In the ebb and flow of life, sport may be a meaningless pursuit for most, yet it does define life in all its hues. The beauty of sport lies in lighting up the lives of those who enjoy the skills of a sportsman who weaves many intricate patterns on the field to leave the watcher spellbound.
In these times of football watching, the realisation that India doesn’t have anyone — an individual or a team — to light up the world stage is depressing.
In these times of despair and denting of self-esteem, what a joy to have a Rahul Dravid as skipper of the Indian team. Even if cricket is not soccer and even if only a handful of countries play it, it still is a beautiful game. It is a sport in which India does excel and where a few individuals from our country are the best among the best.
If for a decade or so we’ve admired the genius of a Sachin Tendulkar, it is time to acknowledge the rare talent of a man whose understated methods of expression are proving to be far more effective than any one could have imagined.
A Tamilian Brahmin by birth, whose grandparents migrated to Gwalior and finally settled in Indore, Dravid is that rare creature who places great premium on the team above the individual. He has proved time and again in many fierce battles waged against great odds that when the survival of the team is at stake, he is the one who can be relied upon the most.
His phenomenal average hovering around 60, and his even greater achievement of making more runs abroad than at home, speaks eloquently as much of his tremendous ability as it does of his temperament and commitment.
It is this commitment to his craft and the joy he gets in challenging his adversaries and the effort he puts in to conquer them that puts Dravid far ahead of any Indian cricketer.
He is an epitome of perfection in sports. He is a man who endears himself to the urban middle class with his ‘perfect’ public school manners and also one who connects to that vast majority for whom sports is an expression of all that is beautiful in life.
Great talent does not always make a great sportsman. What makes a great sportsman is when that great talent expresses itself in times of need. And Dravid is that one rare, unique specimen who has time and again proved that when the team needs him the most, he never lets them down.
In the final Test at Kingston in the West Indies this past week, Dravid played two of his finest innings to lead from the front and win the match single-handedly. This is not the first time he has done this and nor will it be the last time he has played a significant role in shaping India’s fortunes. The best part of his persona is the self-confidence that he radiates that is as much reassuring for his fans as it is disquieting for his opponents.
What makes the man so steely in the expression of his craft — though on the surface the man appears ‘soft’ and some would even say a ‘sissy’? He is, if that is possible in this world, a man who hates flattery and believes that sport in this ephemeral world is a meaningful pastime as long as its meaninglessness in the larger scheme of things is understood. “We should not forget that it is a sport and not a matter of life and death,” is his refrain and that perhaps is one reason why he thrives under pressure.
In the Adelaide Test of 2004 where it was up to Dravid to play an innings of a lifetime in the final essay to give India a historic victory, the man himself was detached and did not want to think of the next day. On the night before D-day, Dravid steered clear of any conversation regarding how he was preparing himself. His answer: “The last time I was here (he was a failure then) I realised that thinking too much about your game on the eve of the match puts unnecessary pressure on you.” Wiser by the experience, Dravid learnt how to unwind himself and how not to get too involved with the pros and cons of failure and success.
Post-marriage, he tours with his wife and his infant son. Dravid, the Indian captain, the great batsman, the finest ambassador of Indian sporting culture, is found baby-sitting in his hotel room, even on nights when the next day, he has to face another of those challenges that could make or mar his reputation.
He is a man who seems happy with what he has got in life. He is a man who gives you the impression that he would have been happy even if baby-sitting had to define his entire life. One hundred Test matches later, in March 2006 at Mumbai, when he remembered his debut Test match in 1996 at Lord’s in England, he had this to say: “I was like a child in a sweet shop. I wanted to savour all the delights but at the same time I did not want to be a one-Test wonder.”
Not only has he savoured all its delights, along the way he has also created new recipes for others to savour.