There is something utterly classical and old school about Rahul Dravid. Whether it is the orthodoxy in his technique or an aura of purity, watching Rahul Dravid bat copybook style reminds you that there once was a copybook in cricket. In this age of raucous razzmatazz, Dravid is cricket’s David Ogilvy (the advertising uberguru whose 100th birth anniversary fittingly fell on a day when Dravid’s key contribution helped India to a test win) imploring everyone to stick to the basics. The advertising man had once said, “People don’t buy a new detergent because the manufacturer told a joke on television last night. They buy it because it promises a benefit.” Dravid’s batting seems to remind everyone about that truism. You can hark all you want about cricketainment, but cricket is not entertaining because there are some clown thrown in the mix, the game itself is supposed to be the entertainment.
Every time you watch Dravid take guard, head upright, body almost symmetrically stanced, eyes intense, that truth stares you in the face. As he leans over the play the on drive, or rocks back to play the perfect sqaure cut or hooks one to the square leg boundary in lightning fast motion, you can’t help marveling at the technique. His approach and presence takes out the triviality from the proceedings in the middle; in an age when celebrating mediocrity seems to be the norm, Dravid reminds us of how high benchmarks can get. His gritty knocks in difficult conditions which required extraordinary application of technique and super human levels of patience and endurance are of course the stuff of cricket folklore but there’s one innings that stands out in my memory. In 1996, when Indian toured South Africa, on a lightning fast pitch in Durban the other batsmen were vaporized by Alan Donald and his mates. India made 100 in the first innings and 66 in the second. Amidst the second inning ruins, Dravid stood tall, scoring 20 odd runs and remaining not out after walking in at no. 3. The runs are immaterial but the way he was defending and watching the ball, his reflexes and his strokes were mesmerizing to watch; such perfection in pitch, timbre and tone, while a tragic cacophony of a horribly out of tune orchestra played around him.
I remember when we used to play in the backyard imitating our favourite teams and stars, the arrival of Dravid was a special occasion. No matter who had the duties to ‘play’ Dravid in that innings, the instructions were to ‘keep your head straight and still’ and an upright stance. The whole demeanour of the batsman changed – and this was a bunch of teenagers playing fantasy cricket for fun! His technique and old school ties had threatened to over amplify the perception that he was obstinate to the point of being obsolete, he subtly adapted (his great one day metamorphosis was in the World Cup 1999 game at Taunton against Sri Lanka) and showed that even in T20, class creates its own value.
He’s always been happy to play second fiddle. Some of his greatest knocks were overshadowed by other stellar feats – that outstanding hundred against Australia at Kolkata in 2001 had Laxman’s 281, when he got to 10,000 runs with a hundred against South Africa, a certain Virender Sehwag decided to hit 319. But there have been other times when he carried the whole team on his shoulders – Adelaide in 2003, Jamaica in 2006 and even Jamaica redux in 2011. And in true Dravid style he holds one record that can currently only be equaled and not broken – he is the first player to score centuries in all Test-playing countries. That’s Dravid for you, reminding you that sometimes kickin’ it old school is the classiest way to be.