There’s an interview-stream-of-consciousness thing from Rahul Dravid on Cricinfo, and every cricket fan should take five minutes and read it. There’s a lot of great insight in his comments about the game, but the main theme revolves around Dravid’s “intellectualism.” That is, Dravid claims he was not a natural player with loads of God-given talent; instead, he felt like he had to think and practice and reflect and think and train (and so on) to rise to the top. I particularly liked this passage about judging cricketing talent:
I think we judge talent wrong. What do we see as talent? I think I have made the same mistake myself. We judge talent by people’s ability to strike a cricket ball. The sweetness, the timing….We don’t actually look at the other side of talent. We say a talented player didn’t make it, but maybe he didn’t have the other talent. I hate to bring this example up: Vinod [Kambli] is one of the nicest guys I have met. When [Karnataka] played him in Rajkot, Vinod got 150 against Srinath, Anil. First ball Anil came on to bowl, he hit him straight into the concrete wall. At short leg, you said, “Man, amazing, how did he do that? I wish I could do that.” But maybe he didn’t have the talent in other areas. Of just understanding what it took to be an international cricketer, or dealing with the stress and pressure.
Earlier, I wrote that Dravid possesses a “nerdy chic,” which was a jokey sort way of saying that he comes across as an Everyman, a middle-class citizen worked his way to respectability. Growing up outside India as teenagers, my South Asian friends and I experienced moments of expat-disjuncture-post-colonial-angst-and-self-hatred when we realized our dads were not athletes or CEOs or “cool” (like our white friends’ dads seemed), but economists and engineers and mid-level business executives — the kind of folks who are mocked relentlessly in American sitcoms and movies (racist or otherwise). I don’t mean to knock any of these professions (God knows I wish I had the brains for any of those careers, or my own father’s), but Dravid was an Indian Dad Who Made It Big. He lacked the innate talent that oozes from Tendulkar and Sehwag, or the confidence of Yuvraj and Ganguly or the brashness of the latest lot, from Kohli to Rahane. And yet, for more than a decade, Dravid’s performances marked the backbone of Indian cricket.
Unfortunately, I have little doubt that, in the decades to come, few will remember Dravid as they do Tendulkar. That’s the way fame in sports works: it bends towards genius. I suppose if we do ever recall Dravid, it will be much the way we do our fathers: a deep, tender affection and recognition, always present but rarely expressed.