The sound of wind blowing starts from the right. Slowly increasing in decibel and velocity as it attunes itself to both the sides.
*An unfocussed camera gapes out from the deep point position*
A sea of whites, hands, heads and caps try to sneak themselves through the lens.
*Slowly but steadily the camera wakes up into focus like an early morning yawn dithering a person from getting up to daily chores on a cool winter morning*
*Gradually the scene becomes clearer, the ground appears more gallant, more proud, as it has never been it’s prerogative to introduce itself*
It is the home of cricket. The place where it all begins. A start that would go on to define the game itself. As the camera focuses to perfection from just outside the boundary ropes, there is a figure standing right in front of it, occupying half of the view with the other two quarters eclipsed by the greens of the LORDS. Hands on hips, his white, green rimmed hat having its own little battle with the aforementioned wind. He moves forward.
*Amplified sound of the willow hitting the leather*
Perfect timing, your couch cricket expert would say.
With a furor of applause and jubilation swallowing the background, the fielder turns to the right, but then stalls, head low then up within a moment. It was beyond the ropes before he could even attempt a sprint.
“A real stylish shot from Rahul Dravid. On the front foot first then rocking back on that back foot and playing it late.”
Scenes of the Eden Gardens, Kolkata 2001. The 90% humidity trying to veil the scene itself but in vain. The camera is up high taking the entire stadium in its field of vision. The 22 yards of clearing in the middle of the greens has two figures in whites standing on either end. Kasprowicz runs in to bowl his 15th delivery. It comes off the batsman who takes a single. The umpire lifts his leg, flexing it at his knee and tapping it with his right hand. LEG BYE. The bowler then goes near the batsman.
*Camera zooms in trying to eavesdrop*
“Which part of your bat did it hit?”, the camera catches the bowler say, but it is still not close enough to catch a glimpse of the demeanor towards whom the words were aimed. It was brouhaha of Aussie sledging more than playing the game itself.
*Final day of the match*
The volume of the crowd goes up in a crescendo with the run up of the Indian bowler. The camera focuses simultaneously. The crescendo ends with a quejarse as within a frame of 2 conjoint seconds the ball leaves the hand of the bowler, takes the outside edge of Steve Waugh’s timber, goes into the hands of the fielder and out of it just as quickly.
Words to the tune of “You just dropped the test” are heard directed towards the Indian captain by the plaintiff. A few 60 seconds later, he loses his authority to bat any longer courtesy the Turbanator. In the blink of an eye, the defendant’s lawyer walks up to Waugh and says, “Who’s dropped the test now?”
The Australian shook his head in disbelief and walked off the field. It was the same demeanor who was on the receiving end of the Kasprowicz rattle but wasn’t going to have anything said to his captain. The Indian team was indeed invincible that day.
*The scene becomes hazy as the camera zooms out and comes back into life*
The bowler is spinning the ball in the air and catching it back, releasing it from the ulnar aspect of his right palm and catching it back in his left. SHANE WARNE. He calls in a forward short leg then sends it back. Now calling for a silly point. The keeper in his embellished cap then waves his gloves in the air. ADAM GILCHRIST. Movement in the deep. All this while the batsman went thrice into stance and back.
The signature four step run up. Leap. Ball released. Loops in the air. The batsman is down the track. *click* it is driven down wide of mid on. The batsman takes to the wind, leaving the ground for a jump. Not very high, but high enough to show the significance of the shot.
YEAR 2002. HEADINGLY, LEEDS.
*The camera is now positioned just above the second umpire on the leg side*
Alex Tudor runs in. Bowls. A lanky figure moves forward with his bat and front foot. It hits his fingers. The left arm leaves the bat. Unconditioned reflex. But no flinching. Stance. Next bowl hits the forearm. The crowd in the background takes a sharp gasp. Again, no reaction. He turns his back to the bowler walks away a little, as the screen blurs out. The message was loud and clear “Get to me if you can son. I’m not leaving.”
As we get our sight back, straight ahead is hung the famous ADELAIDE WHITE BOARD bearing the names of overseas cricketers who have taken 5 wickets or more or scored a century inscribed into history. At the bottom, a name shines in a golden backdrop, RAHUL DRAVID 233, and disappears just as quickly.
“Rahul batted like God”, the captain had just said. Not sure if God plays cricket, but if he did he would be proud to have himself complimented thus.
The view changes. A loitered, deserted dressing room with an unusually amiable warmth. On the far side, to the left, a person is seated in a trance. Head rested behind, etched with a weary smile and the body in peace with itself and time. Dissociated from the mind, from stress, from worries, but still in a yogic transfixation. An artist it was, a painter of the highest order whose artifice is not always appealing at first, but eventually you have to give in and appreciate its divine beauty. He had just carved into life his finest art and he wanted to live it forever.
Getting the ball over the ropes is not something you would associate with him on a regular basis. Lesser so in a five-day game, but today he had done it all. Getting to a hundred with a six, double hundred with a four, hitting Bichel, Gillespie, Warne and the entire array of Australian bowling force to every possible part of the ground. Hooks,pulls, drives, cuts, the flotilla of shots people associated him with, had all of a sudden become an arsenal.
