Dravid is Rightly Known as the Wall of Cricket When the word ‘wall’ is uttered in the sonorous realm of space, three images are conjured in the mind – the cover art of the magical Pink Floyd album, the colossal mass of ice that stands at the helm of Westeros, and a lanky young man. Although originated in the undulating lush fields of the English gentlemen, the game of cricket found an unforeseen home in the narrow alleys of this third world nation like in Dravid is Rightly Known as the Wall of Cricket. Needless to say, legends rose out of these unnamed mohallas where you were declared out if the ball ever crossed the boundary of that rancorous neighbor’s house.
The number of runs scored or wickets you take are often considered the measure of success in cricket. Befitting titles soon follow. One might conclude that it is all about hitting a leather ball, pitched at you at a hundred miles an hour, but one couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Dravid is Rightly Known as the Wall of Cricket
At ground zero, when the thought of everyone out of the 1.2 billion people is bent on you, you realize there is much more to this capricious game than that. Those white-gloved hands hold not the wooden bat but time itself. When, for the hundredth time, you overcome the temptation to hit the ball out of the grounds you know you are destined to be something else, something very unconventional – you are to be known as the Wall.
In 1996 at Lords, there wasn’t much anticipation in the crowd, no cheers for that bony young man when he walked in at number 7. But 95 runs, 6 hours and 267 balls later that perception had been changed forever. In that knock this Marathi player had hit only six fours. He had just stood there, undeterred, absorbing wave after wave of the bowling attack. The sobriquet had not yet been conceived.
Later in 1997, when the team was on the verge of losing to the formidable South African side, his temperament had stood the test; repulsing every attack, boggling the bowlers and walking away with a legendary 148, he had saved the match. It puzzled people to look at the humble aplomb of this player. What was he thinking? If patience were water, Dravid would be an ocean. When any other batsman would start fidgeting after a few dry overs, this man held his nerves even at the hundredth ball of an inning with no run on the scoreboard.
I recall watching the Edens test against Australia in 2001 with my uncle. It ended up in an unexpected victory. I was in awe of Laxman; the whole nation was chanting his praises. My uncle sighed feverishly as the match finished and said this ‘Dravid is a magician’. I looked at him askance but he turned back to the television to watch the highlights. Now I know what he meant. Come 2003, India was again pitched against the Australians, this time in Adelaide.
The first hints of an epithet began to take shape in the minds of cricket fans as India scored her first test victory against the hosts at their home in 23 years. By the time the series ended the price of his wicket had soared. The foundations were well laid. Match after match, no matter the conditions, his resolution weathered the currents. The golden years that followed made the epithet stick. He amazed the critics and fans alike with his unsettling propensity for guarding his wicket with such religiousness. Sometimes it seemed as if runs held no meaning for him.
If Tendulkar won hearts by spectacular poise, Laxman impressed with his style, Ganguly thrilled us with his ferocity and Dravid awed all by his mechanical nonchalance with which he played his game. There was this resolute consistency so characteristic of a wall that any other name could not have been possible.