Readers Write In #215: A fan’s unusual lament

Posted on July 2, 2020

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(by G Waugh)

When I saw Rahul Dravid for the first time, it was in a match held at Sharjah probably in 1998. My first impression was that he had a ‘compact’ name – the name did not end with a consonant as most Indian names do (was a ‘compact’ name according to a 13-year old me). The second thing that struck me was his helmet which was different from that of others with a grey rectangular patch that protected the batsman’s ears. The helmet fit his persona like a Tee along with a compact stance with no part of his slender body protruding outward as to disturb his poise. When he stood to face a bowler, he looked like he was sculpted like an automaton whose only purpose of existence was to face balls with a sturdy bat.

If all these initial impressions sound like they are positive, I must clarify that they certainly were not, owing to the way he paced his innings that day. I don’t remember exactly how much he scored but all I felt about him that day was that he was blocking not only easy deliveries but also my opportunity to see my idol Mohammed Azharuddin bat. I still cannot define precisely why I loved watching Azharuddin who was in complete contrast to Dravid but what amazes me even more today was my adolescent fascination to mimic the former’s singular gait – raised shoulders and a slightly hunched back that made him look taller than even an actually taller Venkatesh Prasad.

I used to adore Azharuddin may be because of his long, unusual name which was rarely displayed in full on televisions whenever he came out to bat. I remember having seen only ‘Mohd. Azharuddin Right Handed Batsman Age 36’ and not his full name and even if it was displayed in full there used to be a confusion between ‘Mohammad’ or ‘Mohammed’. No doubt, it looks too childish when I reminisce about these things today but I am sure my readers will find the theme of this essay even more puerile and hard to relate if I proceed to elaborate on it.

Yes, even if no one is willing to believe me, I know I have had the rare, eerie ability to influence the careers of my icons without being in either direct or indirect contact with them and unfortunately the influence has only been more negative than positive on them. Readers can close this essay and not waste time on it any further if they think my assumptions are borderline ridiculous. But for those who still persist with reading this, I am sure you will not find this essay boring or even easily forgettable.

***

My ability to read scores and pass proper cricket updates to busy uncles over the telephone reached a state of maturity in the late 1990s and the first tournament which I remember watching with sufficient cricket knowledge was the 1999 World Cup. By then, Rahul Dravid was no longer my most hated cricketer who made a living out of blocking deliveries and in one of the finest jerseys ever worn by Indian cricketers in World Cups, he looked absolutely dashing to me. Azharuddin was a dud in that tournament barring a wonderful fifty against Pakistan in the Super Six but unfortunately none of my peers shared my excitement for him, with good reason of course. India was thrown out of the tournament at the end of the Super Six round and Vijay TV’s Bosskey was on one Sunday afternoon thrashing Azharuddin in one of the funniest spoof cricket shows of that time, much to my obvious dismay.

Rahul Dravid had a great tournament hitting back-to-back centuries against Sri Lanka and Kenya both of which were run-a-ball knocks which were quite a rare phenomenon those days. My disillusionment with Azharuddin had given way to a soft corner for Dravid who I thought would compete with everyone’s favouriteSachin Tendulkar someday. Dravid was, in the course of the tournament touted to get the Player of the Tournament award for his fantastic consistency under difficult English conditions. But he scored a duck in the last match against the Kiwis and Lance Klusener won that award even though Dravid finished as the top run-getter in that edition of the World Cup. Some part of me still believes that had I not become a closet fan of him that time, I am sure he would have scored more than 0 in that match against New Zealand and shamed all his critics by winning the Player of the Tournament Award.

Just imagine what a difference it would have made to his reputation, for one who was often called a dot-ball villain and a totally unsuitable player for the shorter format of the game. But I would say this is a very minor lament considering what befell Rahul Dravid in the later years of his career, on account of my eerie ‘influence’.

***

As many people of that age may remember, the late 1990s were an era of newspapers where you had to wait for the next day paper-boy to know what happened to the match you missed the night before. The Hindu was probably the only paper then which covered cricket with the respect it deserved with neatly drawn tabular columns depicting individual scores with balls faced and boundaries hit under the Scoreboard section. Whenever Vijay Lokapally wrote a few adjectives praising a particular wristy flick of Azharuddin or a tough catch he took, I used to feel dizzy with pride. For Azhar’s performance against Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup, I still remember a small sub-heading ‘Vintage Azharuddin’ whose meaning it took close to a day for me to find out.

