A man less committed to the cause of the nation would have hesitated to answer such a mindless call to arms, writes Nirmal Shekar
Rahul Dravid has done the right thing by announcing his retirement from limited overs cricket after the ongoing tour of England. For far too long, the self-effacing and classy Bangalorean has allowed men with a fraction of his skills as a cricketer to use and discard him as they pleased.
Greatness must not lend itself to the whims and fancies of people who fail to understand its true value and adamantly refuse to give it the respect it deserves.
He was off the ODI scene for two years and not even considered for a place in the side that went on to win the World Cup at home. Suddenly, amidst a tsunami of defeat and despair in England, men hushed over a table in a boardroom have sought to put The Wall in place — in sheer desperation.
A man less committed to the cause of the nation would have hesitated to answer such a mindless call to arms. But Dravid being what he is, has put up his hand without so much as a murmur.
But enough is enough. Our selectors seem to want him only in the toughest of conditions when the fair-weather ‘greats' are found wanting. That's clearly an insult to an upstanding sportsman who has never given less than 100 per cent, whatever the situation.
Dravid's clear-eyed engagement with difficult circumstances and his old-fashioned determination to maximise his natural talent for the benefit of the team have seen him score 14 Test hundreds in a winning cause, at an average of 65.69. Twenty of his 34 Test tons have come away from home.
In any narrative of sporting greatness, courage is one quality that always stands out; Dravid is about as courageous as any Indian cricketer might ever have been. For this attribute alone, in the last quarter of a century, there is just one other batsman this writer believes can be compared to Dravid. That man is Steve Waugh.
But then, The Wall is perhaps the most inappropriate, simplistic and, arguably, insulting nickname in the world of sport today.
For, walls don't think. They just stand in your way or collapse, depending on the amount of force applied. But the holder of that egregious nickname does neither. Instead, Dravid does science. The playing arena is his laboratory. He dons his whites, painstakingly conducts experiments and comes up with fascinating results.
To call him a fighter, again, will be to belittle his status. He is no Jimmy Connors or Javed Miandad, two of the finest street-fighters in modern sport.
On the other hand, Dravid is an academic who has accidentally turned out to be a successful cricketer. On the pitch, he operates like an Oxford professor of mathematics.
Dravid doesn't duck or weave as bombs are directed at him; he mocks at them with intelligence, each time committing to memory their destructive potential and squaring them with his own superior ability to defuse them.
Sport is mostly instinctive. But Dravid has turned batting into a game of chess. As he lets a scorcher past him or steps back to work the ball square of the wicket to the fence with balletic grace, he seems to tell the bowler: “Your move, please.”
He makes his shot selection with a master surgeon's decisiveness. There is no waffling. The meatier the foe, the more decisive is Dravid's response.
This is precisely why trying to fit him into simplistic stereotypes is nonsense on stilts. He is a multi-faceted man who, post-career, will engage with life and its doosras in exactly the state of affectless calm with which he has dealt with bowlers during a remarkable career.
“Rahul Dravid is one player I could go and watch. Come to think of it, if I wanted someone batting for my life, it would be Rahul,” said Brian Lara a few years ago.
In a brutal, gladiatorial arena which a cricket field can sometimes turn out to be, Dravid's tenacity, courage and resourcefulness turn him into a giant with few equals.
That India should fall back on the oldest active Test cricketer to bolster its ODI team in England may, in a way, appear to be a tribute to the great man's skills. But the fact that the selectors should have done that after denying him the opportunity to be a part of a World Cup winning team is an insult to both Dravid's intelligence and his unwavering commitment to India's cause.
Keywords: Rahul Dravid retirement