I know, I know. There has been a flurry of blog posts, articles and odes singing high praise of Rahul Dravid and his cricketing ability. But, I had to get my word in and not least of all because he happens to be one of my favourite sportsmen.
If there is one statistic that you should take away from all that is written about him, it is this – there has been only one match, remember only one, of the thirty-one that he’s scored a century in that India have lost (3.2% loss rate). So, that is a remarkable statistic because the next guy on the list has more than double that number at 7.5%. But, statistics alone don’t speak the story.
Rahul Dravid is a true colossus of the game because he embodies the least glamorous aspect of sport – the struggle. Ever since I understood test cricket, it has been a favourite sport precisely for this reason. Because, test cricket is probably the only game of sport that has you waiting five days to get a result, and sometimes even that is not assured. It is a game of constant yet slow strife, where fortunes change not over a searing ace or a brilliant substitution, but over three hours of probing line-and-length bowling. Or, even longer. So, what this sport demands of those who seek to participate in it is ridiculously large reserves of zen-like concentration and infinite patience. If you are a bowler, you must be resigned to bowl six balls after six of good deliveries for six hours on a flat track, in the vain hope of getting a wicket. On the other hand, if you are a batsman on a dicey track, you are required to resist temptation like it’s no one’s business.
One is after all influenced by what one sees and I am probably less fortunate to have not witnessed Tendulkar’s century in bouncy Perth or a Gavaskar’s century on a wearing Chinnaswamy track but I have been fortunate to have seen some of the best innings by two batsmen I greatly admire – Brian Lara and Rahul Dravid. First, Lara. Lara could just have been the unmatchable, unenviable and unholy combination of three great batting talents – Tendulkar, Ponting and S.Waugh. I say ‘could’ because there is God. I say ‘could’ because Lara lacked the single-minded passion these others shared for the game. He was bound to get carried away by all the off-field shenanigans too easily. But, he still managed to display of what he is capable by his two giant 300+ tons, a feat that is unmatched. What will earn him my life-long respect though is that super 152 he made against a rampaging Australia to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. That is something that a Tendulkar or Ponting have not achieved and I don’t think ever will.
What Lara lacked in terms of determination is what Dravid has in oodles. He loves cricket and he loves batting even more. This is a man who loves batting so much that he probably wants to and can bat for all the five days of a match. Except that he also wants to win and save matches for India. He is also a class act. Not for him the slog sweep or the ugly heave. He respects the art of batting too much to slip to such lows. Those are best left to the Sehwags and the Afridis of the world. Dravid avoids the dangerous balls when he’s made his mind up like one avoids the plague. . You might think, given the amounts of it written about it, that concentration and focus is something that most batsmen should have inculcated the habit but it is clearly easier said than done. Very few sportspeople, let alone batsmen, are blessed with that quality and this is what makes Dravid’s innings more attractive. Darren Sammy’s comment that Dravid did not attempt a pull shot till he scored 98 in the post-match conference underlines the rarity of Dravid’s mental strength and discipline.
Overseas pitches hold a special attraction as well. With India two tests down in his debut series against South Africa, he comes up with his first century at Johannesburg that almost earned India an improbable victory. Same story, one year later in New Zealand, he comes up with a beautiful 148 that again would have handed India a victory, if not for the bowling attack. And so it goes. Headingley, Kingston, Adelaide and Rawalpindi have all followed and were followed by even more.
Once you think about this, it is easier to understand why people like to write about him so much. It is because we remember all these innings. For a long time. Not only because were these the turning points in India’s tide of fortunes in test cricket but because these were durable, long-lasting sporting achievements. It is one thing to rack up centuries on a flat track or to win in straight sets or to rout an opposition 4-0 but what leaves an impression are the masterclass acts of performance that are achieved against the odds, on a roguish cricket pitch or against a marauding opposition. Not that there is beauty without it – Tendulkar’s straight drive or a Federer volley still delights the heart, no matter how many times you see them but give me a Dravid special in Kingston any day.
In a recent article on cycling, it was written that suffering is cycling’s currency, one that has a very low exchange value against glory. Dravid’s batting might not be in the same league of suffering but he definitely is trading with low-value notes that might not earn him the visibility or the moolah of a Gayle or Valthaty but will earn an enduring legacy of joyous sporting satisfaction. There will be more IPLs, countless more one-day matches and freaky, mind-boggling slogs in between but I’d be damned if I remember any of them and not Dravid’s genius last night.