Whenever legendary cricketers like Mark Taylor or Carl Hooper retired, the Hindu bore long articles with KBK Infographic-backed statistic charts illustrating their achievements. Sometimes, these tributes occupied almost half a page and I was waiting for the day when my Azharuddin would retire in all his glory. By then he was already the highest run-getter in ODIs pushing Desmond Haynes to second place while my most hated Sachin Tendulkar was languishing somewhere below the fifth position on the list. But at the end of the 1999 World Cup, Azharuddin was not only sacked from his captaincy but also dropped from the team and people were already talking about his retirement. But the stylish Hyderabadi, as how the newspapers called him those days, was playing well in his Ranji games and within months, much to my delight he was back in the national team. Rahul Dravid by then was already a permanent fixture in both the ODI and Test teams and I was slowly feeling proud for him for having defied popular expectations around him.

Azharuddin, in one of South Africa’s tours of India was reported to be doing well trying to consolidate his position in early 2000. I still remember him hitting a century against New Zealand which was his 99th  Test appearance. I was also aware that The Hindu used to carry small tributes for those who complete major milestones in their careers and I was already waiting for the day my idol would play his 100th Test.

One fine morning, I remember tying my shoe-laces to school when I found the front page headline  in The Hindu, ‘Azhar fixed matches, Jadeja and Mongia helped’. The report went to add that my idol had been banned for life with five-year bans issued for his co-conspirators. I was quite aware about the match-fixing allegations on Azharuddin that were doing the rounds for almost a year then but probably owing to my age, I had failed to grasp the importance of them sufficiently. But now, it was final, I was not going to see a full-page tribute to my idol anymore even if he was already a legend who had records and achievements to back up his cause. But I was not sure about my influence on my idol then that lead to his ignominious downfall and all I could do was to remain angry upon him for ‘betraying the country’ for money. Azharuddin’s career had an abrupt ending at 99 tests.

On the other hand, my nemesis Sachin Tendulkar was growing bigger and bigger by the day and my hatred for him was only rising enormously even if his exploits were undeniably extraordinary to say the least.

***

In 2003, India was going to South Africa to play the World Cup and my friends were busy collecting Brittania biscuit wrappers as part of their preparations to witness the Final at Johannesburg. Under SouravGanguly post the exit of Azharuddin-Jadeja from the scene, India had already established themselves as the only team that could stand up to the invincible Aussies proven by their magnificent showing in the 2001 tour followed by a stand-out performance in the 2002 ICC Champions Trophy. It is not an exaggeration to say that I was orphaned by the disappearance of Azharuddin from the cricket scene and my patriotism then was too low to compensate for my subsequent disinterest in cricket. But my fervor for the game revived during big tournaments like the World Cups and I stopped missing individuals when all that mattered was the pride of the entire nation.

2003 was the year when I started admiring Sachin secretly and his befitting response to a bullying Andrew Caddick in the form of a cross-batted six during India’s encounter against England is something I still remember in all its magnificence without having to resort to periodic YouTube revisions. The little man carried India to the Final with the help of a very young team which was learning slowly to survive without depending too much upon him. Rahul Dravid’s role in the batting line-up then was that of a reliable finisher who made sure that the meticulously crafted goods by the top order reached the marketplace without suffering damages or transmission losses. The Hindu used to carry nice lines about Dravid every time on its post-match analysis columns calling him India’s batting mainstay along with Sachin while I remember MandiraBedi calling him ‘cute’ during one of her chats with her co-presenter Charu Sharma on Sony Television.

The Final at the Wanderers was without doubt a sordid affair but I still remember an out-of-the-blue VirenderSehwag knock that gave a minor scare to the Aussies while he batted with my Rahul Dravid. When Sehwag was run out on 82, India’s hopes fell but I still had hope on Mr Dependable who could have become an overnight sensation had he carried the team through that day. When his stumps were shattered by a probing Andy Bichel delivery when he was on 47, it was the first time my heart broke for someone other than my Azharuddin and tear filled eyes of mine reminded me that even if India had lost the World Cup at the closest opportunity it ever had in the last two decades, I had at last found someone who could give me sufficient reason for watching cricket going forward.

