If statistics are a true measure of success, then 13288 Test runs, compiled at an average of 52 including 36 Test centuries, render the discussion complete.
If consistency is the yardstick to measure greatness, then with nearly 10,900 ODI runs and an exemplary achievement of having struck a hundred against each Test-playing nation settles that debate too!
But there is a world that exists above and beyond statistics in sport
And it isn’t perhaps as much about winnings and losing as it is about trying. It is the approach that matters, the calculated risks that count, the ability to withstand pressure and the triumphs garnered fighting for thorny crowns.
Perhaps, it is about the process of competing and of trying to the core, something that this modest legend describes as ‘playing everything for the team and for the team’s glory’. In doing so, he’s confessed, ‘he has failed at times, but has never stopped trying’. And if in trying to be the best one can be, sporting heroes can achieve the zenith, then it isn’t incorrect to suggest that Dravid knows that zenith. For he stands at that edge! It is a defining one. And an endlessly exhausting one at that!
Dravid: Behind statistics and away from the glitter of icon-worship
1996: The home of cricket, the most ecstatic venue, Lords, saw England being countered vehemently by two young Indian batsmen. One, went on to compile his maiden Test hundred, soaking in early showers of hero-worship courtesy a breathtakingly beautiful 131. The other, a monk-like figure of earnestness and downright modesty, went on to craft a stoic 95.
The moment the ball clipped the edge of his bat, the man began to walk, almost Zen-like knowing, he had undone his onerous attempt to salvage more fight for India. From the beginnings, it was evident that the knock was being compiled toward guiding India to a better score. Then, whether the hundred came or didn’t- held less importance.
Cut to Kolkata, 2001: A Test match, eagerly awaited by Steve Waugh and his men, armed with a killer instinct to maraud their hosts, ended India’s way with the home team reeling one time with a follow-on. This glorious VVS Laxman-powered Test has emerged as a fitting Testimony to what it means to ‘fight back’. But the man responsible for underlining the fight-back with the emotion of grit, the team having its back against the wall was perhaps overlooked, despite his valiant 180. This knock would press Warne to reveal that it takes the equivalent of a hundred firing cannons to break through Dravid’s defenses, arguably stemming from a stoicism feted by his monumental concentration and technique.
Cut to Adelaide, December 2003: Faced with Ponting’s imposing 242 and Australia’s mammoth 556, the Wall responded with a crafty 233, tiring Gillespie, Bichel and MacGill. And finally, a moment’s pause after the watchful observance of guiding a Stuart MacGill to the fence, square on the off side, brought forth a cheery victory for India, courtesy a valuable 72.
But the thing about Dravid, who swatted aside world’s best attacks- Donald, Murali, Pollock, Vaas, Warne, McGrath and Walsh- with a composure and tenacity you would liken to a tireless Field Marshal, isn’t just about the statistical highs.
Rather, as evident in heroics of Kolkata, Adelaide and Lords, point to the situations in which he brought India elusive victories. He was no Tendulkar. Nor did he possess the flashy brilliance of Lara. He wasn’t opulent like Sanga nor possessed of the feathery touch of close friend and fellow innings-repairman VVS Laxman.
Dravid was, quite simply, the genius mechanic
He processed in his workshop- that produced mighty impressive results for India- an orchestration of patience, method and technicality. It would turn out to be a process that required skill in an almost mechanical repetition but would bring in results!
Had his process not been firm, how would the world stand witness to those marathon innings built on obduracy and outright mental toughness, wherein the number 3 batsman faced up to a staggering 46000 international deliveries? Would you believe, that a phenomenal 31,258 of those were faced in Tests alone?
You would be wrong to assume that there weren’t any fault-lines resting in his armor, a minute lagging in technique, later fully exploited during his last overseas tour to Australia by Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus. Dravid is the holder of a dubious record of being clean-bowled most number of times.
But technique, so much of his backbone upon which India rode to rosy victories also stood the Tests of time, allowing him to strike an unbelievable 149 fifties, collectively from both formats.
In Dravid’s ebb, there was no enigma, but pure focus
This was most evident right before waning of those reflexes, in 2011, England, where Dravid turned immovable on 22 yards in his glorious striking of 3 Test hundreds, scoring 468 in a series where India were trampled at the hands of Anderson, Tremlett and Broad.
For the sheer lack of excitable emptiness in his style of play, a mind over matter approach, there was no sledgehammering like Hayden, nor horsewhipping of bowlers like Viru, AB or Gayle. It was purely a process of tiring out bowlers; of tackling their heat, aggression and, energy with a cold and bloodless maneuvering using immense powers of concentration, with which he broke down pace and countered sharp turn and, unpredictable guile.
And yet, an interesting subject associated with Dravid, is that of him being unsung. And whether there’s enough fodder in it for elongated discussion. A batsman, whose dismissal brought more smiles than tears for the next man in was India’s most favorite son, warrants some emotion.
But in reality, Dravid’s wall is a colossus, made not just of strong moral fiber but also of certain detachment and inexhaustibility that it defies the need for applause and compendiums.
That despite retirement, Dravid’s approach keeps surfacing to mellow down the attitude of contemporary aggressive cricketers playing the gentleman’s game makes him far more important than his runs. That Pujara, Rahane, Nair, Samson and now, Mandeep Singh and Rishabh Pant have all grown under his aegis as have tributes of contemporaries- Lara, Kallis and Sangakkara- makes Dravid not just the Wall, but an affirmation that when you are pure and selfless, the world comes closer to your shadow.
Dravid: The Dark Knight
And this shadow has been likened to a Dark Knight. For fans and purists note that when Gotham burned, its Knight would rise. And that, whenever India were in trouble, in Rahul Dravid lay their hopes to fight.
It isn’t just a story peddled by powerful selfless emotion.
It is a legacy-celebrated world-over as representing cricket’s spirit as only a Dravid could represent. The Proteas learnt of it by not sledging him. The Windies by smiling at him and the Aussies regarded it by inviting him to deliver the Bradman-Oration.
But all said and done, Dravid is also a reminder that in victory, what matters most is to earn a collective goal, leaving the self far behind. Perhaps that is why Bruce Wayne never really showed up during crises. And perhaps that’s why the Dark Knight was never found when Gotham was saved.
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