Kolaveri Di, take a backseat. This time, Rahul Dravid’s words are going viral. They’ve found their way on thousands of Facebook walls and Twitter timelines. Quotes from his speech at the Bradman Oration in Canberra, Australia, are fast becoming status updates and text messages. Who would have thought that a non-flamboyant speech would attain rockstar status so easily, so quickly? Just reminds us of the danger of presumption. In fact, this speech contains within it – not just in content but in context – a series of reminders which, if taken cognisance of, will allow the sport to face the challenge of tomorrow with many great minds at the helm. You may have your own interpretation of what these messages are but here are a few that I was able to glean.
One: That Rahul Dravid’s cricketing career should not end with the cricket. In fact, I would say he still has his most significant role to play if he chooses to accept it with the same commitment with which he assumed his position as protector of the Indian middle-order. Like many of his cricketing assignments and challenges, it is a role no one else seems to want, deserve or even have the ability to play with the same tenacity and effectiveness. Of course, none of us needed his evocative words at the Bradman Oration to convince us of his suitability as Indian cricket’s leading statesman but they were a reminder that even though he may not move a billion hearts like his much-loved colleague, he can move thousands of minds. And it has been generations since an Indian cricketer has been able to do that.
Two: We cannot say enough about the importance of education and high thinking in sports. Remember when Kumara Sangakkara made the Colin Cowdrey Lecture earlier this year? The historical references, the nuances and the clear vision presented by the Sri Lankan captain captured the imagination of all those who listened. Dravid exemplified the same philosophy at the Bradman Oration. What they have in common is that they read, think and question, and that makes them natural choices for occasions such as these. That there are very few like them is a cause for concern. I believe that success stories which glorify the redundancy of education set a dangerous precedent for the youth of not just India but any sport-loving country. You don’t need to know the Three Rs to smash the ball out of the park but surely we have elevated sportsmen to a plane where their minds are as important to us as their muscle power? The message from Dravid was loud enough for even the deaf to hear though he may speak in soft tones.
Three: Glorifying someone else’s popularity and greatness does not ever (yes, ever) diminish your own. What better reminder of that than Dravid’s recognition, through the course of his speech, of Sachin Tendulkar’s sway over the cricketing world? I quote: “When we toured in 2007-08, I thought it was going to be my last tour of Australia. The Australians thought it was going to be the last time they would be seeing Sachin Tendulkar on their shores. He received warm standing ovations from wonderful crowds all around the country. Well, like a few, creaking Terminators, we're back… The Australian public will want to stand up to send Sachin off all over again this time. But I must warn you, given how he's been playing these days, there are no guarantees about final goodbyes.” Much can be said and written about insecurities and rivalry between sportsmen, and long will they exist. But very little is acknowledged of the mutual respect that this league of extraordinary cricketers share. A few days ago, when Virender Sehwag outshone Tendulkar’s ODI score, there was pettiness in the air with the focus shifting to the non-existent one-upmanship between two colleagues rather than the singular brilliance of the annihilator. In any sport, there is necessarily a hunger to be the best, but small-minded point-scoring, well, that is not part the game and it is time the media and fans stop playing it.
Four: How can a sport be run by those who have never played the game at the highest level? How many times have we heard former cricketers quoted as saying this? How often have we asked that question ourselves? The likes of Dravid and Sangakkarra offer strong answers – that cricket absolutely must involve its finest minds in administration and planning. The selection of the ‘think tank’ cannot just be on the basis of the record books but on the depth of thought and involvement of the cricketer with the future of the game. The recent ugliness between another thinking Indian legend, Anil Kumble, and the BCCI over the running of the National Cricket Academy does not portent well for such partnerships but that is where the players must join forces and fight, not back down in the face of an unprincipled opposition.
Five: A couple of annual lectures are not enough to hear from these men. More forums have to be created to allow greater exchange of ideas and thoughts. What if the ICC were to take a cue from the wonderful oratory over the last couple of years and organise symposiums and seminars that bring cricketers from across the world together – talking, debating and planning. Research groups and marketing strategists can only provide objectivity where passion and commitment are required. The critical group exists. It only needs to be brought together.
P.S. At a more obvious, selfish level, the speech also reminded me that there is a fantastic series to be played starring the leading rivalry of the time and that I will be there in Australia to enjoy at least the first two Tests live!