Batting methodologies represent the arts and the sciences. They have conscious and unconscious intents and a wholesome, valid interpretation, one that decodes several overt and covert patterns for the individual, or the team as a whole. For Rahul Dravid, who made his Test debut twenty years ago in England, the sequel was imminent. He was saddled with having instant comparisons drawn with the sublime solidity of Vijay Hazare and the tranquil, velvety artistry of Gundappa Viswanath. The rest is history.
Dravid (born January 11, 1973) espoused his faith in continuity too — the ‘heritable’ element of cricket and also everything in life. Enormously. He was, doubtless, a giant of a batsman, one of the finest ever of all time. Not just in the traditional game, which was initially his forte, as his critics insisted, but also in one-day, and Twenty20, cricket.
He wielded the willow like a seasoned violinist on a Stradivarius. Also, there’s more to his peerless capabilities than what met the description of aptitude. He had a stately sense of melody in his batting mechanics a la Hazare and Viswanath, or Vishy, the man who he admires and, perhaps, worships.
Dravid’s capabilities were as much a part of the game’s folklore as the wristy exploits of Vishy, the game’s most charming batsman, a stylist among stylists, and one of modern cricket’s own benchmarks for grace. It’s a tale that you would have often thought of — a similarity of the classical narrative against the racy, hackneyed tunes of the world we now live in. A world of open boundaries and high-tech imagery.
Vishy (born February 12, 1949) was to cricket what Vijay Amritraj was to Indian tennis: an amalgam of arithmetic magnetism, unruffled flow, assurance, poise, grace, and majestic flair. The purest classicism of the game was crystallised in Vishy. He was a natural innovator, a mercurial and majestic batsman. His footwork was balletic as that of a born dancer. He had all the qualities, and more, which often go to making a batsman truly great. He also juxtaposed them with a great mix of application, dedication, hard work and discipline — not to speak of a will to learn at every possible opportunity.
Hazare (born March 11, 1915, died December 18, 2004), like Vishy and Dravid, was a gentle player — a gentle human being too. His batting was all dignity. He was an elegant player even of the pull, which is otherwise a rasping shot. He often executed such blazing strokes with the cool precision of a surgeon. He also played the cut, the flick off his legs, and the delicate leg-glance, with finesse. He was respected for his free-stroking proficiency. He could dissect any field set for him with computerised congruity. Sir Donald Bradman once observed, “India has produced many attractive batsmen who can hold their heads high in any company, and of those I have seen none give me more joy than Hazare.”
While Hazare and Vishy had had that intangible spiritual tag that went along with their cricket mechanics, their destiny was just as evident thanks to their gifted batting skills. Vishy followed in the footsteps of Hazare and emerged a celebrated batsman, just as Dravid filled in and fulfilled Vishy’s fond ‘wish’. While Vishy’s sterling achievements in difficult situations were amazing, his ‘patented’ square cut and drive gave him a new status. It has not been excelled since.
And Dravid? He emerged, as already cited, as the worthy torchbearer of the ‘Vishy-arty’ enterprise, with his aesthetic blueprint as dignity personified, touching the sublime. An example: Dravid’s square drive was the real nectar of elevated batsmanship. It was a shot that attained nirvana as soon as it left his artful blade.
To consider another element, Vishy was an instinctive player, a touch-and-go genius. Dravid, while an intuitive batsman, was a model of assurance. He gave you the feeling that he meant business. He did not often give the bowler a chance, unlike Vishy, who always believed in taking ‘measured’ risks with the bowler. Not that Dravid was averse to experimenting in a similar manner. Maybe he did it subtly, the difference being one of degree.
There are other parallels too. Vishy and Dravid, all through their playing days, never exhibited that potential for the ‘kill,’ or the so-called killer-instinct, that cult element in modern sport. All they did was simply demystify the whole idea and emerge as victors in thought and deed. They demonstrated that cricket is a mental game (what with that ‘got-to-keep-a-cool-head’ structure of assortment); a game that is played between your two ears.
In doing so, Dravid signed himself up into the classical school of batsmanship. One that calls for the fundamental unity of all knowledge, with the need to search for every particle underlying every facet of cricketing excellence. Dravid’s batting was an intellectual convention — not a much-hyped celebrity assemblage — that had its roots in the pristine concept of harmony, including its elevation from the simple to the profound, and from the profound to the complex.
Dravid’s art and science of batting was a revelation by itself, something that may not only be used with special reference, but something that emphasises the transcendental equation between panache and the divine.
Like his glorious drives or pulls, for instance. An almost indispensable part of either spectrum. Also, take into account Dravid’s monumental ‘focused’ concentration — relaxation, or better still, the magical power and grace of the swing of the willow aside. Or his supreme control with the bat while executing a great shot.
Dravid’s batsmanship was poetic, too. It was a song that crooned in his mind, and enchanted every cricket enthusiast’s heart. Most importantly, it was also something that dwelled in the shadow of god. It still does and always will, in memory, and in tune with Kahlil Gibran’s capital aphorism — that “genius is but a robin’s song at the beginning of a slow spring,” or, in Dravid’s own embodiment, the sound of the bat meeting the ball.
This was his stamp — the hallmark of a champion. He was, and remains, quintessentially, Dravid, the Goliath.