The Great Wall of India

I am quite the atheist when it comes to the religion of cricket in our country. I know its hard to believe that I even exist! But before you disown me and my article, being an atheist I must confess that I danced in  my pyjamas on the streets in Central Delhi, with complete strangers when India won the world-cup (ah! memories) and I even ogle the men in blue. Infact for a very long time my sister and I used to gawk at Rahul Dravid whenever she used to force the remote out of my hand, remove MTV and put on a cricket match. My interest in him dropped as soon as he got married. It was not only dis-heartening but also dissapointing. I felt betrayed. But my cricket fanatic sister’s love for cricket and Dravid remains unchanged. If I would have known what was about to happen to me today, I would have ditched the fight for the remote control those four years back and willingly surrendered myself to ten sports.

As I walked into my office this morning hoping to write on Mayawati and cast slur on her womanhood, I figured my boss had something else in mind. What he had in mind was the 15 years that Rahul Dravid had completed in his cricketing career and like my sister he too is a cricket connoisseur. I knew there was no escaping,  I knew the puppy face was a waste of time. Do I instantly called my saviour sister, told her about the situation and begged for help. As expected, she went into a dramtic flasback tout de suite. It goes something like this.

20TH JUNE 1996 – It’s India vs England at Lords! The atmosphere is charged with testosterone with the crowd cheering, the cricketers taking their positions in their  worn out greasy white flannels, the batsmen taking his stance, there is that anxious anticipation of the first ball being bowled to the England openers and finally the match begins. Amidst all this cricket pandemonium there are these two men living the biggest dream of their life and quietly making their debut at the home of test cricket only to give all of us cricket fanatics a reason to scream our lungs out! We know them today as Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. Saurav Ganguly made an exhilarating 131 and dravid fell short of 5 runs from his century and got out on a nervous 95. What happened next is history. While Saurav went on to become the captain of the Indian cricket team and lead India to become runners up in the worldcup 2003, Dravid became one of the most respected and regarded members of the world cricket community and got a chance to lead the team as well.

Though whether this technical Bangalore batsman got his due or not is debatable. If you look at it he been not been given enough credit for his extraordinary contribution to cricket, infact quite the opposite. For most of his cricketing career Dravid has lived in the shadows of the huge sixes and fours hit by ‘God’ and cricket’s shirtless Salmaan. I doubt if they would have earned these titles (and more) without the support of the ordinary singles and odd boundaries hit by Dravid. The cricketer belonging to the ‘supporting category’ has been one of the most calm, consistent and a complete batsmen of his times and despite having single handedly won and saved so many matches for the country  has been abandoned by the selectors for the longest time and has never really been given the credit he deserves. On the contrary he has been criticized for being too much of a textbook player concentrating on the precision and technique as all people want to see is the heavy bat make contact with the leather ball, holding their breaths till the umpire lifts both his hands to call it a 6!

The cricket crazy (not cricket literate) people of our country have ignored for all these years is that it is this technique that makes Dravid so successful on overseas tours and foreign wickets. His role in changing the image of our team as ‘’underdogs and successful only on home turf’’ in the early part of the millennium to world champions has been pivotal. The India vs Australia tour in 2003 is a testimony of his strong will and character when despite being written off by critics due to poor form he along with Laxman changed the game for India at Adelaide by scoring 233 runs in the first innings and then hit the winning runs in the second innings as well with an unbeaten 72. The Australian ego was heavily bruised and although the series ended in a draw the whole world was all praises for the unique show of mental strength and character displayed by the Indians.

Dravid has scored more than 10000 runs in both the formats of the game and is at present the third highest scorer in Tests with a mammoth 12063 runs and has 31 Test centuries including 5 double centuries under his belt, while he piled 10765 ODI runs in the shorter version of the game. He is one of the very few players who has scored centuries in all test playing nations. Also apart from his contribution with the bat he has contributed to the team as a slipfielder filling the void of a wicket keeper. He also has the record for the most number of Test catches (200). But like most other great players, his career has had a few grey patches. He has more than often been criticized for being too slow or for not being assertive. His performance in the ODI’S has been under constant scrutinity and has invited criticism for only being suited for test matches. In 2009 he was dropped from the ODI squad due to a poor run when aus toured india and has never quite been able to make a comeback since then.

Resting the experienced players and giving chance to the young and talented breed of cricketers seems like the right thing to do on paper but unceremoniously ousting a legendary player and not giving him a chance of a comeback just doesn’t seem fair. Dravid is now playing against the West Indies and has put India in the driver’s seat by making a determined unbeaten 45* on the 2nd day at stumps.

Dravid may be a player who does not have the power of Dhoni or the timing of Sachin Tendulkar or the flamboyance of Sehwag. He may not be a natural strokeplayer or an obvious match winner but he is like that busy player who can stay at the crease undaunted for hours , test the patience of the bowlers with his unfaultering technique, let the others take the limelight and before you know it he slowly and steadily puts the match in the kitty. His footwork, his balance, his concentration, wrist movements and body weight transfer  scream perfection. He is what we call a cricket classic. The country can count on him in every situation and challenge. He has proved himself enough number of times, its just unfortunate that it has never been enough. But at times one doesn’t have to prove it to the world. One just needs to be true to oneself and Rahul Dravid has been true to himself, his religion and your religion.

Himanshi Chaudhary