Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Two Victories (Reflections on Kolkata and Adelaide)
- by Harsh Bogle. Published in the January 2004 issue of the
"Wisden Asia Cricket" magazine

I remember the day well. It was the 15th of March 2003, a young man of 28 was
replaying in his mind the most famous win in cricket history and watching the
attention targeted at two others, younger and more flamboyant. Cameras, words,
handshakes, those friends in fame and strangers in anonymity, were clustered
around Harbhajan Singh and VVS Laxman. One had taken 13 for 196, including
India's first ever hat-trick. The other had scored 340 runs including the
highest score by an Indian in Test cricket. Rahul Dravid had scored a crucial,
but easily overlooked, 180, had been in a partnership of 376, and had batted
through the fourth day of the Test. And had lost his No. 3 position in the Indian
batting line-up.

I see another day. The 16th of December 2003. Ajit Agarkar has shown the world
that he can belong at this level. Anil Kumble has served a reminder that there
is more in his tank. And VVS Laxman has scored another incandescent hundred,
shared in another partnership of over 300 against the best cricket team in the
world. Rahul Dravid is now less than a month short of being 31. This time the
symbols of immediate infatuation are directed towards him. And he has his No. 3
position again.

In many different ways, in different languages, words and accents, the sages
tell you that if you hang in there your time will come. At Adelaide, Dravid
showed there is much truth in these old, worn out sentiments that have seen
the odd millennium and a few centuries go by. Indeed, he might have been a sage
himself, his body merely seeming to be at the most beautiful cricket ground
in the world, his mind at some exalted, higher level of detachment.

He had 'hung in there' for seven years, averaging more than 50 at home and
away; like a solid piece of furniture - you know it is there. There were other
classic objects d'art around him, some delicate, some rather more robust. But
none carved out of the most solid oak, happy to take the weight, and just as
happy being understated. If the world was all plywood, there would be no need
for an oak. If one-day cricket was all that mattered, there would be no need for
the virtues he embodies: resilience, solidity, patience. They count now.

There is orthodoxy in most of what he does; not just in the manner the bat
comes down to meet ball, straight and full, but in the way he has grown in life.
He started early but wasn't a prodigy, and was 23 by the time the selectors
started showing interest in him. He had done the hard yards at first-class level
and he was quite happy to do that in Test cricket as well. When a man grows one
step at a time, every step is a celebration, sometimes when you get too much too
soon you don't understand the value of what you have.

He has a strong memory and he thinks deeply about the game. And with a bit of
help from VVS Laxman he will remind you that lightning can indeed strike twice.
At Kolkata, like at Adelaide, India were demolished on Days One and Two, fought
back on Day Three, turned the tide on Day Four, and snatched a win on Day Five.
In both games, sport had showcased the finest human qualities. That is why you
must have five-day cricket; that is why you must play five-setters in tennis;
that is why you must play golf over four rounds. Both games showed that
momentary disappointment can be replaced by lasting joy; that if you are willing
to ride the rough, the smooth will follow; that sweetness is often the result of
letting the bitter have its moment. Dravid knows that well, so does Laxman. So
too does Steve Waugh, who has played the game having been dealt similar cards.

I wonder, though, if Dravid and Laxman know that there was another bystander
present on both occasions. When I reached the little commentary booth assigned
to the ABC at Eden Gardens, I saw a beautifully carved sandalwood Ganesha amid
all the cables. The well-known Australian commentator, Jim Maxwell, brought one
along hoping it would act as a remover of all his obstacles. There was much
discussion that day on whose obstacles the sandalwood Ganesha was removing.

I had forgotten about it till the Test match at Adelaide, when Jim drew my
attention to the very same Ganesha placed carefully on the table in front of us.
There was more discussion, but I suspect it won't be around for too much longer!