The ever so calm, ever so pedantic, ever so classy and the natural precocity that was RAHUL DRAVID showed its flip side to the cricketing world very rarely. One of those moments had been today. Pumping his fists, jumping, shouting, and jubilantly taking Laxman into his embrace, he put into the greater picture the other side of his character. From an idyllic stoic batsman to a fierce passionate competitor.
The second innings, the chase of 230 odd runs, and the unbeaten 72, although often undermined by the monumental 233 were harder to get and more hard-fought. It’s a tendency of the human mind to find things that come naturally more attractive, easier to approve, and nonchalant to applaud. As the man himself puts it, “People like to come and watch great shots, and players playing attractively. That’s natural. So would I.”
However, that day, although it may have never been at the forefront of his mind, he had changed the thought process of quite a few cricket lovers, ardent fans, experts, critics and the legends of the game alike.
Adelaide had witnessed something many people prefer to refer to as the stonewall dedication of a player “not-the-most-gifted” but the epitome of hard work, but what a select few, including me would rather call a masterclass, a result of talent, unparalleled dedication and hardwork throughout the vicissitudes of the match. A RAHUL DRAVID.
GLORY AND HUMILITY
As Suresh Menon very aptly puts it, “Forget 10,000 hours. I can practice 10,000 days and still not be a Sachin Tendulkar. For the essential flaw in the argument is talent. Talent without hard work withers early; hard work without talent gets you nowhere.”
It may sound like a dud to the omni-optimistics but sadly, that is the harsh reality of life. Telling sportsmen like Rahul Dravid, Pete Sampras, Rafael Nadal, Babe Ruth, Albert Pujols, LeBron James, Mohammed Ali, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi got where they were because of piling on hard work on a minimal foundation of talent is honestly one of the most demeaning and spurious blame on their achievements.
They are special for a reason, set apart for a meaning. Making them your role model is probably the best compliment for them, emulating them even more so, but comparing them is naïve; is “The Fallacy Of Incomplete Reasoning”
Coming back to our short motion picture,
739 minutes had passed since he had made his way to the crease, asked for the line of leg stump and middle stump from the umpire, marked them with his studs, and taken stance. Back foot, rock solid just ahead of the leg stump, front foot a little open, elbows straight, body disciplined as a soldier, bat coming up and down thrice in a harmonic motion.
*Back to the present*
Imran Farhat starts his sprint to the pitch.
UP, DOWN; 1; UP, DOWN; 2; UP, DOWN; 3; perfect, as always.
The ball comes in, goes through the till now indomitable bat, through the front foot, gives the slightest of kiss to the pads of the back foot and collides with the cylindrical wood. BOWLED. What that delivery had done, was that it had brought the marathon of an arduous, tenacious, laborious and maybe not the most poetic but certainly the most committed innings to an end.
A 740-minute long battle that encompassed 495 balls faced, 35 of which got over the ropes including 1 via the aerial route, at a strike rate of 54.54, to become the longest innings by an Indian, eclipsing Sunil Gavaskar’s 708 minutes. He had amassed a mammoth 270, His would be highest score in a test match, but more than that, he had single-handedly put Pakistan out of the match.
Batsmen came and went, but he stood throughout the 2 days barring the first ball on which Sehwag got out. Each, and every ball for 2 days. Another example of his long approved physical fitness, the result he later attributed to never missing any physical training session.
PATIENCE AND HARDWORK
This compendium of slivers of my memory, of the memory of any cricket fan of my generation, comes as an ode to the embodiment of the game itself. To the onomatopoeia of what cricket is called, to the real Mr. Cricket, to Rahul Dravid. For even today when someone looks up to an example of teamwork, of selfless eloquence, the first name that swims through my, our synapses, is that of the WALL.
I pen down these oddments today of the single and only idol of mine from the Gentleman’s Game, on and off the field of war, for today was the last time the game saw Rahul Dravid play. Today was the last time the game saw GUTS-BEFORE-GLORY.
As Harsha Bhogle puts this very last utopian statement for him, which by all means sums up his career and his overshadowed personal feats, as he walks back to the dressing room with his bat held high midway, but his head down for he couldn’t take his team to victory himself:
“For a career full of grace, charm, timing and poise, it was sad that it had to end with a slog. But, that was once again, JUST WHAT THE TEAM NEEDED.”
I stood there, just beyond the boundary ropes with my hands behind my back and tears welling up in my eyes. I was at a touching distance away from the man himself yet for some reason I couldn’t look up. What happened next made me fall in love with him all over again. He did not tell me or wait for me to look up, instead he came down on his knees so he could see me and asked me my name. For an entire 10 minutes, he spoke to me like a father. In the end he placed his index finger on my chest and said something I will cherish all my life:
“Everything you need is inside you. All you need to do is trust yourself and start. Your parents have faith in you, your friends have faith in you, I have faith in you. Find that faith in yourself and there is no wall immovable.”
-Rahul Dravid(5th December 2009,CCI)
A BEAUTIFUL MEMORY