Thursday, October 28, 2010
I 'Like' whatever has been posted on this Wall
Mahatma and Bapu both evoke images of the father of the nation – irrespective of whether one swears by unbendable Gandhian principles or belongs to the neo-urban generation of Bapu bashers. Universal reverence enabled Bal Gangadhar Tilak to turn into Lokmanya, and leadership qualities at two extreme ends of the nation made two noble names transform into Sardar and Netaji.
The phenomenon is not limited to the field of freedom fighters. In literature, Rabindranath Tagore was presented with the mantle of kabiguru, and in spite of being much younger than the venerable heads of politburo in his state, only one left hander ended up as the true dada.
Among all these saluting sobriquets, one rises up distinctly different from others. 'The Wall' is a name that sits immovable on the best ever one down batsman to have ever played for the country. The word Dravidian has taken on a new meaning in the last decade and a half – moving away from the ancient origins of a civilisation as old as time, across the geographical expanse of the southern parts of India and now denotes the broad blade which has for years thwarted the most diabolic of deliveries. And 'The Wall' has taken flight from the psychedelic cover art of Pink Floyd audio cassettes and CDs to take guard on the cricket field as a safe citadel for the coveted wicket.
In keeping with the tradition of Indian epithets, the nick characterises what the country has come to identify with Rahul Dravid. Immovable, impregnable stolidity … unperturbed shield of courage, defending the nation from every invading foreign force and weaponry year after year after year. It is definitely the popular image of the man who has batted on and on for the last fourteen years.
Yet, I find it distinct from the other nicknames discussed above.
At the risk of shooting myself in the foot by firing off an elitist versus mass argument , I will still argue that the primary reason for the difference is that unlike the rest it is an English moniker.
If Tendulkar is endowed with the allure of an epic novel that enthrals, edifies and educates, Laxman a brilliant collection of sonnets that are lyrical and lilting, Sehwag a masterpiece which reads like a fast paced thriller, Ganguly a popular novel filled in equal measures with pieces of beauty and unreadable pulp, Rahul Dravid is akin to an elegant exposition of mathematical arguments or grammatical structures, timeless in significance, enjoyable to few but the absolute connoisseurs of the subject.
His game is too perfect, too correct, too neat to have endless popular appeal. Based too much on technical precision than the heady natural talent that Indians have forever been used to worship. The elegant and academic beauty of a perfect forward defensive push, the logical extension of the same into an impeccable drive through the covers, the scientifically accurate moment of connection to send the ball between mid on and the bowler, the productive yet flash free square cut, even the traditional strokes of adrenaline enhancing adventure – the pull, hook and sweep – played with copybook correctness and minimum of risk … the masses are not swayed by such perfection.
After ten thousand runs in one day internationals, after a stupendous 92 off 63 balls a few weeks earlier, after only a handful of very recent failures, he was dropped from the limited overs side in a curious decision. However, there was no effigy of Dilip Vengsarkar going around in flames. No demonstrations were held across the streets of Bangalore. Petitions floated to re-include him in the team had to make do with a few signatures.
Contrast this with the reaction to the dropping of Sourav Ganguly in 2006, after the southpaw had averaged in the mid thirties for over a period of five years and fifty plus test matches, a comfortable twenty runs per innings behind his celebrated middle order companions. Indian masses love a flawed talent – whose vulnerability and emotions are almost palpable enough to touch. Resolute perfection, with a face as readable as the most seasoned poker player, is not something that equates with the popular image of a hero. The very same reason why subtlety in Bollywood movies is circumspect by its absence but for rare ventures of brilliance, mostly made for the intellectual elites and later a section of the multiplex crowd.
However, that is not to imply that Rahul Dravid's phenomenal achievements with the bat have not won him a fan following.
Dravid is appreciated by a distinct category of fans, that group of devotees who marvel at technical perfection, to whom concentration and application that goes behind a superbly negotiated late in-swinging delivery with the score reading 4 for one hold more value and merit than a hastily slogged six. There tends to be a marked social correlation between the admirers of the straight batted defensive stroke and the ones who would be rather seen dead than in the streets burning effigies. This is the same group who would actually appreciates the now famed urban sobriquet – The Wall.
But, even though The Wall is how the populace thinks of him, is it enough to characterise all the facets of the maestro's batting?
I beg to differ. Even to the most clamouring and irrational modern cricket 'fan', it is clear that Dravid has been the greatest match winning batsman in the recent times – till the advent of the rejuvenated Sachin Tendulkar. He averaged 102.84 while scoring over 2500 runs in the 21 matches won during the Sourav era. This is simply not possible with purely defensive technique. What we casually overlook while focusing on his impregnable defence is that he is perhaps the first Indian batsman to possess every stroke around the wicket with equal amount of risk eliminated perfection. The revenue more than speaks for his versatility in scoring all over the oval. At the same time, he has also scored some of the faster fifties in One Day Internationals. So, what gives the impression of one dimensional defensive technique?
The explanation is that while batting for the country the excessive element of determination and focus to hold on to his precious wicket makes him avoid the slightest of risk in his strokes, making him eschew adventurous endeavours that he is more than capable of undertaking. Except for the occasional square cut off the front foot, he does not show the slightest inclination towards unorthodoxy in test cricket.
That is not to say that he is selfish in his approach. One can find few examples of a batsman losing his wicket trying a reverse sweep when on 270. Few middle order maestros have taken up the challenge and opened the innings while captaining the side. But, with there seldom being an opening combination that got going on a regular basis before the Delhi duo of Sehwag and Gambhir, he gave the impression of being that Rock of Gibraltar at the top of the middle order that people will remember him as. That Great Wall of India.
Till then I can say with conviction that I 'like' everything that has been posted on this Wall for the last one and a half decades.