Sunday 11 March 2012

Rah-Rah Rahul

I'm not a cricket fan. At least, not in the way that a large part of this country seems to be. I played a bit of 'colony cricket' as a lad — who hasn't? — but vastly preferred basketball, badminton, table-tennis, and volleyball. I've never watched a game from s stadium seat, but have watched my share of the game on TV, and watch bits of cricket on the office television happily enough, now that I don't have a set at home, but if I had my druthers, a nice escapist movie works better. I read reports and analysis, and follow a few exceptional cricket writers, but that reading is more for the writing than the game. And I couldn't care less if the BCCI's team wins or loses.

What I can say about Rahul Dravid, therefore, would be shallow, because it would not begin to be knowledgeable and affectionate about his cricket, which defined him for all of us.

My far more knowledgeable colleagues have been engaged in heated debate (on our private newsgroup) on the man's legacy and his place in the pantheon, but this being a hectic time for the crew, with the Budget around the corner, no one has had the time to do a connoisseur's take just yet. So I will play curator instead, and extract from and link to some excellent pieces from around the Web.

But I'll venture to say this first. Dravid epitomises the ideal of the sportsperson. He played hard, without being boorish, respected his opponents without conceding an inch of ground, put it all on the line for his team-mates, leading by example. That he retired when he did, without pomp and long farewell tours, while people still "'asked 'why?' rather than 'why not?'" spoke volumes for his character. He is a gentleman to the bone, and everything he does spells class.

The writer CLR James asked, "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?" I'd wager that very few top level cricketers would know the quote. And that Dravid would be one of an even smaller group who'd know that the line was after Kipling's "And what should they know of England who only England know?" Dravid always came across as a complex, curious, well-rounded personality, of someone who could talk about many things, with understanding and compassion.

I've had few sporting heroes — Muhammad Ali, Prakash Padukone, Michael Jordan, Sunil Gavaskar, Carl Lewis — and Dravid is one of them. He's younger than I am, but I can say this with certainty: when I grow up, I want to be like Rahul Dravid.

Rohit Brijnath in Mint:
If the old-fashioned among us have a quaint notion of wh the athlete should represent, then he met it for us. Greatness can be worn gently, a man can stay true for 16 years to the idea that desire and sportsmanship, ambition and etiquette, are not virtues in conflict. We needed a reminder that even amidst the over-indulgence and over-worship of modern sport a man need not lose himself.

Sambit Bal in ESPN-CricInfo
There is a normalcy about him that is almost abnormal. There are public figures who go out of their way to put you at ease, but the effort is palpable. Dravid does it just by being himself. There is no affectation and artifice to it. Not that he is unaware of his stardom or is falsely modest about his achievements, but he can step outside all that and connect with the world at a real level.
It's almost as if he leaves that part of his world behind him when he leaves the cricket field. And perhaps that's why he can see the cricket world from the outside, reflect on it objectively, and see the ironies and futilities of stardom. It's a rare and remarkable quality. It has helped him engage in relationships in the outside world without baggage.

Mukul Kesavan in CricInfo
Greatness in batting, specially in the last 20 years, has been associated with masterful aggression: Lara, Tendulkar, Ponting. In the same period, Dravid (along with Jacques Kallis) showed us masterfulness of another sort: great defensive batting put to winning ends. Dravid's originality as a batsman needs an essay to itself; suffice to say that by melding Gundappa Viswanath's wristy genius with Gavaskar's monumental patience and poise, he became that remarkable and original creature: a stylish trench-warrior.

