Category Archives: Rahul Dravid

Rahul Dravid Is The Great Indian Dad

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.


Is Any Cricketer Original?

The second Test ended with rain, which is a shame chiefly because it prevented me from watching more Darren Bravo. More than one cricket fan has pointed out his resemblance to Brian Lara (the pair share blood and a high left-handed back-lift). Part of that is nostalgia and aspiration — who wouldn’t want another Lara on the cricket scene? — but Bravo seems to have the talent to at least justify some comparison. The similarity raises a bigger question: how much of cricket is a derivative exercise? To what extent do cricketers carve their own creative path?

Recall the comment that K. Brathwaite made after his marathon innings in the first Test. He learned to bat and bat and bat, he said, from Shiv Chanderpaul, who prefers to accumulate his runs through attrition and patience rather than explicit intent. Recall Virender Sehwag when he first burst on the scene, and how difficult it was to tell him apart from his partner, Sachin Tendulkar. Recall Ishant Sharma, who blamed his wayward career on his dire need to be just like Zaheer Khan. Literary critic Harold Bloom once said that all poets suffer from the anxiety of influence; that is, they all get the urge to write poetry by reading great poetry and then feel trapped by what they have read (at least I think that’s what he said; it’s been an increasingly long time since college). Do you think cricketers suffer from this? I wonder if every left-arm fast bowler secretly wishes Wasim Akram never walked a run-up; no one will be like him, and even if they were, they would only earn a back-handed compliment: “You bowl just like Wasim Akram.”

So what separates the Akrams and Laras from the Zaheer Khans and Bravos? Why don’t we think anymore of Gary Kirsten or Mohammed Yousuf? I think the chief test for any cricketer isn’t necessarily most runs or most wickets, but leaving behind a style of play. Of all the tributes to Rahul Dravid, I was interested most by Sambit Bal’s, which argued that Dravid’s retirement meant that we were unlikely to see future Test batsmen value toughing it out like he did. The kind of batsman who likes to beat the passage of time as much as the next ball. As a cricketer, you want fans to like you not just for the runs or performance, but because of the way you play. We all know what a “Dravid-esque innings” means. Maybe this is the cricket circle of life: you start off emulating your models; you learn some lessons and either stumble or adapt and try to become your own person.

But I wonder: will we remember Ricky Ponting or J. Kallis when they retire? Will future players hope to be like them, or Kevin Pietersen?

The Truman Show Comes To Cricket

There was a moment during India’s run chase against Pakistan that stood out for me (for the wrong reasons): the producers decided they needed to add a little perspective to the Kohli and Co’s frantic scoring, so they showed a slow-motion shot of Kohli and Rohit Sharma bumping fists and laughing. Sunil Gavaskar says something like, “I think we are seeing a glimpse of India’s batting future here.” Then, the camera showed a fluttering Indian flag somewhere in the stadium. As production goes, not bad — but it reminded me of that moment in The Truman Show where a producer manipulates the script and camera shots to show Jim Carrey’s character in a flattering light for his “hero shot.”

It’s hard for me just yet to see Sharma or Kohli fill in the shoes of Dravid or Tendulkar (or Kallis or Ponting). Part of the problem is that it’s difficult to imagine 20-something brats as statesmen, a label that you only receive (it seems) when you hit the early to mid-thirties. Then again, Kevin Pietersen has been playing for nearly a decade now, and I still can’t shake off his ridiculous early mohawk-like haircut from the Oval, 2005. This isn’t to knock any of these athletes — they’re all phenomenally talented. But worthy of a Gavaskar-produced tribute and an ode to India’s future? To me, Dravid and Co. were the first-generation stalwarts who established a dynasty and saw it flourish; these guys seem like the second-generation floozies who may just throw away the inheritance for a Ferrari.

A Note On The Indian Batting Legends

The consensus on India’s batting failures runs like this: They are clearly past their prime and need to go, but thanks for the memories. There are vocal minorities that push the harder view — Tendulkar isn’t all that; Laxman needs to be dropped immediately and can’t move his feet; Dravid can’t sight the ball (Ganguly even had the nerve to question his technique, which I found rather surprising). The overall narrative: These are aged players, they are in decline, India needs to be rejuvenated.

