“Batting is dance with just a piece of wood in your hands” (sic) –Charles Burgess Fry (Former English Cricketer)
In the mid 90’s we fellows so innocuously worshipped Sachin Tendulkar, and the remaining 10 in the Indian cricket team were always taken for granted. But it was never our fault as the Little Master was pitilessly pulling down every cricketing record in sight.
In January 1999 I was watching the India-Pakistan test match at Chepauk. Tendulkar played that epic knock which almost took the team to the verge of winning the test. Dravid had not had a bad Test either (53&10), but in the second innings when Wasim Akram clean bowled him for 10 there was hardly a sigh in the stands. People knew that the match is not lost until Tendulkar was there so the exit of Lakshmans and Dravids doesn’t matter. Even if Dravid had had a remarkably good knock the story wouldn’t have been any different. In the Tendulkar era (which started diminishing only a few years back) every other Indian cricketer was destined to the oblivion irrespective of his valuable contributions to the team.
As I grew mature, I started realizing that One Day matches are cricket’s vanity. A true worshipper of cricket needs to follow the true game of cricket, which is Test match. So vehemently I followed Test matches and was booed by friends for being old fashioned. That’s how I discovered Rahul Dravid, his solid defence with which he would make a raging delivery lie like a lump of clay by the side of his toe and the elegance with which he scored runs. Batting is not all about scoring runs, defending a maverick delivery needs more cricketing genius than hitting a six out of an ordinary delivery, I would say.
With that nonchalant look he played shots of extreme beauty, scored lots of runs, that too when the team needed them most. Literally he had been a scourge of bowlers but he downplayed the spirit to be seen as a dominant batsman. In South Africa once he hit a six off Allan Donald right over his head (Only a few batsmen would have imagined to hit a six off Donald when he was at his prime). A humiliated and incensed Donald started abusing him. Dravid stood there at the crease with that unchanged nonchalant look expecting the next delivery as if nothing had happened- the six or the making a scene by the bowler.
‘He wastes balls’ was the accusation everybody had to level against Dravid. I wonder whether such an accusation would have had any place in the era of Sir Bradman. The question of wasting balls itself is blasphemous and un-cricket. It is the ugly by product of limited-overs cricket. Accusing a cricketer of wasting balls is like blaming a sculptor for not using every bit of the rock.
Like all the cricketing legends of the Tendulkar era Dravid too had to live under the shadow of a great cricketer, but in no way it undermines his own greatness as the exhausting numbers keep telling us. He is classicist in cricket and perhaps the last. Dravid was gracious even as he announced his retirement. He did that before the question of hanging around could be raised. He sought no farewell on the field or waited to call it a day with a ‘good knock’. Adieu Dravid. We will miss you and your cricketing grace.