In cricket mere mortals have legends spun around them. And, so it was when one man scored a century at one of the hallowed grounds and, the other came oh-so-close. The legend of “never the bride” commenced.
Before Nottingham/Trent Bridge, the only recent example which I used to quote about the prowess of a batsman in full control of his abilities was Sachin’s hunkering down into a full session of Steyn’s bowling. Over after over, ball after ball, Steyn, in the peak of his bowling form, unleashed balls that poked and probed for chinks and weaknesses. And, found them. However, in the end, Sachin probably just thought it was required to prove to himself that he possessed the skills to face up to that specific kind of venom. He fidgeted, he poked, jabbed and, lord forbid ! slashed at balls. He showed a side of himself that wasn’t really something his fans wanted to see. He showed he was weak. And, he showed he was strong. Because, he prevailed. At the end of the session he was there while the batting line-up around him had no answers to Steyn. A classical full blooded pace bowler met someone who wasn’t at his best and yet managed to never slip up. That was an example you’d want to quote. And, a match you’d want to see.
Not after yesterday.
At Nottingham/Trent Bridge, Rahul Dravid, the man who has earned himself the half-affectionate and half-derisive monicker of “The Wall”, will upstage Sachin’s innings. A batsman who isn’t really playing at the peak of his powers, a batsman who has aged, a cricketer who is more or less universally acknowledged to be classically perfect and yet boring, came out to open the innings. From his non-striker’s end he watched what could be an impulsive shot from an opener gift England their first kill. And, then joined hands with VVS Laxman. Laxman, is always known as “that cricketer who has a special place in the Australian hall of fame”. Together they crafted a session that wasn’t run-a-ball. It was more a kind where each cricketer takes time to commit no mistakes and, settle down to pick and choose balls to score off. All the while ensuring that they will be gnawing away at the confidence of the opposition.
As an aside, Sunil Chhetri, when describing why the great footballers and their clubs rule the world, took the example of Manchester United and said that ManU is great because they do less of the mistakes anyone is supposed to do on the football pitch. Dravid probably embodied all of that. All the right things done correctly, and, nearly zero of the mistakes that could get down the innings. At one point he took 114 balls to score 39. Think about this for a second. The sheer mental strength of the man to be around batting in conditions where the most pedestrian bowlers look to be menacing. And, in the middle of all of this he managed to inspire Yuvraj with enough calmness and confidence to take on the attack. And, also ensure that he was able to get to his 34th century.
The crowd did get their money’s worth. The audience on TV saw an innings of great ability. And, one hopes that the young and upcoming cricketers see how Test cricket asks one to reach above and beyond oneself. In the midst of great adversity and, even when chips are down. How one can take the hits and still keep going. Dravid has probably never received as much fan affection as others in the Indian squad, past and present. They sometimes talk about his skills in the slips – “the safest pair of hands”. What they don’t really talk about is that he has managed to do everything that cricket and the team has demanded from him and do it with dignity and elan. And, a measure of quiet humility that cricketers and sportsmen across the world should learn from.