Book Review: Rahul Dravid – Timeless Steel
For the generation of cricket lovers that grew up in the late 90s and 2000s, Rahul Dravid’s name epitomises grit beyond being the backbone of the famed Indian batting line-up. He is the epitome of the highest standard of virtue and dedication displayed by a sportsperson who has represented his country at the international level. In a country that produces “Gods” and “Dadas”, Dravid was the more accessible hero of Indian cricket, the role model of the ‘aam aadmi’, who rose above the crowd, while still being one of them. Therefore, any book that attempts to chart him as that hero, both on and off the field, has to reflect in astute detail as to why he is so.
Rahul Dravid – Timeless Steel, brought out by EspnCricinfo and Disney, is a collection of writings on ‘Indian cricket’s go-to man’. For those who ardently follow Cricinfo, the book might seem repetitive as most of the written pieces come from the site itself with minor tweaks and expansions. The 21 authors include notably John Wright, Vijeeta Dravid and Greg Chappell, in addition to Cricinfo regulars, Sambit Bal, Gideon Haigh, Mukul Kesavan and Siddharth Monga. The book is pitched to the buyer “as much a celebration of a colossal cricketer as it is of an exceptional human being”. The cover thus makes it an attractive buy for the ardent cricket fan. That said, the book cannot be judged solely by its cover. The verdict has to be based on a two-pronged question, i.e. is the book just an extension of the web content? And, does it do justice in bringing out the essence of Rahul Dravid, one of the greatest players to have played the game and as effectively as possible?
The book, by and large, does succeed in making a fine addition to your collection. By introducing the man as your ‘regular, everyday superstar’, the book shows that it has its heart in the right place. Structurally, it first sets about looking at Dravid, the player. It speaks in great detail about how, with sheer perseverance and hard work, Dravid acquired his stature as a ‘great’ of the sport. The segment successfully brings out the fact that Dravid always remained a student of the sport, willing to evolve his game to suit the needs of the team. Suresh Menon aptly labels his approach to the game as ‘Kiplingesque’.
Complementing the segment on his persona as a player, are the tributes from his peers. While the usual adherence to his immense concentration seems to be the underlying theme across the book, the words of his contemporaries bring about his qualities as a team man. The best of the lot would easily be from Ed Smith and John Wright who worked with him at Kent. The latter even more so, as he formed a bond with Dravid as his coach for both Kent and later, India. What makes the experience thoroughly enjoyable is the fact that it covers his county stint where he is supposed to be looked at as a senior mentor guiding a club over a strenuous schedule in England. The English county circuit has brought out the best in the game’s greats and the pieces in the book show why Dravid belongs in the league of those players.
The book further reviews his greatest innings; landmarks that have stood out in his career. To most who have followed his career, Kolkata, Leeds, Adelaide, Rawalpindi, Jamaica and Trent Bridge, the innings mentioned in the book, may find easy reference; but for me personally, this list sells the man a little short. I say so for two reasons – one, that the selection does not include any ODI innings and two, even in the Test arena, Dravid’s first test hundred at Johannesburg in 1997 and the 92 at Perth in 2007 do not find mention. Dravid was never touted as a great ODI player but someone who has scored over 10,000 ODI runs must have had some defining moments as a one-day player. His 145 and 153* of 1999 at Taunton and Hyderabad respectively, which got overshadowed by tons from Ganguly and Sachin come to my mind immediately. Also, the 76 at Lahore in 2004 to bring back India in the ODI series against arch rivals Pakistan was another memorable innings.
In fact, throughout the book, Dravid’s role as an ODI player is quite understated. Its only mention is reflected in the statistics put forth by the Cricinfo ‘statsguru’ S. Rajesh. The numbers somehow do not show the effort he put in for the team as the wicketkeeper in 70-odd ODIs. Also, they do not reflect the mentor’s role he played to the likes of Yuvraj, Kaif and Dhoni, teaching them the art of steady accumulation of runs in the one-day game.
With the cricketer being shown first, his peers holding him in the highest possible regard next, the third segment shows Rahul Dravid outside the jersey. The works show him in the best possible light. So much so, that sometimes you feel – is he that good? Especially after the words of his peers, a segment such as the last one may seem like hyperbole. However, the effect is not that bad. Gideon Haigh refers to an incident where Ricky Ponting, the bad boy of world cricket, imposes faith in Dravid’s ability to perform amid a string of poor scores. The strength of the piece is based on the strength of character of the man about whom it is being written. Vijeeta Dravid gives an account of the spouse which shows that behind the calm and the poise, lies an endearing father and husband. In a tongue-in-cheek way, she brings to light that the wall would crumble if asked to change the nappies of his one-year-old in the dead of the night after keeping the bowlers at bay all day in the Trinidad heat.
Apart from celebrating his life till now, the book also showcases interviews by the man himself at different stages of his career. One gets to look into his mind at different stages of his career, including the times when he scored more than 300 runs to take India to victory on foreign soil and when he took over as captain from one of India’s most loved captains ever. His conversations culminate in his speech at the Bradman Oration in Australia last year, which has been lauded by one and all as one of the most delightful insights into cricket in the present day.
To conclude, I would say the book is not definitive; it is not supposed to be. It is supposed to give an ovation to a person who is truly a great ambassador for the sport. It starts off with its heart in the right place but in certain aspects, does let you down by not giving you something that you expect. Though as a disclaimer, I would certainly say that I have been a diehard fan of Rahul Dravid and the book gave me quite a few delightful moments of pleasant surprise by enhancing my knowledge about the man.
What sets apart ‘Timeless Steel’ is that these collections do justice to the fact that Dravid is revered as a great, despite having a career where he was always consigned to remain in the shadows of more glamorous individuals. Dravid’s career has just ended and I am sure there will be more works to follow; however, this book is the first and makes you revisit the glorious career of Indian cricket’s most hardworking servant. A must buy!
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