March 11, 2012

No more reason

For years now, the only reason I've had for making an effort to watch cricket on TV -- and it is an effort, because I have no TV -- has been Rahul Dravid. For a long time before that, there were two reasons: Brian Lara and Rahul Dravid.

Now there are none.

I've been wondering just what I found so attractive in these modern greats of an old game. I think (no surprise) it's the visual treat of their styles, the flashing elegance of their strokes.

No batsman I know of moved as swiftly and yet delicately on his feet as Lara did. He married that to a bat speed no other batsman could match. Suddenly the ball had rocketed over a despairing bowler's stretching fingers for a straight six, or past a man who'd still be in the act of turning to chase when the ball reached the boundary at cover. That slight crouch, then the precise steps, then the bat like Inigo Montoya's slashing sword, ending up over his right shoulder: as a pure spectacle of batsmanship, Lara had no equal.

Except, of course, for Dravid. Three strokes were his alone. The first, that precise pull, the wrists visibly rolling over at just the right instant, the ball seemingly tracing a path perfectly perpendicular to the pitch, all the way to the boundary. The second, that on-drive he played off his pads, leaning forward, his body and the bat and the ball's path, all straight lines. The third, and my favourite by a whisker, that fierce cut in which he seemed almost to be stepping backward as the bat made contact, the image again a splay of straight lines.

Lara the sure-footed destroyer. Dravid the master of pure, elegant lines. For me, there were no others.

But for me, what made Dravid in particular such a compelling cricketer was the way he put that elegance in the pot with a fistful of grit and a generous helping of grace. I certainly learned the virtues of hard work and determination much later in life than I should have (and too often I have to learn them again). But I know that if I want to teach them to my kids, I could hardly do better than offer them the example of Dravid. Of this man who visibly worked harder than any of his contemporaries at his game, at finding excellence in himself, at finding it anew when it inevitably would fade.

More accomplished cricket writers than me have been poetic about Dravid's various bursts of batting splendour: the 180 in Calcutta, the 148 at Leeds, the 233 and 72 in Adelaide, the two half centuries at Kingston and more. But for me his finest moment was last year's tour of England. Not for the runs, plenty though they were. But this was Dravid fighting tigerishly when not a single one of his team-mates seemed up for the fight; this was Dravid showing how much the team and the game mattered to him; this was Dravid painting a canvas of resolve and soul, heart and intellect. This was Dravid setting an example not just to his cricket colleagues, but to us all.

To every one of us who, faced with a large, difficult task, thinks "Ahh, I'll give it a shot tomorrow" -- that tomorrow that never comes -- this was Dravid showing that there's only one answer to such dilemmas: Just step forward and do it. No excuses, no dilly-dallying, no shying away, no hiding from yourself above all. None of that.

Just do it, that's all.

I have no particular interest in one-day cricket or this thing called T20. Power to those who do, and who do well at them. But I get intoxicated with Test cricket. That's because at its best, it ebbs and flows, it exposes, it redeems, it celebrates. It demands that its practitioners give of their best. It shows up the pretenders. It rewards depth and substance, grit and strength. It offers lessons for our own more mundane lives that nevertheless fling challenges at us time and time again.

It's for those reasons that Test cricket is so captivating. It's what made Dravid, for me, the consummate Test cricketer. For me, he is India's greatest Test cricketer. For me, that makes him, without doubt, India's greatest cricketer.

I can't claim to be a good friend of Dravid. But I have met him a few times -- a meal here, a coffee there -- and he released my book "Roadrunner" at a bookstore in Bangalore. Several days before that evening, in the middle of playing a Test at the Wankhede stadium, he called. "I'm really nervous about speaking at your book function," said this man who faced the fastest and wiliest bowlers in the world for a living.

It struck me: for him, this business of speaking about a new book was one more challenge to be faced and overcome. He could have simply shown up and mouthed some platitudes. Instead, he read my book, thought about it, got nervous about it, then came there and said some thoughtful things. That's the measure of this man. What more could an author ask for?

So here it is: it's more than the style in that fierce cut that made me want to watch Dravid bat. It's the grace and fibre he brought to the game, and indeed to everything he did.

And that's why I now have no reason to watch.


~j~ said...

I've always admired Rahul's determination and mental strength to fight against all odds. When he was labelled as 'just a Test player', it would have been easy to get frustrated but all he did was march on and give his very best, even if it made him look ugly. One of my favourite Dravid milestones is his four consecutive Test hundreds - three in that glorious series versus England, followed by that dehydrating 100 (retired hurt) against West Indies at the Wankhede. Once he was off the field, the next three wickets fell for one run before Srinath hit a few.

The other Dravid memory I have is when he visited Xavier's for a discussion organised by the Sociology Department. As he was leaving the college mobbed by screaming teenage girls, I heard him refuse an autograph seeker saying "If I give you an autograph and not oblige everyone else, it would be unfair to the others. Sorry." (or something to that effect). While it may come across as rude, all I kept thinking was how thoughtful this man is. Of course, I stood frozen to the ground completely tongue-tied with my notebook and pen while the man was just an arm's distance away.

All those Dravidesque knocks will continue to give me goosebumps whenever I think of them. But most of all, I will remember him for his humanness - in his cricket, in his demeanour, in his conduct with the world.

Lovely tribute to our man, Dilip. Enjoyed reading every word of it.

PS: I prayed hard for that fifth consecutive ton so he could jointly hold the record with Everton Weekes, but alas! But pray I did! :)

Rohit said...

To add to this, he never overstayed his welcome. Cricket is no longer cricket.

Anonymous said...

The only thing wrong with this blog are the posts. No need to create test posts.

swaroop said...

Wonderful tribute, Dilip! Incidentally, Sriram and I are good friends.