***

Saamy released on May 1, 2003 and I caught the film on pirated CD twice on my newly installed Thomson 5-in-1 player. I was already a half- ChiyaanVikram fan when I returned the rented CD to the store to get back my deposit.

A few weeks after India’s loss to Australia in the Final, The Hindu carried a small heading ‘India can win 2007 World Cup: Ganguly’ on the left hand corner of the last page.

***

Dravid’s centuries at Trent Bridge, Headingley, Adelaide, Rawalpindi had already demonstrated sufficiently to the opposition the fact that Sachin was not all of India anymore and in 2005, when SouravGanguly was replaced by my new icon as India’s captain, needless to say I was thrilled. Whenever I was reminded of the fact that a pretty ordinary ODI player like him could work on his flaws with single-minded resolve and rise to become the most important player of the limited overs team, my elation knew no bounds.  His rise to this position in retrospect looks certainly not meteoric akin to that of MS Dhoni or Yuvraj Singh, but rather planned and methodical, as his current ESPNCricinfo profile concedes.

I am sure not many of you remember his phenomenal 107* against the West Indies in a one-dayer in Ahmedabad when India successfully chased down a mammoth 324 during a difficult foggy night. Many of us may remember India chasing down 325 in the NatWest Final against England in 2002 but this one is no less noteworthy in my humble opinion.

Dravid’s maiden ton against Pakistan in Chennai in 1997, his back-to-back centuries in the 1999 World Cup, his blistering 153 against the Kiwis in 1999 at Hyderabad and this 107* were all overshadowed by better or more famous performances either by his team-mates or one from the opposition, as a result of which Dravid never was able to steal the spotlight for himself in any of these ODIs. But Dravid’s role was by then defined by his regular half-centuries most of which came at crucial junctures and his contribution as a sheet-anchor or finisher in the team of the early 2000s in the shorter format of the game has never been properly acknowledged. Whenever lists for India’s finest ODI XI are released by former cricketers or cricket portals every now and then, it is a pain for me not to find Dravid’s name in any of them and I am sure SouravGanguly or Yuvraj Singh’s opinions might resemble more or less that of mine in this count. Dravid’s ODI average whenever India won was slightly higher than a fabulous 50 but whenever the man came close to achieving ODI immortality, one thing or the other came in the way and ensured he never attained his position in the canon he duly deserved.

***

The finest director of the day S.Shankar teamed up with the then numero-unoChiyaanVikram and delivered a blockbuster titled ‘Anniyan’ in June 2005.

This time I did not return the rented CD. I allowed the store-owner to pocket the caution deposit and kept the CD for myself. I had become a full-blooded ChiyaanVikram fan by then who had the guts to pick up silly fights with Vijay and Ajith fans in my school.

***

But for all these stories of missed chances and unfortunate happenings, the 2007 World Cup I strongly believed was the right opportunity for Dravid to redefine his reputation. Sri Lanka and India were grouped alongside weaklings Bangladesh and Bermuda in the first round and it was sufficient for us to beat the first two teams alone to qualify for the next round smoothly. India was a stronger and a more coherent unit in 2007 with young batting revelations such as MS Dhoniand Yuvraj Singh having found their proper appointed places in the line-up. I still remember commentators and analysts in 2007 touting India to be one of the favouritesin the competition and dreams of my idol Rahul Dravid lifting the World Cup filled my head even before our campaign had started in the Caribbean.

But India, to everyone’s shock grievously lost to Bangladesh in their very first fixture. We rebounded well in our next encounter against Bermuda only to crash out tragically against Sri Lanka in the third preliminary match. I painfully remember a lonely Dravid desperately hitting Malinga for three back-to-back boundaries when all other batsman had found ways to get themselves out chasing a not so difficult 250. The tragic image of my idol trying to wipe his tears from the dressing room balcony that made the front page of The Hindu next day is still fresh in my memory. A lot of uncles in my apartment were calling for banning of cricket in India with immediate effect and some of them even lambasted Dravid’s poor captaincy skills for India’s debacle. There was certainly no denying of the fact that India was one of the strongest teams in the tournament that year and progressing to the Super Eights must have been a cakewalk for us then. India had never till then been shunted out of the World Cup in the very first round and it was no doubt a shame of the most unprecedented kind in our cricketing history. And of course, it was none else but my icon who was at the centre of it and I don’t even want to recall those embarrassing college days now.