jamie Alter in Cricketnext
In particular, I remember two shots of Dravid's. The first, when was closing in on a century in Adelaide, the scene of his most famous innings. Jason Gillespie had just bounced him, and Dravid looked a bit rattled. Gillespie repeated the short ball again, and this time Dravid took him on with the hook. It wasn't connected perfectly, but sailed over the fielder at fine leg to bring Dravid his century, one that turned into 233 of the most fabled runs ever scored by an Indian.
The second shot he played during his colossal 270 in Rawalpindi to drive India towards a rare series win in Pakistan. He was batting on about 220 - I am not sure - and played a drive for four past extra-cover off Danish Kaneria. Dravid was sapped, mentally and physically, and stooping over in his crease; but the way he planted his front foot forward and drove that ball with all the basics intact was stirring.
These two shots came in different circumstances, and showed two different shades of Dravid. It is hard to imagine him playing an aerial shot, that too with a horizontal bat, when so close to a century. That too when the bowler had just mouthed him off. But Dravid did it, and on that day succeeded. It was one of the rarest instances of him sending a message back to the bowler, in anger. The shot in Rawalpindi came after he had crossed his double-century and was sagging. But even when his body was showing signs of collapsing, he stuck to what he knew best. That, it was as if he was saying, is how you play a cover drive. These two instances, for me, encapsulate Dravid.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, a.k.a. Sidvee, consistently one of Dravid's most eloquent admirers, in a letter to Dravid on his blog
You are too conveniently slotted as a specialist batsman. I disagree. That’s too simplistic. For me, you are an allrounder – not in the way our limited imaginations defines an allrounder but in a broader, more sweeping, sense.
I find it hard to think of a more versatile cricketer. You were one of our finest short leg fielders. You were, for the most part, a remarkable slip catcher. You have opened the innings, batted at No.3, batted at No.6 (from where you conjured up that 180 in Kolkata). I’m sure you have batted everywhere else.
You have kept wicket, offering an added dimension to the one-day side in two World Cups. You even scored 145 in one of those games. You captained both the Test and one-day teams. Sure, things didn’t go according to plan but you were a superb on-field captain. More importantly you were India’s finest vice-captain, an aspect that is often conveniently forgotten. Jeez, you even took some wickets.
There’s something unique about this. In Indian cricket’s hall of fame, you can proudly share a table with Gavaskar and Tendulkar. But you can also share one with Kapil, Mankad and Ganguly – cricketers who excelled in more than one aspect of their game for an extended period of time.

Ed Smith, Dravid's team-mate at Kent, in CricInfo
One word has attached itself to Dravid wherever he has gone: gentleman. The word is often misunderstood. Gentlemanliness is not mere surface charm - the easy lightness of confident sociability. Far from it: the real gentleman doesn't run around flattering everyone in sight, he makes sure he fulfils his duties and obligations without drawing attention to himself or making a fuss. Gentlemanliness is as much about restraint as it is about appearances. Above all, a gentleman is not only courteous, he is also constant: always the same, whatever the circumstances or the company.
In that sense, Dravid is a true gentleman. Where many sportsmen flatter to deceive, Dravid runs deep. He is a man of substance, morally serious and intellectually curious. For all his understatement, he couldn't fail to convey those qualities to anyone who watched him properly.

And the last word from his wife, Vijeta Dravid, in this eloquent piece. Here's an extract:
People always ask me the reason for Rahul being a "normal" person, despite the fame and the celebrity circus. I think it all began with his middle-class upbringing, of being taught to believe in fundamental values like humility and perspective. He has also had some very old, solid friendships that have kept him rooted.
He is fond of reading, as many know, and has a great sense of and interest in history of all kinds - of the game he plays and also of the lives of some of the world's greatest men. When he started his cricket career, he had a coach, Keki Tarapore, who probably taught him to be a good human being along with being a good cricketer.
All of this has given Rahul a deep understanding of what exactly was important about his being in cricket and what was not. It can only come from a real love for the game. When I began to understand the kind of politics there are in the game, he only said one thing: that this game has given me so much in life that I will never be bitter. There is so much to be thankful for, no matter what else happens, that never goes away.
Cricket has made Rahul who he is, and I can say that he was able to get the absolute maximum out of his abilities as an international cricketer.
What next for him? I know he likes his routine and he's in a good zone when he is in his routine, so we will have to create one at home for him. Getting the groceries could be part of that. A cup of tea in the morning for his wife would be a lovely bonus, I would think, particularly now that he doesn't have to take off for the gym or for training at the KSCA at the crack of dawn.
More seriously, though, I think he will spend time relaxing and reading to let it all sink in a bit. He has loved music and wants to learn how to play the guitar. Then perhaps he would like to find something that fills in at least some of the place that cricket occupied in his life, something challenging and cerebral.

And the announcement: