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Friday, November 5, 2010

Dravid and his legacy

To be fair, one has always been a Dravid fan. One has always realised that he was once upon a time the best batter in the country. But one always said that Dravid was getting old. And even before this innings one has had his/her own doubts. Did Rahul Dravid meritte his place in the side but one read this article which was only a few years old and one realised how forgotten a guy can be. In 2007 a guy wrote about him! A guy who a lot of us respected. Whom I respect!

Mukul Kesavan in his book 'Men in White', writes this.

Extravgantly Sound: Rahul Dravid

I look forward to some bilious critic attacking Rahul Dravid. It'll make for a change. The Press he getst so fawningly good; it would embarras a North Korean despot. I set out to write a hard-nosed, unillusioned assesement of an overrated batsman...and look what emerged.'

Rahul Dravid is a Paragon, the arch-gent of modern cricket. He's urbane, modest, resolute, dependable, well spoken and he even has a decnt line in self-deprecation. Asked in an interview, after a day;s playduring which he had completed a solid century, if he planned to go after Lara's new record, he instinctively came up with the graceful answer: 'For me to get 400,; he said, you would have to play a 6 day Test Match.'

But is he a great batsman? That's the big question, and there's a flottila of other, more specific que`stions that follow it in a close formation. Is he the greatest batsman ever to represent India? Does he have a claim to be the greatest batsman in the world today? If Rahul Dravid gets to an average of 60 (at 58.75 per innings, he;s within a double century of it) and retires at the big Six O, will the stattistical weight of this achievement allow him to lay claimn to being the greatest batsman of the last twenty-five years, greater than Tendulkar, Lara, Waugh, Gavaskar, Richards even?

Consistency at a very high level is an important part of being a great batsman; it' s why VVS Laxman will never be one. To play sublime innings every now and then isn't enough. On this score Dravid is the most dependable batsman India has ever produced, stattistically more reliable than Gavaskar, which is a staggering achievement.

I would arguew that Gavaskar faced the greater challenges: he opened the batting against better fast bowlers without a helmet, but a batsman can only play to the guhconditions he's given so that can't be held against Dravid. You could argue that Tendulkar in his pomp avergaed roughly what Dravid does today and he has made those runs at a greater rate. Morever to compare the figures of a completed career against one that's still a work in progress is misleading: averages taper off towards the end of a player's span and it is possible that two or three years from now Dravid's avergae will hover around the mid 50-s as Tendulkar's does, or, if he ekes his career out too long, the early 50's, which is where Gavaskar ended his wonderful career, Still, the fact that a pessmistic career forecast has Dravid declining to Gavaskar's statistical level, says something about the height at which he currently stands.

On nearly every count, Dravid's record is outstanding. He has by far the best record for an Indian batsman away from home, a crucial statistic for a team that's notoriously shaky at dealing with foreign conditions. He has played a string of big decisive innings tin the course of the last five years that have won Test matches for India abroad, most recently the two fifites he made in the summer of 2206 on an eccentric oitch in the West Indies.

But figures' arsn't everything. If they were, we wouldn't be asking the question we started with. Nobody asks it of Lara or Tendulkar anymore; we know they're great batsmen. So why -- despite the massive consistency of his record - do we not take Dravid's greatness for granted?

The simple answer is that Dravid has played all his cricket in the shadow of Tendulkar, regarded by many critics as the greatest batsman in the history of Indian cricket. By the time Dravid began playing Test cricket, Tendulkar was a Test star of seven year's standing. If the early nineties belonged to Lara, the second half of the decade was Tendulkar's. The seal on Tendulkar's pre-eminence was affixed by Bradman himself when he observed that Tendulkar's batsmanship resembled his own.Comig out from under Tendulkar's shadow was made even more dofficult by the fact that this grizzled veteran was younger than Dravid. It is natural for a young batsman to supercede the champion of the previous generation, as Tendulkar replaced Azharuddin. But prodigies like Tendulkar upset this sequence: a year older than the great Mumbaikar, it must have some times seemed to Dravid that he had been sentenced to second fiddle for life.

