been so easy to walk away, to just tell the management that he wasn't up to it. But that's not the sort of man Dravid is.

Happily for him, the team's winter is over, and the new spring is about Malik, Samson, Shukla, Menaria, Binny and others like them. As for Dravid, well, he thinks it's all just "exceptional" right now.

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