Archive for the ‘rahul dravid’ Category

The Battering Ram and the Wall

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Fulsome tributes have been paid this week to two greats of the game. In one case it’s been a celebration; the other, farewell.

Viv Richards turned 60 on Wednesday. Today, Rahul Dravid announced his retirement from international cricket. Richards is a reminder of a once combative, proud nation, a conquistador with a cause; Dravid the consummate gentleman and understated technician, the velvet glove with the concrete core who gave his team backbone when it needed it while flashier performers stole the limelight.

Both men were major players in the forging of their countries’ national sporting identities and the casting off of the remnants of colonialism; both men were two of the greatest there have ever been.

Viv was a warrior: every match he played in a fierce skirmish between bat and ball which he regularly won. He may have called his bat his sword, but during his greatest achievements – 291 against England at the Oval in 1976, 182 not out at Bridgetown in 1981, fastest Test hundred against England in Antigua in 1986, to name but three – he wielded it like a hammer.

Dravid, though he may have laboured in Sachin’s shadow, was no mere shield-bearer. Like the man himself, his achievements, and the manner of their making, do not shout; it is only when you take the time to look at them that you realise their unarguable greatness. Second highest run-getter in the world in Tests; first Indian to score consecutive hundreds in four Test innings; possessor of five Test double hundreds; first player to score a century in all Test-playing countries… you will read many such lists today, and you will marvel at the numbers and at the longevity. There’s something gratifying about the fact his retirement comes while his performances in the England series last year are still so fresh in the memory, a series in which he shone while his team mates struggled. It’s always tempting to hope an old campaigner has one last fight in him; Dravid has walked away now while the decision is still his to make.

Aggression and eloquence; calmness and sheer force of personality; the battering ram and the Wall: Viv Richards and Rahul Dravid are two sides of a priceless coin that may no longer be in circulation, but that has given the sport such a store of riches to look back on.

Viv’s post-retirement career has not been smooth. Stanford ambassadorship; the travesty of the ground in Antigua named after him exposed as an unusable sand-pit during the England series of 2009. Such is the fragmented, troubled nature of West Indies cricket, the bickering between players and board and of the islands’ administrations with each other, that a man whose deeds could be used to inspire so many of the nation’s up-and-coming talent now chooses to steer well clear of any political involvement.

Dravid, similarly, is too valuable a statesman to be lost to the game, but whether he will feel similarly wary of the endless politicking of the BCCI and ICC remains to be seen.

All nations need their legends, reminders of what a country has achieved and of the heights it can reach again. Cricket in India and the West Indies is in a period of transition. India have yet to properly embark on their rebuilding; the West Indies have been in this phase for a long time but it has mostly been a case of one step forward, two steps back. If Viv Richards was the bullet fired at the heart of English and Australian superiority, the gun West Indies cricket is now wielding seems pointed squarely at its own feet. It says something that the only West Indian player who currently approaches Richards’ genius and swagger – Chris Gayle – is not even playing for his national team.

Whatever happens, the legacy of Dravid and Richards will remain untouchable. What they have given us, we will always have.

Of course time moves on. Sport, like so many other walks of life, is no country for old men. When Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton first heard a 20-year-old Jimi Hendrix play at a concert in London in 1966, they felt they should retire. Perhaps Dravid reached the same decision while watching Virat Kohli flay Lasith Malinga around the ground during that jaw-dropping 133 not out in that Commonwealth Bank Series group game in Hobart that got so many talking.

In common with many other England fans, Dravid, as sportsman and individual, has always appealed to me more than Tendulkar. Sachin’s greatness is such that he has been raised to the level of archetype, icon, god; as a person, he is essentially unknowable. There are obviously depths, but they are closely protected. That this is down to the hysterical adulation which greets his every achievement is understandable. Dravid has always seemed more human, more accessible. Erudite and well-read – with a wide range of interests including history, politics and nature conservation – he is a man who is blessed with an extraordinary sporting gift but who also recognises the importance of the world beyond the boundary and his place in it.

During his Bradman Oration in Canberra last December, Dravid quoted the Don’s words about leaving the game better than you found it. The game may or may not be better – there are compelling arguments for both – but it is different. Dravid said today that he would play in this year’s IPL (if you want a symbol of how much the sport has changed, look no further) and then he will decide on his future. It would be nice if he could stay involved with the sport in some way. Because cricket without the continued benefit of Dravid’s wisdom – and his clear-headed recognition of the challenges it now faces – would be so much the poorer.

