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Rahul Dravid: Timeless Steel

Rahul Dravid: Timeless Steel - ESPN Cricinfo

There was a time, a week or so after I purchased the hardbound edition, when I was cursing myself for having bought this book. I’m not a huge fan of anthologies, especially one in which each section is essentially an encomium. You don’t need a 250 page book to tell you what you could glean from a single essay. I was rather surprised at myself for having fallen into the trap; I bought this only because it was available at a heavy discount at one of Flipkart’s flash sales. It ended up being a first-hand example of how e-commerce websites today are not just fulfilling demand, but also creating it.


I’m glad I read it though – although I still believe I could’ve gone the Kindle route on this one. While this book didn’t reveal a lot of new information about Dravid, my memory certainly needed to be refreshed on a few counts.


As one might assume, Dravid’s interviews came closest to illuminating the man he is. They made me realize that even though he’s somebody who’s often described as simple, as being someone who is easy to relate to, somebody with typical Indian middle class values, and somebody who’s not a superstar even though he is one, he has a rather contradictory perception of himself.


It is surprising that in a book dedicated to dissecting Rahul Dravid, the man, the batsman, the cricketer, only two people highlight his natural talent. One is Suresh Menon, who in a wonderfully evocative piece, lambasts Sanjay Manjrekar (among others) for saying, “That you don’t need to have great talent to become a sportsman is reinforced by Dravid’s achievements.”


The other is Rahul Dravid himself.


“I was given a talent to play cricket. I don’t know why I was given it. But I was.”


Ed Smith points out the ‘brilliant inversion of the usual myth’ in these words. Sportsmen are often fond of highlighting the importance of hard work, and rightly so. But this well-intentioned advice is often accompanied by a downplaying of their own inborn talent, so much so that many a superstar talks about how they overcame the shortcomings of their ordinary and unexceptional abilities through sheer perspiration. How refreshing, and ironic, that a man hailed by many as the embodiment of this notion is one of the few to buck the trend.


It would’ve been easy to credit his successes to his own hard work, his studious obsession with his technique, his reading of the game; every expert had already done so. But true to form, Dravid chose not to walk down the easy path.


This debate – natural talent versus practice and coaching – is a curious one. And not just limited to batting in Rahul Dravid’s case. In another interview, he talks about how he never felt that he was a natural slip fielder, how his slip expertise was honed over years of practice. Yet he goes on talk about the paucity of thought he gave to slip catching technique, and how it came instinctively to him. Yes, instinct can be developed with years of practice, but Dravid’s words do nothing to convince me against Mark Waugh’s opinion, who felt that slip catching comes naturally and cannot be taught by coaches.


My perception of the third aspect of Dravid the cricketer, his captaincy, has also been refreshed. Like all Indians before me, I’m guilty of having remembered his tenure through the lenses of the World Cup defeat to Bangladesh and subsequent failure to progress beyond the group stages in 2007. What I failed to remember is his aggressiveness and delightful unpredictability – opening the bowling in an ODI with a spinner, sending in Irfan Pathan to open the batting in the second innings of a test match because the team needed quick runs and Sehwag was injured, and of course, declaring with Tendulkar on 194*, announcing to the world that it wasn’t just about team before self, but in fact, team before (alleged) God himself.


Another thing worth mentioning is how well read he was. His instinct on becoming captain was to turn to literature, and explore the knowledge so readily available therein. Having read his speech at the Bradman Oration, I’d now like to hear him deliver it as well even though it won’t be live and I’ll know what he’s going to say before he says it. It should still be worth it though; references to World War II are not something you would expect from your regular everyday cricketer.