On most occasions when I write, there is one word I avoid : I. I kind of tend to associate I in writing with an oversized ego & not using it also seemed to suggest a more third person, more distant perspective to the happenings on. You never let your guard down, but this once, I am letting mine down.
Observing you bat was about those little things. The sweat oozing out of your forehead as you stared down at the crease even as the bowler approached the start of his run-up. That vigorous tapping as the fast bowler was charging in. That little appreciative nod to the bowler in the rare times that he got the better of you. The wrists dropping close to your body as you swayed to avoid the bouncer and your eyes following the ball till the time you were sure that danger had passed. And yet, there were moments of unadulterated aggression as well. The top-edged six that got you to that hundred at Adelaide. The tremendous hit over mid-wicket of Allan Donald in the Standard Chartered series final.
At school, when news would reach that you and Tendulkar were at the crease, I paid more attention to what the teacher said, because I knew that I could afford to not worry about the wickets column. But in college, with the freedom of choosing which classes to attend and which ones not to, things were only going to get better. When news came in that India were to bat, the class would empty out quickly. Everyone wanted to see as much of Sehwag’s batting as possible, because we never knew how long he’d stay at the crease. And then as Sehwag got out the television room would empty out. It was not out of any disrespect to you. People knew that they could come back after their class and catch you in your full stride. But then I would stay back. Because to me, your innings was never about what you did after you got to 30; it was about what you did to get there. Not for me, the rushing in to applaud your hundred and rushing out. It was not my style, for it was not yours.
So many were the occasions when I would argue vociferously that you were a better batsman or a better match winner than Sachin Tendulkar. And now looking back, it is a bit like choosing between Agassi & Sampras or between Ronaldo & Messi. As Joker says to Batman, one completes the other and there is no other higher purpose than that. The closest parallel I can find between you and Sachin is that of a pole vault athlete and the pole. You both played the roles interchangeably. At times it was Sachin acting as the athlete who would build on your support to leap over the bar and at times it was the reverse. There were of course those occasions, when one of you starred and the other buckled, and Indian hopes crash landed. But even in those occasions, it was perhaps because you had set the bar higher. As you and Sachin, with the stellar supporting cast of Laxman, Kumble, Sehwag, Harbhajan & Ganguly routinely achieved the unthinkable we took the leap of faith with you.
And then it all came crashing down. England happened. You were the lone star, a Gulliver amongst the Lilliputs. My job would keep me away from the television sets & slowly a sense of separation began to develop. The West Indies series was a blur. Australia would give me a chance to reacquaint with your defense, I thought. Your poor form may have ensured that I missed little of your batting. What I also , most sadly, is your final walk back to pavilion at the Adelaide Oval, that very venue where you had once and for all engraved your name in that imaginary honors board; the hearts of the cricket fan world over.
Thank you for all the memories, Rahul Dravid.