But there were a few other things that angry Indian fans forgot in the heat of the moment. This was one rare occasion where the World Cup was played in a completely different format with each team having only two opportunities to redeem themselves after an initial setback in their campaigns. India had started out in similar fashions even in the 1999 and 2003 editions but then the formats were different as a result of which we had a few more chances to regroup and correct our mistakes. Both these editions had Super Six and not Super Eights and I am sure we would have crashed out in the first round itself had the cases been otherwise. But it was the most unlucky Rahul Dravid under my influence who was leading the team in 2007 then and it was only natural that even miracle men likeDhoni and Yuvraj could not play even one match-winning knock against better teams. In addition, I don’t remember any of the subsequent editions of the World Cup being played in a similar format to this one and not even one occasion comes to my mind where the captain of a promising team had to break down taking responsibility for his team’s ignominious defeat in front of live television watched by hopeful millions.

***

I was in the prime of my youth growing increasingly inclined towards India’s left movement guided by my Communist father.

The CPI(M)-led Left Front Government in Bengal in 2007 carried out a firing upon angry protesters who were fighting to save their land from the clutches of an Indonesia-based chemical firm.

Vikram in early 2007 was reported to be shooting for N.Lingusamy’s gangster film Bheema produced by one of the most prestigious production firms in Tamilnadu, AM Rathnam-owned Sri Surya Movies.

***

Captain Rahul Dravid hit a 63-ball 92 against England at Bristol and India won a handsome victory in the 2nd ODI of the NatWest Series in 2007. He was adjudged man of the match for his effort and Dravid fans like me were wiping their eyes in disbelief.

Ten or so ODIs later, the same man was dropped from the team for the first time in close to eight years for a home series against Australia. I don’t know how many other cricketers have had their career peaks and downfalls situated so close to one another. The decision to drop him followed Dravid’s decision to resign from captaincy after India’s tour of England that year. He had resigned on account of his inability to concentrate on batting but paradoxically it was the same decision that ended up costing his place in the ODI team which in turn led to a historic slump in form in the longest format of the game as well.

Within a few months, to my surprise India had reportedly learned to play ODIs without depending on its ‘sheet-anchor’ and people who had all these days considered Dravid an indispensable ODI player suddenly switched to old ways of regarding him a ‘limited-over liability’. I remember an occasion when one of the chief selectors had called him ‘one-dimensional’ and Indian audiences who always had preferred six-hitters over run-accumulators had no problems forgetting Dravid’s hitherto substantial ODI achievements.

***

Vikram-N. Lingusamy went into production hell for more than two years and finally made it to screens on Pongal 2008. Vikram in order not to lose his well-sculpted physique for some other films had refrained from signing newer ones and had stayed at home for as long as the production hurdles lasted.

The film tanked at the box-office and was criticized both commercially and critically.

***

It was 2008 and Rahul Dravid was made the captain and icon-player of Royal Challengers Bangalore for the inaugural Indian Premier League.

None had anticipated the magnitude of thrashing Dravid’s team had that tournament where it finished a pathetic second from the bottom of the points table. It certainly was no occasion to make note ofDravid’s consistent batting efforts throughout the tournament that kept giving RCB some respectability even in defeats. Many hadalso conveniently ignored the fact that he finished among the top fifteen in the list of highest run getters of that season rubbing shoulders withRohit Sharma, MS Dhoni and VirenderSehwag. As expected, he was sacked by the management with immediate effect and people started skewering him for his terrible leadership abilities.

***

For IPL 2009 that was heldin South Africa, RCB made Anil Kumble the captain and roped in the magnificent Kevin Pietersen for a whopping sum. The minnows from Bangalore were to face defending champions Rajasthan Royals in their inaugural encounter. RCB chose to bat first and started off terribly losing all its key batsmen within the first eight overs. It was left to none otherthan their punching bag Rahul Dravid to rescue the team from the predicament.