Let me propose an alternative story: While some claim these last eight Tests have exposed the Big Three, what if these men — through their sheer talent (and fortuitous grouping) actually masked the structural weaknesses in Indian cricket for the duration of their careers? What if these men, fighting an unresponsive and politician-riddled system, managed to take an always mediocre team and make them — for a brief year or two — unbeatable? What has been exposed isn’t Dravid’s technique or Laxman’s legs, but the fact that other than a few diamonds, there’s a lot of dust in Indian cricket. The dam, in other words, has burst, and our excessive reliance on these men — and our classically Indian tendency to worship — deserves more criticism than anything else.

There are many holes in this narrative, I admit: a) It’s possible these men, thanks to their deservedly thick reputations, managed to delay change and reform (much the way Ganguly resisted changing the ODI team under Chappell); b) Old teams, like old firms, are slow to adapt and move; it was common in Dhoni’s early ODI tenure to shift batsmen around and force everyone to be flexible; by contrast, no one dared suggest switching up the Test side because the “record on paper” seemed too good to mess with; c) The problem with my counter-narrative is that it doesn’t address the main issue — India’s bowling is the problem, not the batting (see Kartikeya Date for more on this); d) Why blame the system at all? Didn’t these guys come from it? Hasn’t it amply rewarded them?

All good points. For the sake of generosity, though, I prefer my interpretation of history. We had two of the most prolific batsmen in the history of cricket play at the same time, with a capable back-up squad that included Sehwag, Laxman and Ganguly — and all we got was…what? West Indies? Australia? So, no, I don’t feel all that disturbed by the collective slump — I just think we should be talking more about Indian cricket as a whole now and whether these guys carried its burdens for too long, not “When are these guys going to retire already and let Kohli take their place?”

Have We Hyped India’s Batting Line-Up?

The Reverse Sweep goes over India’s recent overseas batting:

For the record and in reverse order the sorry tale of inepitude against Australia, England, West Indies and South Africa reads: 191, 169, 282, 283, 300, 244, 224, 158, 288, 261, 286, 347, 201, 252, 246, 364, 228 and 205.

During this sorry run these are the averages of India’s top seven: Gambhir 25.00, Sehwag 20.54, Dravid 47.66, Tendulkar 42.71, Laxman 32.15, Dhoni 27.00, Raina 25.92 and Kohli 13.75.

That’s pretty damning, but the post goes a bit too far when it suggests India’s batting is more myth and propaganda than actual merit.* Here are the career overseas averages for the players listed above: Gambhir: 49.75**; Sehwag: 46.21; Dravid: 54.13; Laxman: 46.40; Tendulkar: 55.61;  Dhoni: 35.07. (I’m not going to include Raina or Kohli because they’re too green at this level.) Those averages don’t suggest a line-up inept in the overseas circuit (though, admittedly, their averages in England and Australia specifically are likely to be much less flattering).

So why do these batsmen suddenly look like they’re playing in 1990s highlights? I don’t know and I haven’t seen a good answer from anyone. I wrote in an earlier post that India’s team management seemed to think that the England series was essentially a fluke compounded by bad luck and injuries. You can see why they didn’t seek radical change: Gambhir’s poking around off-stump works well in South Asia, but not so well against the swinging/seaming ball; Dravid and Tendulkar look great; Sehwag is and always has been a lottery and no one — no one — knows what’s going on with Laxman.

Whatever the cause, India’s batting-line up now looks like Sri Lanka’s: it all rests and falls with two men, Mahela and Sangakarra (or Dravid and Tendulkar in this case). Get to them (through a volatile opening pair), work hard to get them out (by restrictive lines and good luck), and you have a suddenly weak Laxman, Dhoni (not the best Test batsman) and a tail that goes from No. 6 down. If India fails to post a reasonable total in Sydney, the counter-narrative will begin to gather some momentum and more folks will be talking about “flat track bullies.” Either way, the series will be lost; Dravid’s (and possibly Laxman’s) retirement will be hastened, and a generation of fans will ponder why a team with such obvious promise and talent failed to rule the world at the start of the 21st century.

* I think it’s also a tiny bit unfair: teams like South Africa, Eng, and Aus will have higher batting averages in South Asia because pitches there are generally more welcoming (at least for the 1st innings). [I’m too lazy to check this hypothesis out — am I right? Are subcontinent averages for batsmen from these countries high?]

