It came hurtling down heavy and hard, at 150 kilometers an hour. It hit the ground and took off as if it fed off an invisible source of venom in the earth. It seemed to have perfected the art of hunting. Like all predators, it went for the throat. Baring its fangs, it was only one hundredth of a lunge away from sinking its teeth into the smooth, sweaty skin on the Adam’s apple of its prey. Just about the moment the predator looked like fulfilling its blood thirst, it fell down in an almost impeccable vertical line from the exact spot it occupied fraction of a moment ago. It lay limp, lifeless. What had transpired? Was it a sudden pull of gravity that brought it down at that instant? Not really. Someone had tranquilized it. Not with a dart, but with a piece of wood. The precision of effort and the economy of movement by the bearer of willow ensured that a fine line was tread. That finest of lines that exists between the predator ricocheting off the wood, forced to fly away on the one hand and the predator forcing itself on the willow and pushing through on the other.
Not discouraged, the predator returned. This time, it flew a little wider, hoping to entice the prey with a bait. A tasty crumb it would ostensibly wave, and the prey would fall for it. Simple plan, but devious enough to have devoured dozens of unsuspecting prey. While it was hoping to encounter its target, all it encountered was thin air. It had to be content with passing through the shadow of its prey’s willow.
Disoriented and worn out, the predator resumed the hunt. To its credit, it was not too off target. It was just a wee bit distant than it had been last time. Little did it know, that it had hell to pay. A ferocious strike, lightning quick and as fierce a battering as it had ever received, admonished the predator from the presence of its prey. As the predator accelerated off the grass, you could almost sense it rubbing its backside, hardly able to come to terms with physical castigation it just received.
To the perspicacious lovers of cricket who perceive the recondite battle between willow and leather stripped of its ostentatious razzmatazz, Rahul Sharad Dravid is a Godsend.
To those opposed to favoritism, nepotism and a general lack of meritocracy, Dravid is a mascot. Be it a spiteful green top, a vicious turner or a docile featherbed, each ball would be judged by its merit and merit alone. A bad one would be dismissed from his stern presence. A good one would be left well alone, an art in which the difference between himself and his contemporaries can be measured in the amount of daylight. And when he succumbed, very often, it would be to a ripper of a delivery. If he had surrendered to a less than good ball, the rage which he flew into, at himself, could generate electricity for a few villages.
The steel that he batted with suddenly gave way to exceptional softness of hands that is required of a slip fielder. But the moment to wait for, was when a catch was pouched. That childlike glee in a man of intense unyielding demeanour, at having conspired to bring success to another teammate in the form of a wicket remains to me, one of the most fulfilling sights in the game. Rarely if ever, there would be a missed opportunity. And that would be followed by self admonishments of the most ruthless kind.
If sacrifice was any yardstick to measure a man, Rahul Dravid, the man who batted wherever he was asked to, the man who kept wickets just so that his team could afford that one more batsman, the man who fought at the most difficult times while allowing others to walk away with laurels sits at the very top.
That Dravid was the indubitable spine of his team when they won some of the most momentous victories in their history was never a coincidence. He was the military tank that made its way through the rough and tumble of the grind rather than the fighter jet that adorns the skies. Not only did he know this, but he was also comfortable with this. The mark of a man who takes things as they come, after having ensured he did his best.
Sometimes, the camera would zoom in on Dravid’s face while he was batting. What ensued onscreen was a lesson. A lesson in concentration, seriousness, steely resolve and intense passion for the game, bordering on worship.
So much for being called a gentleman by all and sundry, Dravid, to me, remains the most bloody minded warrior in the game. Every muscle, every cell would be twitching, pulling out the last ounce of ability into focusing on how best the present moment could be dealt with.
Hell! I don’t know how I will bring myself to watch cricket knowing well that the high left elbow and still head of Rahul Dravid won’t be around!
Update: This piece was published as an op-ed in The Pioneer.
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