The Wall at Trent Bridge

The Wall at Trent Bridge

Five days and one moment

Monday, July 25th, 2011

If Andrew Strauss sounded a little hoarse in the post-match presentation today, that is understandable. No doubt the result of much appealing, it was probably even more down to celebration, as England made sharp, clinical work of scything down India’s second innings to wrap up a historic 2000th Test match.

It’s been five days of ebbs and flows, ups and downs, and unexpected detours along the way. It’s seen scintillating batting and superb bowling from England and an India weakened by injury and absence and doing the best with what it had only to find England far too strong an opponent.

Above all, it’s shown that rather than the twitching corpse many alarmists would have you believe  Test cricket resembles – and that’s not to say there isn’t rightly concern for its future – it is capable of climbing off the canvas, kneeing you in the balls to get your attention, and making you forget every meaningless ODI and T20 you’ve ever been exposed to.

That’s not to say the shorter forms don’t have their place – and it’d be churlish of me to take too much issue with T20 considering Leicestershire are doing rather well in that format right now – but Test cricket remains the very greatest format the sport has to offer. Preferring Test cricket does not make you boring, uncool or an antediluvian dinosaur stuck in an ivory tower (not, of course, that there is anything wrong with this).

It means you want to see the best cricketers in the world being judged on their abilities to perform at the highest level. It means paying attention rather than instant gratification; it means witnessing moments of greatness or disappointment, or even sometimes moments of farce and anticlimax, but all of these are threads in a tapestry you can only truly admire by stepping back and viewing them in the context of the whole.

If this sounds a tad precious, I apologise. Like most cricket lovers I’ve spent hours trying to explain my love for cricket; sometimes, I’ve even managed to succeed. Tests like this sure make my job easier.

That’s not, however, to say it was a classic meeting of equals. India did not look like the number one side. Undercooked through lack of preparation, missing their star opener, their lead bowler hors de combat and the continuation of Sachin’s Lord’s hoodoo (34 in the first innings, 12 in the second) meant England always looked the better side. With a few exceptions, the galacticos could hardly be described as having performed well as a unit, and they will be hoping Zaheer Khan will at least be back for Trent Bridge where he performed so well in the Jellybeangate Test of ‘07, snaffling 9 wickets and a deserved Man of the Match award.

From the hard slog of Day One, to KP’s all-banners-flying double ton on Friday, with Ian Bell and Matt Prior in support; golden boy Stuart Broad regaining his lustre; Matt Prior’s rescue-mission ton after the wobble caused by a resurgent Ishant Sharma; Jimmy Anderson’s five wicket haul, his 11th in Tests and his third at HQ… We had drama, controversy (oh, for a full DRS!), queues since 2AM stretching down the Wellington Road and Tendulkar causing a near-riot as he came back from a net session before the start of play…

I love Test cricket so much right now, I should probably be served with a restraining order.

Tendulkar in the field, Day One

Tendulkar in the field, Day One

But. India are not the number one team for nothing. They may have the unfortunate habit of losing first Tests in series, but a two-match margin of victory for England is far away still.

India needed only 73 runs in their second innings to win at Trent Bridge the last time these teams met there. Tendulkar scored 91 in the first innings. The year after that, 2008, the new stand went up, with the resultant microclimate helping the ball to hoop round corners. Jimmy Anderson could run riot here, Tremlett has excellent form against India at this ground, and India will be praying Zaheer Khan is fit.

The best is yet to come.

One last thing. If I were told tomorrow that I’d be stricken with total amnesia regarding this match and that I would only be allowed to remember one moment from it, despite England’s superb victory, I’d choose to remember a shot played by a batsman on the losing side. That shot was Rahul Dravid’s airborne punch through extra-cover that took him to 98: daylight between feet and ground, every muscle tensed like a Bernini statue brought to life, a perfection of balance and timing with the added flourish that makes cricket-porn tragics like me take a long, deep and satisfied breath: the hot-spot replay showing the white heat signature bang in the middle of the blade.

The past five days have showcased everything that is great about Test cricket. And sometimes, true greatness comes distilled in a single moment.