** Gambhir’s overseas average is inflated by performances against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. On the other hand, he has done well in New Zealand and South Africa, which aren’t kind to most batsmen (let alone Indian ones).

What The End of The Rahul Dravid Era Means

Here’s what I’m concerned about: Over the previous two decades or so, audiences have fractured. Some people have called this trend the ‘Daily We;’ the idea that people don’t have to go to the same sources for their entertainment or news and instead retreat to whatever suits their personal preferences best. This in turn means that the traditional gatekeepers — newspapers, broadcast news — find their come-one-come-all moderation no longer in demand.

What does this have to do with cricket? Even in the 1990s, the cricket stars were very real and clear. They played for the Indian national cricket team, which meant they had the flag to carry, and they weren’t explicitly commercialized (as the Indian consumer market was still developing). There was still a sense that these athletes — Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, e.g. — could appeal to a mass audience, not just by their performances but by their all-round middle class appearance.

Now, however, we face a different landscape. The danger of the franchise system is that it puts the money question up front. There’s no myth to the athletes; the bargain we make with them becomes explicit: we get entertainment, they get lots of money. This isn’t to say that cricketers didn’t care about money in the 1990s or even before; I think the match-fixing scandal that brought down Cronje et al. did more damage than we realize. But there was a useful illusion in place that allowed me — and still does — to look at Dravid and see hard work, sincerity, intelligence, and not “really rich guy.” So: will cricketers’ standing survive the IPL onslaught, when their salaries are so publicly determined, and that too by a mechanism as crude as an auction? Will T20 players command allegiances across the spectrum? Will Test-only ones do? Can they claim to be national heroes, or merely symbols of a niche market or the prize possessions of the Indian consumer?

Which is why the Rahul Dravid retirement was so poignant. He hadn’t played an ODI in years, and he seemed like he belonged to a different time. His brief return (and exit) to the stage only made gap in eras more glaring: will the future generations ever produce as fitting a man as this one? Didn’t it seem like a man from a simpler time had just passed — or am I only indulging silly, naive nostalgia?

‘Meh’: India’s Strange New Path to Cricket Dominance

Over at Deep Backward Point, Devanshu Mehta has done us all a service and tried, prosecuted and defended India’s decision not to chase victory against the West Indies. After reading blog posts from across the spectrum, Mehta arrives at a conclusion (via Jarrod Kimber) likely to satisfy all sides.

But I want to come to this party fashionably late and add two cents. I count myself part of the crowd defending M.S. Dhoni’s “cowardly” antics, in part because I had an over-powering sense of deja vu to guide me last week. The feeling came from events in 2007, when India — then under Rahul Dravid — decided to settle for a 1-0 series victory against England in England (a historic moment) and close up shop at the Oval. (Dravid scored 12 off 90-odd balls, a strange and cautious effort that botched the victory narrative.)

Then, as now, the same criticisms were voiced. No tenacity. No ‘killer instinct.’ A feeling of caution out of step with modern and shiny and confident India. But since 2007, according to my shaky use of Cricinfo‘s Statsguru, India has played 43 Tests, of which it has drawn 16 and won 19 (can someone check this, please?). In that same period, Australia played 43 Tests and won 21. Not a huge difference. Perhaps I’m not comparing the right teams; after all, India’s supporters don’t want it to be like Australia circa 2008; they want it to be like Australia circa the last 15 years.

OK. So let me make another point.  When Dravid scored those 12 agonizing runs, S. Vaidyanathan hypothesized the man was haunted by the specters of previous batting collapses in Bridgetown and Cape Town. He had something to prove — a series victory in England — and he wanted badly to do so. Last week, the Indians had nothing to prove in the Carribean. That’s a crucial difference. Whereas Dravid’s timidity came from a source of insecurity, Dhoni’s  came from a generation that has perfected the whatever shrug. “Meh,” as the youngsters like to say. The thinking goes like this: I have a T20 World Cup. I have an ODI World Cup. I have the No. 1 Test ranking. I have a series victory in the West Indies, with a second-rate team that included a brand-new opening pair. Meh.

Some cut-throat fans may not appreciate such an attitude. But as an ethical stance, I prefer it to seeking out-and-out dominance, which seeks the emasculation of an opponent.  Meh also comes from a place that implicitly acknowledges past achievements; indeed, it is only justifiable when such laurels can be cited (otherwise, it would be reprehensible). Meh achieves the same stance of superiority — we really couldn’t be bothered about this right now — even as it allows space for the other team to celebrate a small victory. Win-win.

