Happy birthday, Mr. Dependable
The following write-up is inspired by true events and a Hollywood movie - The Prestige.
“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts.”
“The first part is called ‘The Pledge’. The magician shows you something ordinary.”
He walks out to bat when the scoreboard reads one down for no run. He faces the first ball which is an ordinary short delivery, clocking 90 mph. He leans back to avoid the ball from hitting any part of his body. You think that he's already on the back foot, intimidated by the seaming and bouncing wicket. You know that a confident batsman would have played a hook shot off that delivery to get his first run on the board. You wonder whether he deserves the title he has been given by his fans - Mr. Dependable.
You proceed to bowl your next delivery. You trust the conditions and overpitch the ball outside the off-stump. It was, as the commentator said, an unintended gift from the bowler. Even a tail-ender could have struck it for a boundary. But he lets it go.
Over the span of the next six overs, he faces 19 deliveries, scoring just 5 runs. You come towards the end of your first spell, agitated because he is leaving all your deliveries outside the off-stump.
“He won't stay for long,” you tell your captain. You start to believe that you can get him out in the next few deliveries. However, he has some other plans which you, of course, have no idea about. He wants to analyze and understand the nature of the wicket.
“The second act is called ‘The Turn’. The magician takes the ordinary something, and makes it do something extraordinary.”
He takes his stride as you prepare to bowl another fiery delivery. You believe that he is going to leave your next delivery again, so you bowl an outswinger, pitching the ball on the middle-stump. Everything goes as per the plan, except the shot selection. He waits for the ball and flicks it down to square leg, scoring his first boundary of the match. The Indian section of the crowd erupts.
But you being you, there is no appreciation for the classy shot. You are exasperated, so you start sledging. Meanwhile, wickets keep tumbling on the other end. Four batsmen are back in the pavilion already, with three of them being your preys. You're the No.1 bowler for a reason.
You start the first over of your second spell, bowling outswinging deliveries outside off-stump and hoping that he tries to plays a shot. Ball after ball, you keep bowling outside the off-stump with varying lengths. He keeps on leaving them all. “He scores runs by fluke,” you complain to your teammates. “I'll get him after the lunch break,” you conclude. You simply won't give him the credit.
“That's why every magic trick has a third act - the hardest part - the part we call ‘The Prestige’.”
You come back after the lunch session and immediately start bowling. The sun is out and shining brightly. You bowl your first ball of the session to him and he leaves it again. He treats the next two deliveries the same way. The three slip fielders are now getting bored. The spectators are getting bored. But his fans aren't. They know him well.
You bowl your next delivery outside the off-stump. But this time, you notice a change. Instead of leaving, he cuts the ball towards gully for four. No one knew what happened, but the crowd cheered.
You give him an ugly stare, but he walks past you, not acknowledging your presence. Now everything makes sense to you. Due to the bright sun, the 32-over-old Kookaburra ball had stopped swinging and seaming. You spend the rest of the day's play listening to chants of 'Dravid! Dravid!' as he goes on to score an unbeaten century.
As the day's play concludes, you go up to him not to congratulate, but to tell him that you'll be back tomorrow with vengeance. He smiles and leaves for the dressing room without uttering a word.
Such has been the humble but omnipresent charisma of The Wall. Happy birthday, Rahul Dravid!