LEADING LIGHTS: Rahul Dravid and Sourav GangulySourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid are standing in the opulent lobby of the Taj Samudra in Colombo listening to talk of the wild world of Indian cricket. The people around them are discussing the board elections in September and when the familiar name of,LEADING LIGHTS: Rahul Dravid and Sourav GangulySourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid are standing in the opulent lobby of the Taj Samudra in Colombo listening to talk of the wild world of Indian cricket. The people around them are discussing the board elections in September and when the familiar name of a prospective office-bearer is named, a sly smile crosses Ganguly’s face.”Jam, heard that? If that happens, pack your bags.” Dravid, who must have inarguably the most moronic nickname in world cricket, replies, “Why only me? You pack your bags too. Bye-bye.” Then the captain of the Indian cricket team and his vice-captain giggle at their own private joke like a pair of schoolboys.It was not merely a nicely staged bit of image-building during what’s been an endless examination of the strength and cohesiveness of the Indian team’s current decision-making unit. This after all is the tour during which Ganguly felt it necessary to have Dravid by his side to tell the travelling press pack that all was well between them, despite reports to the contrary coming from India.A few days later former board president Raj Singh Dungarpur walks up to Dravid in Kandy and tells him, within earshot of a junior teammate, to “be ready” to be captain. A coup was being not-so-subtly planned but Dungarpur got his target wrong. The captain and his deputy have formed a, partnership as unlikely as that of a trapeze artist and a mathematician.But critically, it is as strong as Rodgers & Hammerstein or (since the adventures of their team often resemble an improbable Hindi film) at least Salim-Javed. There’s no monster hit yet but it’s there somewhere in the destinies of these two cricketers whose careers have run on parallel but are also inextricably intertwined tracks. With their rapid rise to seniority in a very raw Indian side, . the Dravid-Ganguly association has grown deeper.advertisementFIGHTING BACK: A happy Indian team after beating Sri Lanka in the Kandy TestThink back to the dying moments of the home series against Australia. Harbhajan Singh hits the winning runs, Ganguly jumps off his chair in joy and then first thing, looks for his deputy and leaps into his arms.In Kandy, Dravid tells the hounded and hopelessly out-of-form Ganguly again and again, “You’re always one afternoon away from greatness.” It becomes Ganguly’s life-raft, his mantra and when the time comes to stem the storm, he has Dravid at the other end. Chasing 264 to square the series, even as the merchants of doom predict surrender, Dravid scores 75 and the Bengal left-hander his first fifty in 14 innings.They fashion another turnaround victory and the beleaguered Ganguly finds himself in the company of the disdainful Pataudi and Bishen Bedi as the only Indian captain to win three Tests away from home. If in another couple of seasons, should Ganguly and Dravid look back at Sri Lanka 2001, they may well discover that this was the tour where they came of age as leaders of what is turning out to be a brave new team.Despite the greatest respect both men have for him, the shadow of Sachin Tendulkar has been a substantial one. It has both dominated and shielded them. With Tendulkar absent due to injury, the shadow was gone and so was the shelter.They could have been blinded by the sudden light but have not. They could have let respect atrophy into over-reliance but chose another path instead. What they did was pass the old tea-bag test. People, it’s said, are like tea bags – you don’t know how strong they are until you put them in hot water.In Sri Lanka, things were boiling. The first Test was gone inside four days and that was the time all the bad old Indian habits could have resurfaced. First to go was harmony, rapidly followed by self-belief and the seepage of that old toxin, total indifference.The team even had the excuse: in the Test series they were not only without Tendulkar but the side’s most experienced bowlers, Srinath and Kumble, and two of their most successful players of this year, V.V.S. Laxman and Ashish Nehra. Ganguly was asking travelling journalists whether they had brought their whites and manager Anand Mate, well into his fifties, was heading for the hotel gym every day.”They infused in me the kind of confidence that makes a world of difference.” Zaheer Khan”The team sees the two of them as one. It has helped bind the team.” V. Prasad”Without Sachin, we felt Dravid and Ganguly would be under pressure.” S. JayasuriyaUp 1-0, the Sri Lankans admitted that they thought they had knocked most of the fight out of India. “You would think that without Tendulkar, you had a good chance, especially after going 1-0 up and that it would put a little bit more pressure on Ganguly and Dravid,” captain Sanath Jayasuriya told INDIA TODAY. For the Indians, it is the fight back rather than the final outcome of the Test series that is more important. It has proved at least a few things: that the team has leaders who are not afraid of leading.advertisement”I don’t think you know