The Dravid Thing
In hard times, let us comfort ourselves with the thought of Rahul Dravid, the under-19 coach of India and a batsman whose importance cannot be overstated — not even, it seems, in the heat of Twitter, home of the rash opinion, rashly expressed.
A new book by Jaideep Varma, the brains behind the contextual analytics system Impact Index, underlines its perpetual — perhaps foundational — argument: that Dravid, by the Index’s measure, is India’s most influential Test cricketer of all time, changing the momentum of more matches and playing more series-defining innings than even Sunil Gavaskar.
Varma’s meticulous and multi-dimensional calculations in Numbers Do Lie (!) do not take into account other parameters, such as how many adult humans can be moved to tears by the mere mention of Dravid’s name (I’m sure the science will catch up one day).
In a note, Varma’s co-writer, the cricketer Aakash Chopra, cites the methodologically dubious but emotionally sound data of a Twitter poll in which he asked readers to choose between Dravid, Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag as the most impactful Test batsman. Dravid, he says, won by nine percentage points over Sehwag, who came in second. “To me,” Chopra writes, “this means that people who follow cricket understand Dravid’s contribution only too well.”
Yet there’s no denying how much pleasure the Dravid fan derives from the sense that their favourite is a dark horse, forever the runner-up in a victors’ parade of more aggressive, but ultimately less influential, batsmen. In itself, self-pity is a harmless pleasure of long standing for sports fans of all stripes. In relation to a larger sense of what our treatment of Dravid says about us, it seems useful to remember that many battles, including general elections, may be successfully contested on the grounds of imagined victimhood.
Dravid’s fans are as diverse and scattered as the people of this cricketing nation, but if there was any doubt of the people who form his particular constituency, you only had to look at the source and the intensity of the congratulations he received last fortnight for choosing not to accept an honorary degree from Bangalore University, “in all humility”, saying instead that he would prefer to earn his PhD.
No wonder the gesture struck such a chord: we live in a society where both playing cricket and doing PhD research can seem, in different contexts, like too much of a professional risk. And what society is this? It is made up of the professional classes, marked by a few common features across the country. We pay direct taxes and dislike conflict. We are also one-percenters who call ourselves middle-class, just like our parents did. We worry about an emerging middle-class that doesn’t cherish the same things that we do (including Test cricket and higher education).
Our deepest wish is for more people like us to run things. We cherish men like us who run our big corporate houses; we wish more of them would run our governments, our sports trusts, and possibly help run our families by marrying our daughters.
Long accustomed to seeing ourselves as the custodians of the decent, progressive soul of this country, we are all too suggestible to the idea of our representatives as embattled and unfairly ignored in the national arena, just as we are.
Dravid is our parliamentarian in public life — and there’s something very fitting about the fact that we did nothing to send him there in the first place. It is universally admirable to want to earn what you get — but it’s also quite telling that this meritocratic fantasy overwhelms the somewhat more important principle that a just society ensures that everyone gets what they earn.
It is wholly to Dravid’s credit that he, himself, understands this so well. His Indian Express interview with Bharat Sundaresan this weekend suggests that he is mildly embarrassed that his refusal became publicly known. (To prove that he is too good to be true, he cites his doctorate-holding mother and wife as real-life experts whose credentials set the real example in his family. What a guy — and no wonder this writer never had a chance with him, as she hoped without basis at age 13).
An honorary degree is no tainted laurel, after all, nor is it reserved for the undeserving. In this case it’s a perfectly nice acknowledgment of how well an illustrious former student has done outside the academy, tempered only by the fact that the refusal was even nicer.
A version of this column first appeared in the Mumbai Mirror on February 16, 2017.