The Nerdy Chic of Rahul Dravid

Rahul Dravid fans, a harried lot for the past half-decade, have reason to cheer again. Another century, and the perfect ‘Dravid kind.’ Tell-tale features include: 1) A mini-collapse of the line-up; 2) A boring solidity, taking the sting out of the pitch and the bowlers by simply standing there; 3) The ‘quiet accumulation of small triumphs,’ to quote a cliche.

But while the performance was surely impressive, I want to make a somewhat ancillary argument about Dravid’s true attraction: his nerdy chic. Have you ever typed in Dravid’s name in Google Image Search? The collection of photos that pops up reveals a thoroughly unassuming middle-class man: handsome, but not distinctive; a flat hairstyle with a neat side-parting; family shots with his wife and child; the ‘forlorn’ look he famously perfected at the 2007 World Cup.

Dravid’s talents are immense, but out of the Big Five (Laxman, Sehwag, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid), he alone is the most accessible to mere mortals. He lacks Tendulkar’s spark; Sehwag’s confidence; Laxman’s style; Ganguly’s shrewd mind — no, he is what talent looks like after it has been molded and beaten into submission by years and years of rigorous practice. He is the Asian nerd picked on in Harry and Kumar; he is also an example of cricket’s chief delight: our sportsmen are not ‘jocks’ and muscle-men. They really are gentlemen. (Well, most of ’em.) And they part their hair down the side.

What Jay Leno and Rahul Dravid Have in Common

Rahul Dravid scored his 32nd century in the Test against the West Indies, and it came at a crucial time, with India’s young batting line-up faltering once again. At 38, Dravid gives little away about any impending retirement; the money has it that he and Laxman and (possibly) Tendulkar will leave over the next two years (the term of Duncan Fletcher’s contract), but I have a question: why retire at all?

A long time ago, I made the case that retirement in cricket will become increasingly obsolete. For the best players, there will always be stadiums open to them, from IPL to other budding T20 leagues (and lucrative “coaching” contracts). I want to add an addendum: if a player is scoring runs, why force him out? Call this the Jay Leno theory of succession: if the only reason you have to bench a player is some vague concern about the “next generation,” banish the thought. Why remove your star late-night performer only because your second-star late-night performer has a contract up? (No offense to any Conanistas!)

You don’t need to read a Simon Katich rant to see the logic here. I understand the underlying concern — at some point, even Tendulkar will stop scoring the necessary runs, and once he goes, we will be left with a bunch of blue-blooded hotshots who think slog sweeps are acceptable ways to score Test runs. But so far, India has played its hand surprisingly well. Its schedule remains ever chaotic and frantic, leading to injuries and rest periods, allowing opportunies for Pujara, Badrinath, Vijay and now Kohli and Raina.

A Test here, a Test there. If they’re scoring runs and still want to play, I say let Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar stay ’til they wanna.

Hear Me, Fickle India Fan On The Verge Of A South African Defeat

Sigh. Another first Test abroad, another shambolic performance. (Is ‘shambolic’ a word?)

A number of excellent takes on India’s poor performance so far: read this excellent smackdown on India’s bizarre bias against warm-up games; or this wonderful attack on India’s strange selection policy. It occurs to me that India have tried more fast bowlers in the last year than Australia have tried leg-spinners. At one point during play, a South African commentator asked, “I’m trying to see [in Unadkat] what the selectors saw. I don’t know what his stock delivery is.” He said this, mind you, an over before the end of Day 2. That’s a problem.

I’ve said before that I’m a nervous ninny, but things are getting bad, people. We still don’t have a credible fast bowling attack. (After Zaheer, who? Munaf? Balaji? Pathan? Nehra? Praveen?) No, scratch that — we don’t have a credible spin bowling attack either. (After Harbhajan, who? Ohja? Mishra? Chawla?) And meanwhile, our one core strength — batting — is one to two years away from a wave of retirements that may relegate us to Aussie downfalls (After Dravid, who? After Laxman, who? After…Tendulkar, who? I’m as excited about Pujara and Murali Vijay as anyone, but I’m still scared, dammit).