Vantage point

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Biggest Dravid Myth

Rahul Dravid has retired. The end of an era. A lot is being written about him, and will be written about him. I am not interested in writing a comprehensive tribute to his illustrious career. I want to address the biggest Dravid myth that keeps cropping up in most tributes.

In an otherwise well-written article on Dravid at The Guardian, Rob Smyth writes

Though Dravid was technically beautiful, his often weary face
betrayed the fact that batting rarely came easy to him. He did not
have the brutal audacity of Virender Sehwag, the poetic elegance of
Laxman, the unfathomable, enduring genius of Tendulkar or the sublime
cover drive of Ganguly.

I could not disagree more. Dravid had loads of natural flair, and all this talk of his technique trumping all else, making him out to be a dour but determined grifter is the result of cricket fans wanting to neatly pigeonhole batsmen into pre-conceived slots. Lazy cricket fans think of those slots as Richards or Boycott, and put Dravid quite unfairly in the Boycott slot. I also think his "technique" was vastly exaggerated, and is the result of people forgetting what the copybook actually says and equating a slow scoring rate and a solid defense with textbook technique.

I am not saying he was a technique maverick and mostly freakish natural ability like Laxman or Sehwag. But his success wasn't all technique or even mostly technique. He had a few shots, especially in the 90s, that would have made an orthodox coach cringe, but looked absolutely beautiful. His drives square of the wicket on the off side were essentially similar to Sehwag's - no foot movement, and taking a chance against balls in or just outside the corridor of uncertainty, and relying mainly on balance and hand-eye co-ordination. Most other batsmen most of the times would have nicked those to slips or scooped them to gully. He got away with those shots, with a few lives during his 148 in SA and 190 in NZ in his early years. But he batted pretty much the same way in Aus in 99 and failed miserably, because luck wasn't on his side. His swivel pull shots looked beautiful too, but he very often fetched balls way outside the off stump line, something a technical coach would have been aghast at. I even remember him losing his wicket, when very close to a century, to Greg Blewett of all people, to such a pull shot. He often played almost compulsively against the spin, something that got him into trouble against Shane Warne for a while, because Warne's line was often so far away from the stumps. But helped him attack other spinners with relative ease.

And his timing was phenomenal! That was sheer natural talent. I remember watching him once against Pakistan, when he had let his hair down by his standards and was going for his shot. Orgasmic batting that was! I remember texting Amit Varma that this was the most beautiful attacking innings I had ever seen him play. It was his 110 in the 1st innings against Pakistan at Eden Gardens in 2005. He truly must have been at the top of his game, because he followed it up with a vital century in the 2nd innings. But that 110 was REALLY enthralling to watch! Dravid playing purely on instinct, without inordinate fear of losing his wicket,

The thing is, Dravid curbed his natural flair more than the average natural flair Indian batsman. He defended and played it safe more often than he needed to. Not that there's anything wrong with that. That helped him convert several possible 75 off 110 balls into 125 off 250 balls. And his "technique" evolved through the years, like any quality batsman's technique should. He consciously became more solid in defense as the years went by. Often exactly when the team needed him to, but also occasionally when him playing with gay abandon would've given us a better result. So the only reason Dravid is seen as this guy to whom "batting didn't come easy", is that he consciously cut down on his easy shots in the 2000s, when he was at his peak. I know he himself has said that batting didn't come easy to him. But that might have to do with his own lofty standards of ease and strict quality control when it came to shots, than anything else. And it made perfect sense, given that he was in the same team as Sehwag, Tendulkar, and Laxman for those years. With all those aggressive stroke makers in the team, it made sense for him to be the circumspect one.

But batting did come easily to him. He just chose, almost always, to not give in to his natural instincts, and instead relied on his judgment. But the rare occasion when he did give in to his instincts could be brutal. I remember watching with awe an ODI against New Zealand back during my MBA days (2003 or so) when he came out to bat in the slog overs after centuries by Sachin and Sehwag. He absolutely mauled the Kiwi bowling line-up and got to a half-century in 24 balls or so. The friends I was watching the match with kept saying "Who is this guy? this isn't Dravid!" And my response was, "this IS the real Dravid. He just chooses not to be that most of the time."

To sum it up, I think "Though Dravid was technically beautiful, his often weary face betrayed the fact that batting rarely came easy to him." is IMHO the worst and most inaccurate insult you can heap on Dravid on the day of his retirement.