|HOME | SPORTS | DIARY | RAMACHANDRA GUHA|
|August 13, 1998||
It used to stand at one of the city's key intersections, down at the end of Brigade Road where it meets Residency Road. It was strategically placed, and, especially at night, dramatic in its effects.
Whether one drove down Brigade or Residency, one would light up the resolute face of Rahul Dravid, known in that space only as 'THE WALL!'.
My guess is that the adman who thought up this nickname is old enough to be young Dravid's father -- possibly, even his grandfather. His idea of Indian batsmanship is, it seems, defined by Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare or, at the very least, by Dilip Sardesai and Sunil Gavaskar.
When our copywriter was a boy, India could never hope to win. But if they put their mind to it, they could escape with a draw. Tuk-tuk, block-block, all through the last three days of the match after following on in the first innings.
Naturally, the cricketer most admired across the land was the one who played forward with a 'dead' defensive bat.
'It is in the matter of patience that the Indian cricketer will never be equal to the Englishman'. Thus wrote Lord Harris in 1921. The Indian cricketers he knew best were K S Ranjitsinhji, who never played a Christian stroke in his life, and Colonel C K Nayudu, a man whose style of batsmanship can only be described, in contemporary terms, as a cross between Shahid Afridi and Sanath Jayasurya.
Nevertheless, for Harris to issue a prophecy so categorical was to invite disaster. For if one defines 'India' broadly, as a cultural type spreading across all the SAARC countries, then it must be said that it is especially in the matter of patience that the Indian batsman has come to excel all the others.
Two or three statistics say it best. The slowest century in Test cricket was scored by Mudassar Nazar. He took 557 minutes to reach a ton against England at Lahore in 1977-'78. Two winters later, I saw Mudassar batting in an elevated fifth gear in Bangalore, when he took a mere six-and-a-half hours to arrive at three figures.
Next to me in the stands then was a fellow with one eye on the game and one ear on All India Radio. By the time we got to lunch the expert commentator, Lala Amarnath, was referring to Pakistan's opening batsman as 'Nazar Mohammed'. One cannot blame the Lala, for he had once fielded through 515 minutes while a chap by that name (Mudassar's father, actually) scored 124 in a Test match.
As it happens, Nazar Mohammed liked to take his risks off the field. While still a Test cricketer, he started an affair with the great singer and actress Nur Jehan. They were together in a hotel room one day when the lady's husband walked in with a shotgun. The opening batsman leapt out of the window, and out of Test cricket, his arm broken in multiple places. All that remained was to pass on the art of tuk-tuk to his son.
The slowest double hundred in Test cricket is marked against the name of the Sri Lankan wicketkeeper-batsman Brendon Kuruppu.
The slowest triple hundred, indeed the longest innings in Test cricket, was also the work of a subcontinental batsman. In 1957-'58, Hanif Mohammed batted for 970 minutes to score 337 and save a Test at Bridgetown. It is said that early in his innings a Bajan boy watching the match from a palm tree lost his balance and fell down, head first. He was taken to the hospital with a bad case of concussion.
When he came to, forty-eight hours later, the brat's first word were, ''Is Hanif still batting?''
Like Nazar Mohammed, when Hanif finally retired he took in hand the cricketing education of his son. Thirty years after that Barbados marathon, his boy Shoaib took 720 minutes to score 163 against New Zealand in Wellington.
Let us now define 'Indian' more narrowly, as someone holding a passport of the free and sovereign Republic of India. That done, one finds a good number of our fellow citizens among Wisden's list of slowest individual batting performances. These include 5 in 102 minutes by the Nawab of Pataudi, Jr (versus England in 1961-'62), 16 not out in 147 minutes by Dilip Vengsarkar (against Pakistan in 1979-'80), 60 in 390 minutes by Dilip Sardesai (against West Indies in 1961-'62), and, most poignant, 99 in 505 minutes by M L Jaisimha (versus Pakistan in 1960-'61).
Missing from this list are the names of India's most celebrated defensive batsmen, Vijay Hazare and Vijay Manjrekar. (One name that does figure is Manjrekar's son Sanjay, whose 500 minute hundred against Zimbabwe in 1992-'93 is the fourth slowest Test century ever.)
Whatever Wisden may say, or forget to say, for a generation of Indians national self-respect had no more reliable carrier than the broad defensive bats of Hazare and the senior Manjrekar. One Vijay could drive and the other Vijay cut, but it was only in the relaxed world of Ranji Trophy competition that they were allowed to play their strokes. While they represented Nehru's India and the Non-Aligned Movement, the frills had to be strictly cut out.
Also absent from that list is the name of Sunil Gavaskar. He too was a strokemaker turned by the obligations of team and country into a tuk-tuker. For at least the first ten years of his Test career, Gavaskar knew that the most likely way that India would not lose would be if he blocked from the front.
Then came Krishnamachari Srikkanth, who encouraged him to think it possible to hit boundaries before the first drinks interval. Lower down the order, Kapil Dev was making old-timers recall the days of C K Nayudu. Not since the great Colonel had Indians has been seen to so consistently hit the ball in the air and out of the ground.
Srikkanth and Kapil between them helped redefine the meanings of Indian batsmanship. Notably, their careers coincided with the rise of one-day cricket. The cricket fan thought it time to say bye-bye to tuk-tuk. No longer was he to be satisfied with draws hard won, with centuries carefully crafted over two days and a bit.
Which is why I believe that the fellow who named Rahul Dravid the 'Wall' is either sixty years old, or else was brought up by a father who was brought up on Hazare. Which is also why that impressive hoarding did not last long at the Brigade-Residency crossing.
When it became clear that the Karnataka batsman would not fit in India's one-day plans, it was time to market somebody or something else.
Even if Dravid never gain lends his face to a product, I would like to raise two cheers for his style of batsmanship. For the skilled practitioner of tuk-tuk can do more than draw Test matches -- he can help win them too.
Don Bradman's Australian teams of the thirties and forties always had one artful blocker. In the greatest of modern Test sides, the West Indies as they were between 1977-'85, the thunder was stolen by the dashers and bashers, by Greendige, Richards, Fredericks, Kallicharan and Lloyd. Yet they could bat freely only because the now forgotten Larry Gomes kept one end going for long periods.
Other successful teams have also had one selfless defensive batsman, who allows the others to play around him. In the accomplished Pakistan side of the seventies, Mudassar Nazar or Sadiq Mohammed blocked while strokeplayers like Zaheer Abbas, Majid Khan, Asif Iqbal, Javed Miandad and Wasim Raja scored at a rate of knots opposite them.
Why go back so far in time? Think only of February and March of this year, and India's surprising victory over the self-appointed world champions. The batting headlines in that series against Australia were claimed by Sidhu, Azharuddin and, above all, Tendulkar. But their sparkle and fizz was only, to say, more flower on the Wall. These strokemakers took Dravid's clam solidity for granted.
But after Mark Taylor's men went home, the silly season began. The Indian team moved from Sri Lanka to Sharjah, and will soon go on to Canada. There is talk now of squeezing Dravid into the fourteen for Toronto.
Yet it is only when Test cricket resumes, late in the year, that Dravid will resume his proper place in the playing eleven. The public will learn afresh to spell his name. And who knows, while coming down Brigade Road at night, my headlights might shine once more on his face.
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