But through the last five years, Dravid by sheer weight of runs, has been the msot valuable batsman in the Indian side. That his peak has coincided with a relative decline in Tendulkar's performance has underlined his pre-eminence. Journalists and commentators elsewhere have acknolwedged with respect and admiration Dravid's achievement, but there has been no rush to celebrate the arrival of a new 'great'. This is partly because Dravid , having been around for ten years, isn't a new meteor in the night sky. It is the fate of the low-profile performers to be taken for granted.

Dravid is a great defensive batsman and the label 'great' is generally aaplied to batsmen who dominate the bowling, whose prefferd style, as with Lara and Tendulkar, is attack, not attrition. Attacking batsmen are sexier than defensive ones. The absolute truth of this can be demonstrated by a thought experiment. Sehwah opens the innings and falls early. Dravid walks in at his usual position at number three. Then the spectators notice long hair under the helmet and realise that Chappe;; has promoted Dhoni. The crowd erups, the stadium begins to fill, viewers everwhere out their lives on hold in anticipation of mayhem. And this is Dhoni, a cheerful Afridiesque brute, who makes no claim to higher batsmanship. Had Tendulkar in his pomp not walked in at his assignrd position in the batting order, collective disappointment would have rustled through the arena. Not so with Dravid. Dravif will never make your pulse race; acknowledging the greatness of those who do, lke Viv Richards or Tendulkar, come more easily, more naturally.

But this can't be the whole explnation. SMG played most of his innings in defensive mode and the Indian cricketing public wasted no time in hailing him as the greatest ever. This has something to do with his record-breaking series where he scored 776 runs in four Tests with thre centuries and two half centuries. In the greatness stakes, getting off to an early start helps (as with Tendulkar) as does and explosive one (as with Gavaskar). The fact that SMG was an opening batsman facing down fast bowlers which is dramatic and exciting in itslef. Also, Gavsakar generally closed out his centuries, unlike Dravid who through the st half of his career had the frustrating habit of getting himself out in the eighties and nineties. But even allowing for these differences, it's curious that we admire Dravid where once we stood in awe of Gavaskar.

I think the reason for this why Dravid is only just beginning to be given his due as a great batsman , has to do with his style of batsmanship. Spectators and cricket writers reserve their highest praise for batsTmanship that seems effortless. The oohs that follow Tendulkar's accentuated straight drive, the high elbow one, minus follow through, are our tributes to magic. The timing! The genius!

Dravid's batting style is the opposite of effortless. It's elaborate, flourishing and effortful and despite all that the Tendulkar or Sehwag. You seldom applaud a Dravid strokenfor it's power or timing. Energetic hook shotsndribble over the boundary line. Drives are hit hard into the ground and nothing is ever hit on the up. Every shot is preceded by a high flourishing backlift unlike Lara, whose backlift ends in high-risk shot maeratking, Dravid's arabesque, more oftern single. And the man-in-a-bunker- effect is exaggerated by Dravid's stance: low, dogged, sweat running off in rivulets.

Dravid doesn't fit the categories invented by a Coarse Cricket Writing to docket batsmen. Here a sound technique always implies a 'compact defence'. Well Dravid's defence isn't cvompact. It's extravagant. His wrists twirl, his bat loops before the ball is disciplined into the ground. Dravid is a great batsman who can do everything. Well Dravid's defence isn't compact; it's extravagant. His wrists twirl, his bat loops before the ball is disciplined in to the ground. Dravid is a great batter; he hooks he pulls, cuts, sweeps, flicks and drives, but his entirte technique is centred on the need to make sure that the ball hits the ground first.

If orthodoxy is shorthand for the coaching manuall or the prescriptions of the MCC, Dravid is the opposite of orthodox. Orthodox bntsmanship His methods aren't orthodox. It is important to say this if only because both critics and admirers describe him to as an orthodox batsman. For example Sambit Bal, paying tribute after Dravid had scored a series winning270 agst Pak in 2004 rote: Dravid's batsmanship has often been taken for granted because its so firmly rooted in orthodoxy,because it is utterly incomprehensible, and so utterly lacking in mysique'.

Dravid's defensive technique, on the other hand, is extravagant.. The bat describes a little scimitar before straightening. When he derives through extra cover


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