There is something logic-defying about a Virendra Sehwag blitzkrieg, imagination-spurring about a Brian Lara coup, religiously quintessential about a Sachin Tendulkar ton, incredible about Ricky Ponting’s sense of occasion and endearing about V.V.S Laxman’s rearguards. But what might recommend Michael Hussey and Dravid one would think amid their more illustrious peers? That both men look dashing into their thirties and may still be MTV icons and heart-throbs of girls is not the kind of recommendation I am talking of. And yet in the week that has gone by (or is going by with today) both Michael Hussey and Rahul Dravid have shown with their sterling 190s how invaluable they are to their teams. As Sunil Gavaskar once famously said you bat foremost for your team and it is your team-mates’ applause that drives you at the end of the day. In case we had forgotten, this week clarified yet again why Dravid and Hussey are rated highly in the dressing room even if not by fickle fans and pressure-ridden selectors.
Apart from the fact that Michael Hussey is a left-hander and Dravid is not and that Dravid is over two summers older than the senior Hussey, there is not much that separates the two men. Their nicknames too say as much. One is both famously and infamously called The Wall for his over-my-dead-body style of playing the game. The other is referred to as Mr. Cricket for the meticulous manner in which he prepares before each match. Both rely on a tight defence to guard their fortress. And yet once they feel that their team is in the zone of safety, they unfurl a repertory of strokes which are a treat to watch and which sometimes make you wonder whether if they are two different batsmen at different stages in their innings. The point that is missed by many, conveniently or engulfed in the brightness of the other stars, is that Dravid’s solidity and Hussey’s workmanlike style lend great balance to batting line-ups punctuated with strokemakers par excellence. Skippers, fellow batsmen and journalists have said as much and not without reason.
Before their 190s this week, both men had a Damocles’ Sword hanging atop their head. To surmise that they themselves were unaware of it from the way they played – Dravid with calm discipline and Hussey with rich freedom – shows some superficial thinking on the part of the spectator. The clouds of pressure have not quite been burned away by the forceful sunshine of their backs-to-the-wall efforts. If anything, they have gone somewhere for the time being and may yet return soon enough. Dravid had, and still has and will till he retires, the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara at his heels. I am not too sure about the Australian bench but I am sure someone like Usman Khwaja picked in the long Ashes squad would make Hussey sweat over his position.
Dravid’s match-winning 191 at the Vidharba Cricket Academy which admittedly came against a decent and disciplined but not extraordinary New Zealand bowling attack and Hussey’s 195 against a potent England bowling battery that has put Australia in a commanding position at the Gabba may or may not have ensured security for Dravid’s and Hussey’s berths in their respective elevens. But coming as they did on the back of heavy criticism from the media, an extended run of poor form and probably a personal lack of confidence as well, the two gentlemen’s marathon efforts will be remembered for showing us yet again that even sport cannot besmirch human endurance and that form is temporary whilst class is permanent.
One other classical batsman, who ran dry just about the time Dravid did after the tour to England in 2007, has also been amongst the runs. Jacques Kallis has in fact unlike Hussey and Dravid been prolific lately, peeling off hundreds with the same kind of consistency, predictability and calm majesty with which Tendulkar has done – again – over the past fifteen months, narrowing the gap between himself and Ponting in terms of number of centuries. With an average in excess of 55 after close to 140 tests, a vastly improved strike rate and a few more years left in him, Kallis still has the time for a few more marathons and magnum opuses. Hussey too has a couple of years in him. As for Dravid I feel questions will be asked after every tour especially if he does not get big hundreds.
Be that as it may, Hussey and Dravid have both served their countries with remarkable consistency. However, when they call time both Hussey and Dravid will be remembered for their squeaky-clean image, the transparency and competitiveness, a rare combine in modern cricket or for that matter sport, with which they played the game. Their numbers may be less glossy compared to some of their most illustrious peers, but that is often because they played for the team and played in a manner that might make their peers’ swashbuckling business a lot easier and a lot more glamorous. Obviously devotion to the team and sincerity cannot be captured by statistics. At least, not yet.