July 24, 2011

Between Kingston and Lord's - a Dravid fan's perspective:

After Dravid scored that gritty, but arguably ugly, 112 at Kingston barely a month ago, against a West Indian attack that was potent in patches but not powerful overall, I followed the comments' threads on Dravid-related articles out of curiosity: one gentleman - or may be a young lad, as it seemed from the tone - suggested that it was becoming a habit of Dravid's fans to come out of the woodwork whenever Dravid scores and stay silent when he (often, evidently) fails. Not that it is a crime for most fans tend to do that but the observation got me thinking. For a moment, my loyalty, too, seemed to cringe and I felt guilty for being such a blind adherent to Dravid's craft. That the 112 won in India the game - eventually the series - was forgotten. Maybe, that's what Dravid is- a man who needs to reprove his worth, and does not mind doing so, even to those who know better, time and again. The day he has done enough reproving, he would probably walk away. That, too, is Rahul Dravid.

Now that I think of the gentleman's comments once again, in the light of Rahul's hundred at Lord's today, I feel pleasantly amused and mildly annoyed. Chris Tremlett is not Curtley Ambrose and Stuart Broad is not Malcolm Marshall - and in any case cross-generational comparisons are at best quirky and at best silly figments of collective imaginations: how else can you explain an all time ICC World Test XI that has no place for Sobers, Hadlee or Muralidharan but has (with due respect to them) Sehwag, both Lara and Tendulkar, and Kapil Dev? - but the English bowling attack is arguably the second best going around at the moment and at home they can be more than a handful: scoring a hundred against them - never mind he is 38, never mind the pre-match hype and never mind the history associated with the Lord's which can stifle the most seasoned of veterans, for he is Dravid, the blue-collared workman "whose to only do, never question" - when everybody fell around him speaks of, cliched as it may seem, class of the highest kind. Yes, IF Swann had pouched him at slip on 42 - then what? Contact Navjot Sidhu, please.

From the articles I have glimpsed so far, the ones released soon after the 3rd day's play at Lord's, the theme that I'd expected to emerge has damnably emerged though the structures and words used vary: "while everyone expected the little master's hundredth, it was Dravid..." Sachin Tendulkar got a standing ovation, accentuated by the expectation of a 100th international hundred but it was Dravid who scored the 100th hundred - putting Laxman's, Tendulkar's and Dravid's tallies together." Even a pundit like Jonathan Agnew - or may be because he is a pundit he needs to satisfy the hoi polloi - while praising Dravid's accomplishment has to juxtapose his getting onto the Honours' Board at Lord's with Tendulkar not teaching his 100th ton! Why on EARTH?! Sachin Tendulkar may be the next best since Bradman, or even better if some quarters are to be believed, but does it mean every fine batting performance has to refer to Tendulkar in some way? It is worse than hearing Gavaskar, Shastri and Manjrekar together in the commentary box when Tendulkar is batting - or more often when he is not! It still makes no difference to them.

I don't have a problem with the great man (and I can liken a 100 international hundreds at best to having many phonology papers published, which manifests the scale of his imminent achievement by not even fitting it into my imagination!), but for once I shall refrain from being diplomatic and say that I DO have a problem when someone contextualises a Dravid achievement in terms of something else - Laxman's artistry, Sehwag's savagery, Ganguly's elegance, Tendulkar's genius... the list never seems to end. As it is the man's performances are mostly overshadowed by stastistics and greenhorns whose cameos have the sparkle his sturdiness in the middle lacks, so let us cut him some slack at least when he truly stands head and shoulders above the rest. It is good to know I am not alone, though, in saying this. A girl expressed similar sentiments to the espncricinfo commentary team and thankfully it was published. Alec Stewart, without getting into the argument, celebrates Dravid's achievement as that of a fine cricketer's and a gentleman's in a tweet. In this context, I recall another write-up. Two years ago when Dravid made a 177 in a Day against Sri Lanka at Motera, after India were 69-4, Jarod Kimber wrote a delightful piece about how Dravid has always been the man behind the man, how it may have to do with the essence of Dravid's own personage - and how he, Kimber, has a problem with it. I have a problem, too.

I have not, in gloating about Dravid's chips-are-down hundred, forgotten that this test match has still a lot of cricket left. Drawing it will require a mighty dig - of the Athertonian kind - in the second innings from India. But in the hullabaloo, fuelled slightly by the comparative tendencies mentioned above, I have forgotten two things: Dravid's innings was more fluent than any of his recent hundreds and a throwback to the Halcyon Days of 2002-2005 when the extra cover drive, the on-drive with a straight bat through mid-wicket and the forward defensive competed for immaculateness. A particular shot stays in memory: Anderson pitched full, the ball swung, Dravid opened the face of the bat and the square-drive (it's been ages since I saw Dravid play the stroke, going down on one knee!) cantered along the carpet to the fence, for what was the first of the latter's 15 fours. The other thing is the small matter of Dravid's surpassing Ponting in the list of test cricket's highest run-getters (if only temporarily) during the course of his century.

If India does lose this test, it will only be the second time in twelve years that a Dravid century will have not helped in a draw or victory. Many cricket teams would woo such a batsman; we take him for granted. The gap Dravid will leave may not be impossible to fill, for human beings are indispensable, but it will be difficult at the very least . Let us acknowledge at least that much for a man who is only behind Anil Kumble in the number of tests he has one won for India and behind nobody in terms of that inspiring whole-hearted dedication he brings to his job. The acknowledgement is long overdue.

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