Why Rahul Dravid was a complete khadoos
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Why Rahul Dravid was a complete khadoos

Even though Dravid, who just retired from cricket after a 15-year career, hailed from Bangalore, his tenacious strokeplay and strong temperament were distinctive of the Bombay school of batsmanship.

india Updated: Mar 12, 2012 18:55 IST
Ayaz Memon

The cyber and SMS world went into joke mode that the wrong Rahul had retired last week. Without making too fine a political point, let’s just say that while one Rahul gathers the pieces to restore his political career after being knocked down by a ‘cycle’, cricketer Dravid, who tamed the most destructive fast bowlers, will be sorely missed.

But while so much is known and has been written about Dravid’s talent and prowess — second highest Test run-maker after Sachin Tendulkar, record holder for catches et al — what is less talked about is his connection to Maharashtra and Mumbai, for cricket and otherwise.

He comes from a Deshastha Maharashtrian family that settled in Bangalore, where his father worked for a company that made jams (thus the nickname Jammy, and not because he liked jam sessions as one cub sports reporter had mentioned to me several years ago!).

Deshastha Brahmins had settled largely around the valleys of the Krishna and Godavari and find strong representation in Karnataka.

Of greater relevance, of course, is Dravid’s batting style. It did not subscribe to the characteristic panache or elegance of batsmen from the south of the Vindhyas, but was derived more from the western part of the country which has been strongly synonymous with resolute batsmanship: Bombay.

The Bombay school of batsmanship — till about two decades ago — was distinctive. It made tenacity, not style or flamboyance, the greatest virtue. Careful, considered strokeplay based on sound technique, a strong temperament and an insatiable desire to bat as long as possible were the hallmarks.

Batsmen put a stiff premium on their wickets, and loose strokes that led to their dismissal earned censure, often as harsh as banishment from the team.

There have been sporadic studies — though admittedly not with enough research vigour — to understand what made Bombay’s batting style tick in the old days. Some interesting points, however, have emerged: the lack of open spaces, time spent in commuting and the grim rat race for survival are some of the factors believed to have made Bombay’s cricket, especially batsmanship, unique. Opportunities were always limited and had to be optimised. A mindset for attrition would be forged early in life.

The maidans of Mumbai — Azad, Oval and Cross towards the southern tip, the Gymkhana Grounds on Marine Drive and above all Shivaji Park — was where young players would be coached and distilled into becoming carriers of this legacy. Young players abounded in the suburbs too, but the maidans of south Mumbai, especially Shivaji Park, were where the best action and mentoring happened.

Promising young talent would travel from all over the city to these maidans to learn the grammar and syntax of cricket. The most famous crossing, of course, is Sachin Tendulkar, moving from his residence at Bandra East as a 10-year-old to stay with a relative at Shivaji Park and train under Ramakant Achrekar.

The flavor and rigour of cricket at the maidans made Bombay the nursery of Indian cricket at one point in time. Think of Mumbai’s greats — Vijay Merchant, Vijay Manjrekar, Dilip Sardesai, Dilip Vengsarkar and of course the great Sunil Gavaskar who was Dravid’s boyhood idol — and they all typify a certain approach: hardy, uncompromising, unquenchable. In colloquial language, this is called khadoos.

Considered every which way, Dravid fits the mould, his selflessness giving this an added, invaluable dimension. Interestingly, although Tendulkar learnt his skills on these same pitches and is technically as perfect as any Bombay-schooler can be, he began the deviation from the norm with his adventurous strokeplay and his tendency to take risks, setting the agenda for future generations.

Dravid, on the other hand, personified the Bombay norm and was therefore an ideal partner for his more ambitious team-mates.

For all that, Dravid’s run-making in Mumbai is not as impressive as at some other venues, though he did get past 13,000 Test runs in a marvelous display at the Wankhede last year before the tour to Australia. But the more noteworthy event had come a decade earlier when he was willy-nilly dragged into a rare controversy when India played Australia at the same ground.

Dravid and Tendulkar were trying to save the first Test when Michael Slater claimed a catch off a pull-shot played by Dravid. The umpire ruled not out, which riled Slater who proceeded menacingly towards Dravid. After much finger-wagging, Slater was pacified (and later fined), allowing Dravid to continue his innings.

Not to much avail though. India lost that Test in three days. But a week later, Dravid was involved in one of the most amazing turnarounds in cricket history, batting an entire day with VVS Laxman to give his side a match-winning lead after being forced to follow on. Laxman, in effervescent form, made 281, Dravid, 180, in a dour and determined display that bespoke the Bombay school of batsmanship at its best.

This knock earned Dravid the epithet ‘The Wall’, which has stood the test of time, but is wholly inadequate in the context of what he went on to achieve. Colossus, I venture, would be the mot juste.

When he is not following sport, Ayaz Memon writes about the city and its different worlds

First Published: Mar 12, 2012 18:54 IST