An over excited 8-year old. TV with a cable connection is finally home! George uncle has been gracious enough to have taught nuances like run-rate and strike-rate by now but for day-nighters, he cannot be disturbed. So after the puppy faces and grouchiness that an irritated father fails to understand, the moment is here. So, why this excitement for a game at such a young age one would think.
Flashback – two-three years of following the Gentleman’s game on the radio and constantly listening to one name, that one name that would reverberate for another couple of decades – Sachin Tendulkar!
The tournament was Sharjah (Desert storm) and the over excited chubby brat myself. And thus, began the romance with cricket. The analysis, the predictions, the guidance to a father who, till then, did not follow the sport.
Like every other cricket buff in India, watching Shane Warne pulverized was quite a morale booster for a reason still unknown. But nevertheless, the captivating glamour of the lights of Sharjah and the cricketing history that was created in my first “home” series, ensured that another one of those “I wonder why they can’t play in the ‘V’ more often” kind critic was to be born.
However, it wasn’t until a year later, when I realized that I was a cricket romantic more than a fanatic. That I would not mind the grinding of a 5-day affair and take it like tiny sessions of cat and mouse or a game of chess spread over hours wherein every move would have consequences, sometimes fatal. But all rationale was lost when that one wicket would fall. Off course that of the tiny genius from Mumbai.
It was the case for a better part of a decade and a half, or so I thought. Every time the man would get out initially, there was a sense of panic and fear rooting out of utter hopelessness. But gradually other emotions started coming in when the exact same incident occurred. It was a gradual shift from desperation to a surreal calm, one which was not known before. Something that was not so evident but later, years later was observed in a forgettable tour of England in 2011.
What happened in between was that some of the established players had left and some rooted out for reasons that questioned the integrity that all cricket lovers swear by. And this ensured a room for some not so established names by then to take up more responsibility or put bluntly, share some of Tendulkar’s shoulders (We all remember Chennai ’99 don’t we? ).
There was a Prince whose royalty was further enhanced by captaincy and a magnanimous stature. There was a clone of the juggernaut himself who on his day would outshine the master. And there was a Hyderabadi tailor who would stich the most outrageously impossible situations together to make test matches memorable.
And amidst all these dynamic and swash buckling personalities, almost like the cement to the tremendous tower that replaced what could only be called the nine pins Indian batting in the ’90s was, a man of integrity, hard work and sincerity made his mark.
I will not speak about the buckets of runs and other statistics here because that is not what this article is. What Rahul Dravid did in his years of service for Indian cricket is more than just numbers. None of the above mentioned stalwarts moved away from their comfort zones as much and as late into their careers like this man has without complaining one bit.
Be it promoting himself as a opener, keeping wickets, playing second fiddle in some of ODI crickets biggest partnerships, clinging on to most ‘b Kumble c Dravid’ situations (Man, Kumble’s pace for ‘leg spinner’!) or taking the blame for slow rate of scoring, the man did it all with the kind of grace one associates with ice skaters on the Olympic stage.
The fact that this man could one day and that to towards the twilight of his career, open the innings in the shortest format of the game in order to mentor another young lad similar to him in characteristics and style, goes to show what the man is made of.
Still, there is something that made us all fall in love with the “Sachin Sachin” chants more than anything on the cricketing field for most part of the past two decades. But no one denies that Sachin’s role changed dramatically with time and that more calmness and more maturity was clearly visible in the great man’s game in the latter half.
Calmness is something the brashness from Sehwag, aggression from Dada or the unpredictability of a Laxman could not provide. So, the answer is pretty clear and everyone acknowledges it. But no one would revere the ’cause’ since he himself was content on being ever the nice Jammy who wanted no extra recognition for the thing he loves most doing.
This for me, is what cricket is all about. A team sport played as a team activity over five days by ensuring the available resources are supported by each other for a common goal. And it is when I realized this level of cricketing enlightenment I realized that the cricket romantic in me was indeed more a Rahul Dravid fan and that the glamorous fanatic revered Sachin Tendulkar superficially.