Am sitting in office with not too much to do and unbridled access to the sole Internet-blessed comp in our department. So thought I’d post something. This is a review I’d done for the paper a few months ago. In a classic case of self-indulgence, I used it as a pretext for airing some of my cricket views, and only got around to talking about the actual book around three or four paras down. (In my defence, I don’t think the book particularly merited an indepth review.)
Rahul Dravid: A Biography
by Vedam Jaishankar
Jai Arjun Singh
Currently at the apotheosis of his career (or so one supposes), Rahul Sharad Dravid may seem invulnerable to opposition bowlers but he is as vulnerable as any other cricketer to those depressing staples of Indian sports journalism -- the cliche and the compartmentalisation. One doesn’t expect all cricket writers to be Carduses and Arlotts but surely there’s a limit to the number of times the phrases "glorious uncertainty" and "much-vaunted batting lineup" can be employed in match reports. The litany of terms used to describe Dravid -- the Wall, Mr Reliable, a rock in adversity -- come from that same vile canon and serve only to conceal an interesting cricketer behind word arrangements that have, through thoughtless repetition, long ceased to mean anything.
The Dravid legend has grown in the past couple of years, and deservedly so, given his form and achievements during this period. But even as his share in the limelight has increased, the cliches have only become more pronounced.
For instance, one of the most pleasing things about the attention now being given to Dravid is the fact that he isn’t the sort of player the average fan takes instantly to heart. Wide acclaim has come his way against the odds; the sheer level of his performances has made him impossible to ignore, despite his reputation for being an unexciting batsman. But the flip side is that by now all the snivelling about Dravid being an "unsung hero" has reached absurd proportions. (Am I the only one to find it paradoxical that he is repeatedly, and across all media, bemoaned as being "forever in the shadow of other players" in the same match reports that copiously sing his praises -- even to the extent of using his achievements to gloss over the perceived weaknesses of other cricketers.)
Nor has much, unfortunately, been written on what an interesting man this often-dour player appears to be off the field. He is quietly assertive without being over-flamboyant. He speaks well and makes observations that actually give you pause for thought -- check out some of his interviews -- unlike the homilies that are the stock in trade for many other cricketers. He even reads -- Wisden Asia recently featured a column by him on "The Joys of Reading", and slightly pretentious though that was, how many other cricketers do you imagine they could have roped in for such a project?
If I actually come to the biography under consideration so late in this review, that’s only because one can get carried away talking about the many facets of the man -- there’s so much to comment on, so many new angles that can be explored, so many myths to deconstruct and Walls to demolish. Well, the bad news is we’ll have to look elsewhere for the fresh perspective. Like too, too many other recent cricket books (vapid "biographies" of Sachin and Sourav, for instance), Rahul Dravid: A Biography largely misses the man for the cliches and the statistics. (And I’m sure I’ve used those same words before, in reviewing some of those other books. Cliche begets cliche!)
That said, this biography is still readable on the whole, partly because of its first-mover advantage. After all, there hasn’t been much on Dravid in print and Vedam Jaishankar does a decent job of supplying information and anecdotes that weren’t hitherto available in the public domain. The first half has undoubted elements of interest. It’s interesting, for instance, to learn that the seeds of Dravid’s classical batsmanship may have been sown by his father Sharad, an admirer of Vijay Hazare; it’s even more interesting to speculate that his discipline and sense of purpose may have come from his mother, who studied two courses simultaneously despite being from a conservative Marathi family.
There are nice little asides too. One involves the young Rahul bursting into tears during a school match because he lost his wicket to someone else’s lethargic running between wickets; an image easily reconciliable with his intensity as an adult cricketer. Another, possibly apocryphal, remarks on his acute cricketing sense by telling how, as a 14-year-old stripling, he predicted that Sachin Tendulkar would play for India in a couple of years’ time. There’s even a tongue-in-cheek reference to Dravid’s ambivalence towards keeping wickets at junior level, several years before he was asked to do so for India "in the interests of the team".
The last 40 pages or so of the narrative deal with Dravid as an India player; and here, inevitably, the book becomes a ho-hum, by-the-numbers account of various Test and one-day matches, and his contribution to them (or: how a cricket book degenerates into a compendium of match reports). As if that weren’t mundane enough, a 45-page appendage gives us -- what else? -- statistics of his performances, first-class level upwards. But this is compensated to an extent by some very nice photos that mercifully steer clear of showing us just a repertoire of cricketing strokes, and instead provide glimpses of the life behind the facade. Something the text doesn’t do.
As a middlebrow cricket book, Rahul Dravid: A Biography isn’t bad at all, but like many others of its type it leaves you with the niggling feeling that its subject deserves more. There’s hope yet; for there are some fine cricket writers out there, awaiting their turn at the crease -- the Sambit Bals, Sharda Ugras, Rahul Bhattacharyas and Harsha Bhogles -- and one imagines they have books in them. For now this will do, sort of.