what you can do unless the responsibility actually lands on you,” says Dravid. It has crash-landed and Ganguly and Dravid, backed by coach John Wright, have become better at picking up the pieces and assembling a coherent whole.When one-Test veteran Mohammed Kaif batted on the grassy practicewickets in Galle in a blaze of flashy shotmaking, Dravid was quick to go over to the nets and advise him that playing on seaming tracks meantbeing watchful and choosy about which ball to hit.Deep in his ownbatting gloom, Ganguly took aside pace-man Zaheer Khan and, with Dravid, sat him down before the second Test. Khan who had been caned byJayasuriya in the first Test told INDIA TODAY, “They showed the kind ofconfidence that makes a world of difference to a player just startingout. They told me that I had great ability and that no one could play me if I was doing things right. That wickets were mine to take.”Khan andVenkatesh Prasad opened the doors for the Indian win in Kandy with aburst on the third morning that wrecked the Lankans.Prasad, the only member in the side other than Ganguly and Dravid to haveplayed more than 15 Tests, is amazed and delighted at how two cricketers he has bowled to as teenagers have become the pivot around which thenational team now moves.”They have handled pressure like pros. Notpanicked and played according to the situation,” he says. “The rest ofus see them as one. We see them as being together at the top of the team and speaking in one voice. It has helped bind us.”These may seem likeminuscule things but in the high-anxiety, close-circuit fishbowl of theIndian dressing room, it is a very big signal. “We trust each other,”says Ganguly. “We know we’re not going to take each other for a ride.For a captain and vice-captain to share that understanding is huge.”They share a rapport because they share a common history. They were not the best of buddies in their early days though in the late 1980s they have often travelled together on tour as part of a crop of Indian juniors meant for bigger things.Dravid remembers being struck by Ganguly’s ability. “It was a real surprise to me that he didn’t make it earlier than he did.” Ganguly thinks the Karnataka right-hander has remained as single-minded as he was at 16.advertisement”Rahul is the same guy I first ran into in our junior years – poised, intense and very, very serious. But he has grown up into a topclass player. He is a fighter.” Sourav Ganguly”Sourav is tough, willing to listen and to learn. The best part about our elationship is we can agree to disagree.” Rahul Dravid During the 1996 England tour neither was supposed to play but first Navjot Singh Sidhu flew home after a spat with captain Azharuddin and then Sanjay Manjrekar got injured, putting the two debutants into the Lord’s Test. One got a century, the other fell five runs short.Since then they have had their best days together: whether it be an unforgettable Test debut or a world-record partnership against Sri Lanka at Taunton in the 1999 World Cup.No two batsmen have made more runs together than the 318 Ganguly and Dravid put up on what they still think of as their one perfect day. When they played for different English counties in the 2000 season – Dravid for Kent and Ganguly for Lancashire – they were on the phone and in each other’s homes whenever their schedule permitted.Now thrown together as captain and lieutenant, each thinks he knows how the other’s mind works and joint purpose has overridden individual ambition. “We both know how important it is to be part of a winning team, and how you can only do that by having everyone contribute,” says Ganguly. “You can’t do anything about injuries like the ones we’ve had,” Dravid reasons, “but how you respond is important.”Dark humour off the field during bad days dries up completely during the business on it. Their partnerships may have passages of sparkling cover drives but it is grim going. “I may crack a joke or two once in a while,” Ganguly laughs, “but Rahul doesn’t laugh at all. He’s very serious.” In Kandy, Ganguly was trying to sort out the wreckage of his batting and Dravid to haul the team home. “Keep concentrating,” they told each other. “Keep going.”They are as they seem: Dravid the elder by seven months, more prone to introspection; Ganguly remarkably resilient to criticism despite being sensitive to it and receiving it in truckloads. Dravid always conscious of what it means to be a senior, first into the team bus, trying to top the fitness charts; Ganguly being almost lord of the manor in that department, but able somehow to seize the most nervous newcomer and fire him with belief. One man reads anything he can lay his hands on, the other channel surfs as a hobby. Currently Ganguly is 30 pages into a book called The Tigers of Lanka given to him by his vice-captain. It’s about Sri Lankan politics, not its cricket team. They agree on many things – including the choice of Ajit Agarkar as a genuine prospect for India – and disagree about several. They don’t share too many common friends or indeed a work philosophy but can share ideas on the cricket field. Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid may not take similar routes to self-discovery – and the argument over which road is the better one will never end. But as of now they believe in a common destination.