Leisurely but intense, detached but motivated and graceful - a rare creature conserving that threatened ‘league of extraordinary gentlemen’.
Cliches are likely to have a field day with Dravid calling it a day – the overshadowed giant, the wall, one of game’s last gentlemen, the silent legend, etc. But what stands out and needs to be expressed is something more fundamental – Rahul Dravid’s game and grace. There is something more basic that his assured defensive push and elegant cover drive, with a steady head meant for a cricket field. His relevance for colonial amusements of our times goes beyond the game itself. He symbolizes a cultural subtext in the larger narrative of modern competitive sports, which in the early 1940s was described by George Orwell as “war minus shooting.” The old war charm of test cricket which found expression in Rahul Dravid would make you think something else.
Perhaps Dravid would have been better chronicled by craftsmen who wield the pen with a historical hindsight of the game and a perceptive of the socio-cultural narrative.
He deserved the blend of exquisite prose and insightful understanding of the game that is found in writings of legendary cricket writers like Neville Cardus and CLR James. Even some leading Indian historians and social scientists having a keen interest in the game, could have done a fine job of preserving Rahul’s cricket in words for posterity. Three eminent names that come to your mind are Ashish Nandy (The Tao of Cricket: On Games of Destiny and the Destiny of Games, 1989), Ramachandra Guha, (Corner of a Foreign Field: The Indian History of a British Sport, 2002), and Mukul Keshvan (Men in White, 2007).
Something comes to mind when you imagine Ashish Nandy locating Rahul Dravid in the cultural narrative of this game, which was once a leisurely expression of an outdoor amusement. You tend to look at Rahul Dravid, the batsman, as a critic of the industrial revolution, in an age when industrial mechanics and numerical frenzy have taken over the game. Industrial revolution, Rahul Dravid, critic, Ashish Nandy and cricket! Too far-fetched? Try retrieving something from your memory and let imagination work.
Imagining Rahul Dravid as a critic of industrial revolution in modern sports
In September 2007, when India won the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa, India was skeptical about celebration – the celebration of winning annual custody of an ‘illegitimate’ child of world cricket (that is what T20 was in 2007). So the Indian media went looking for an erudite patriarch to vet the legitimacy of the child. But a negative paternity test was too much to risk. How could you dampen the celebratory mood? So, why not question the mother’s place? And so, Outlook asked Ashish Nandy about the place of mother – where does test cricket stand? Perhaps they chose the wrong man. Contrary to the expectations of character assassination, Ashish Nandy certified the character of the mother in sublime terms, saying “In modern sports, test cricket is the only surviving critique of the industrial revolution.” The relevance of test cricket was reinstated by a perceptive student of the game.
So if test cricket is the critique of it, one of the iconic figures of modern test cricket, Rahul Dravid has to be a leading critic of the Industrial Revolution. Five days of play at an idyllic pace, with the possibility of no result (no win, no loss), certainly runs counter to the profit-loss equations of capitalist imagination which was unleashed by the industrial revolution.
Dravid is one of the batsmen that experts chose to bat for life – to grind as well as grace five testing days without any sign of the duel and adrenaline pumping showmanship which define stardom in modern sports. His game resembles the genre itself – leisurely but intense, detached but motivated and always graceful – almost a rare creature conserving that threatened ‘league of extraordinary gentlemen’.
So what defines Rahul Dravid as the antidote to the mad rush of the industrial revolution? While answering this, two facets of his game and career spring to mind.
Rahul ‘Well Left’ Dravid
This is a reputation that he earned on the international stage in the 1997 West Indies tour. Commentators took note of his impeccable judgment of balls to play, and more importantly, balls to leave. And the decisive style with which he did that only added to the lore of being Rahul Dravid. The tenacious, definite and stylish backlift with which he left balls outside off stump had classic old school connoisseurs sitting up in admiration. Leaving, not doing something, was given its due sanctity in Dravid’s craft, such a scathing critique of capitalist premium on proactive ‘professional’ gain-loss frenzy.
The Charm of the unsung Hero – The Overshadowed Wall
Ted Corbett, the British cricket journalist once made an interesting comparison between two West Indian batsmen – Brian Lara and Shivnaraine Chanderpaul. He described Lara as “a brilliant poet on days that are his”, and the unsung Chanderpaul as “everyday workman who writes daily”. The career of Rahul Dravid resembles Chanderpaul vis-à-vis- his more illustrious team mates.
Perhaps his debut test at Lord’s, London, was a sign of things to come. His deftly crafted 95 was eclipsed by a century by another debutant (do you know whose ton it was?), as was his epic 180 something overshadowed by a monumental double century (something that was very, very, sp..?). So was the fate of Rahul’s numerous rescue knocks for the team, brilliant knocks in crisis and in difficult conditions to bat. And how can one forget his remarkable contributions in one day games, a format in which he is not credited with much (though statistics and his match impact quotient say something else, and remember he doubled up as a wicket keeper in many ODIs).
The eclipse factor did not work in a few innings, and they are etched in memory, such as – Headingley test (2002), the Adelaide test knocks (2003), Rawalpindi test (2004), and his innings throughout the England tour (2011). The unsung had his own pull, all contributing to the underwritten and underrated legend that the man is.
In a statistics – obsessed and record – heavy world of contemporary competitive sports, the appeal of Rahul Dravid lies in reminding us of the futility of numbers and the sublime grace of the craft and the original purpose of sport – a purposeless pursuit of amusement through craft, art, intellect and athleticism. Add tenacity and humility to the list, and you have Rahul Dravid.