There is something about imperfection that is redeeming. It creates the little room for struggle that reminds you of your humanness. The little nagging flaws that let you bend down and take guard, body unwilling, for another hour in the dusk, when the mightily talented, to whom timing comes effortlessly, have long gone home. There is something about imperfection that never lets you lose sight; that pulls you back to the nylon cages of practice nets on the days of your greatest triumph, gently reminding you that there is no victory without effort.
The former English batsman and now author Ed Smith writes, ‘Talent has a nasty knack of protecting the talented from the urge to self-improve.’ Greater the talent, greater the curse of complacency. This perhaps, is the biggest problem that the Indian team faces today. One look at our squad and you will come across multiple names for whom prophecies of extraordinary achievement were drawn before they even made an international appearance. We were asked to remember the names and were promised that they would definitely make a mark at the highest level. After a string of losses in our own backyard and consistent failure of our prodigies in every one of them, we are back to discussing the two greatest batsmen of our time, the same two for whose heads we passionately called for only months ago – Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar.
Sharda Ugra, Senior Editor at Cricinfo, recently in a debate on national television, vehemently and quite rightly pointed out that it would be unfair to put the two greats on the table and ask ‘this or that?’, for the Indian team got to where it did not because of either one of them but because of both their contributions. This article is not about comparing their personal achievements and rating one over the other, for the records and numbers speak quite clearly for themselves. This is also not about discussing the unrealistic scenarios of un-retiring either one of them and imagining the state of Indian team with them induced into the batting line-up. This is about pondering on the ‘personality’ of a player which could possibly influence and turn this mightily talented bunch of youngsters into a team that can produce consistent results.
At the outset, I will get it clear that I do not believe in Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of 10,000 hours to excellence, which proposes that anyone, irrespective of his/her talent, can reach the highest level of his craft after 10,000 hours of dedicated effort. I can practice the square cut for years at a stretch and still say with confidence that I will never be able to get it to the level of Dravid’s.
So, I am not going to preach that Dravid held no gifts and became what he was through sheer hard work and perseverance. But what I will point out is a fact nicely captured by Sidharth Monga in one of his articles, that ‘Rahul Dravid became the best batsman, wicketkeeper, short leg, silly point and slip that he could become’. It’s true that he was gifted with talent, like hundreds of others are, but what set him apart is that he lived his potential. Suresh Raina confessed that he had never seen Rahul Dravid miss an optional training session and that inspired him to never miss one himself. When Dravid dropped a chance in the slips during the England tour in 2011, he tore his cap apart in disgust, for he practised catching in every training session and treated every dropped catch as a defeat; talk of men who wear large grins after the ‘amusement’ of a dropped catch. There were times when he had to make phone calls to get the gates open at the NCA for he was the first person to arrive in the morning. This is what a personality like Dravid’s could bring to the dressing room; an extraordinary level of professionalism, an unmatched work ethic that is almost contagious and a fire that burns until you exhaust every bit of your talent. He could instil in the youngsters the ability to score runs on the bad days, the unwavering focus that never lets you succumb to the temptation of a bad shot and teach them perhaps how to attain greatness, for not everyone is born into it.
I can almost hear Sachin fans screaming into my ears ‘Hey, Sachin was very professional too’(in much ruder words, of course). Yes, he was and there is no denying that. But what he also was, was supremely talented, the kind whose walk to the middle held more grace than the best shots of many batsmen, the kind whom to watch was to feel awe, the kind whom you would comfortably label a genius, a freak of nature almost. The problem with genius however is that it comes along only once in a few generations, and a genius like Tendulkar, perhaps once in many. What a personality like Sachin cannot bring to the dressing room is the art of struggle, the quest to work on and conquer the imperfections, a way to connect with batsmen who actually have to slog for hours in the lonely nets before timing the ball right.
When questioned once during a charity dinner in Sydney on what kept him motivated after all these years, Dravid replied that as a schoolboy, he remembered many kids who had at least as much desire to play professional cricket as he did – they attended every camp and net session, no matter what the cost or the difficulty of getting there. But you could tell – from just one ball bowled or one shot played, that they simply didn’t have the talent to make it. He knew he was different. ‘‘I was given a talent to play cricket,’’ he explained, ‘‘I don’t know why I was given it. But I was. I owe it to all those who wish it had been them to give of my best, every day.’’ The Indian team today is full of youngsters with talent, not always extraordinary, but enough when combined with hard work and dedication to craft a great international career. And there are few men who have lived this story as well as Rahul Dravid did.Published 18 Jan 2013, 00:26 IST