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Rahul Dravid the biggest winner
- ICC AWARDS FUNCTION - Flintoff prevents Indian 'sweep'; Ponting made captain of Test and ODI Teams of the Year

London: It wasn't many hours before heading for the utterly romantic Alexandra Palace, on Tuesday, that Rahul Dravid reminded 'you can't always be the winner...' By late evening, though, the Team India vice-captain himself emerged the biggest winner at the inaugural International Cricket Council (ICC) awards.

Dravid didn't just convincingly bag the Test Player of the Year title, but claimed the envy-triggering Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for Player of the Year too. Earlier, the first award (to a cricketer) went to Irfan Pathan, adjudged the Emerging Player of the Year.

Indeed, it was left to England allrounder Andrew Flintoff to prevent an Indian sweep ' he bagged the ODI Player of the Year, beating Sachin Tendulkar who, by the way, missed the function owing to an appointment with a leading radiologist.

The selection panel was headed by the venerable Richie Benaud, with Barry Richards, Sunil Gavaskar, Michael Holding and Ian Botham being the other selectors. The Voting Academy, of course, was much bigger and included captains of all ten Test-playing nations.

The judging period for cricket's equivalent of the Oscars was from August 1, 2003, till July 31, 2004.

While the numero uno team in both versions, Australia, didn't pick up a single individual award ' Simon Taufel, however, was adjudged Umpire of the Year ' it had the satisfaction of contributing five players to the Test Team of the Year and three to the ODI Team of the Year. And, yes, Ricky Ponting was made captain of both.

Dravid, whose baggage has increased by five kgs thanks to the Swarovski trophies, was particularly overwhelmed on getting the No. 1 award. 'It's unbelievable... Being judged by legends and, then, beating such outstanding contemporaries...' he kept repeating.

Asked to pick the one performance he rated higher than the rest, Dravid promptly chose his 233 in the first innings of last December's Adelaide Test, an epic which took India to a fantastic four-wicket victory.

'That will always be special... Getting a double hundred against the best team and playing a significant role in our win...' he pointed out, flashing a billion-watt smile that matched wife Vijeta's when the one and only Clive Lloyd announced his name as the Player of the Year winner.

The smile didn't leave Dravid's face on the morning-after as well.

Talking to The Telegraph at the Victoria Park Plaza, before leaving for Southampton, he said: 'Sure feels great... Yeah, I did wake up feeling a little different... Am I now going to be under more pressure' No... I try to maintain the standards I set... Try to keep raising the bar...

'Clearly, my work ethic will not change and the biggest challenge is still going to revolve around consistency... Did I get a chance to celebrate quietly' No... It got too late but, yes, something needs to be done (with Vijeta)... Perhaps, I should treat my teammates as well...'

Dravid added: 'Actually, I've been relaxed this past year and that, I'm sure, has helped improve my game... Given the big moment this is for Indian cricket, I would like to dedicate my awards to the millions who swear by cricket and Team India... Really, it's for them.'

Irfan, eclipsed by Dravid, thanked his parents (Mohammed Khan-Sameen Bano) and teammates for helping him 'grow' after having realised his 'dream' of playing for India.

Speaking exclusively, before departing for Southampton, he dedicated his award to his late coach Bashir Sheikh and his parents. 'Bashir saheb nahin hai but, today, I'm so grateful to him,' Irfan remarked emotionally.

While Benaud felt V.V.S. Laxman and Muttiah Muralidharan, for example, were 'unlucky' to have missed out on the team selections, Ponting maintained he 'wouldn't change' the XIs given to him. 'It will be an honour to lead such teams... No, I wouldn't miss anybody,' is how he put it.

Lara, who confessed he wasn't sure of making the ODI XI, summed up the sentiment which seemed to have enveloped the 131-year-old venue when he spoke of not being disappointed at not getting an individual award. 'It's been a wonderful celebration of cricket and the deserving have got rewarded. That's the bottomline.'

Very true that. Incidentally, among others, Pakistan drew a blank.

Footnote: New Zealand received the Spirit of Cricket award for having 'best exemplified' the spirit bit in the period under review.

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