Dravid kept his cool with style and positivity sweeping Shane Warne when he got the opportunity and kept scoring frequent singles. At one fine instance, he walked out of his crease to pummel an unsuspecting Munaf Patel for a midwicket six stunning the Newlands stadium into silence. Dravid was finally out for 66 runs off 48 balls but I am sure not many would have expected such a gem of a T20 innings from that ‘one-dimensional’ man that day. He had scored more than half his team’s runs that day and RCB with Kumble’smagic with the ball managed to pull off an unlikely upset.

RCB fans might well remember the fact that this first victory over the powerful Royals set the tone for the rest of their campaign in 2009. They finished second that year and only once ever since 2009 they had managed to repeat a performance of that caliber. Rahul Dravid was rightfully adjudged Man of the Match that night for an innings that put his cynics to shame once again.

***

For the first time in my life, I had gathered enough political knowledge to consider myself eligible to vote and did it dutifully in the 2009 General Election. I voted for the Third Front Alliance of which the Communists were an integral part of.

The Left Front for the first time in more than three decades lost their hegemony over West Bengal that year.

***

But 2009 was also the year India had to play the Champions Trophy in the West Indies but both VirenderSehwag and Yuvraj Singh were unfortunately unavailable for the tournament. Also the new Indian batting lineup which had mastered the art of winning without Dravid had suddenly developed a rare, new disease. Its young big-hitters who had made Dravid obsolescent in the shorter format could not play the short ball well especially in swinging conditions, much to their embarrassment. The unidimensional Dravid had suddenly grown an ‘alleged’ additional dimension and was invited to play the ODIs once again. Needless to say, I was also back into the ODI scheme of things along with my icon after a two-year sabbatical.

India won their Compaq Trophy in 2009 against Sri Lanka but crashed out of the much coveted Champions Trophy in the very first round. In their last match of their tournament against Pakistan, India were defeated but Dravid top-scored with an impressive knock of 76 runs.

Dravid had played five ODIs on his return and scored 180 runs with a respectable average of 36. It was natural for me and even sensible cricket observers at that time to expect a player of Dravid’s stature to be retained in the ODI team after a showing that certainly was ‘not so bad’ given the circumstances. But the mercurial selectors were soon delighted at the return of Yuvraj and Sehwag and wasted no time in removing the former captain for their next ODI assignment.

In one of the reports I read in ESPNCricinfo that time, Dravid who was playing in the Champions League for RCB was reportedly deeply upset at the news of his removal from the ODI side. The cricket portal quoted a support staff from the RCB team who had lent his laptop to Rahul Dravid on his request. When Dravid discovered from the news that he had been axed from the squad, the staff mentioned that it was extremely painful to look at his expression.

***

Vikram followed his Bheema debacle with an even greater one in Kanthaswamy in 2009.

In 2010, Vikram teamed up with Mani Ratnam and gave one of the finest performances in modern day Indian cinema for Raavanan. For the first time ever in his career, Mani’s film attracted brickbats even from critics and cinema analysts.

***

When the probables for 2011 World Cup were announced, I desperately hoped that somehow RahulDravidwould make the list. But he didn’t and no one cared, as usual.

India lifted the World Cup that year and Dravid’s absence, needless to say was completely forgotten. Even those few who remembered him thought that by 2011, Dhoni had more than replaced Dravid in the team not just by succeeding him as the team’s sheet-anchor in the middle overs but also by demonstratingan explosive ability to simply plunder runs at the ‘death’. Some of them even went on to say simply thatDravidbelonged to only an older era of ODI cricket whose outdated methods of run-accumulation and slogging wouldcertainly not be effective in the changed present day scenario of ‘switch-hitting’ and ‘helicoptering’.

But the very same year the all-powerful World Champions made a trip to England andprobably for the first time in history they were whitewashed 0-4 in the Test Series. The completely demoralized team also suffered a host of injuries creating a sea of vacancies for the upcoming ODI series.

No prizes for guessing, the ‘outdated’ Dravid was recalled once more.

***

When he was dropped in 2009, I can very well testify that my Dravid must have been a deeply hurt man. The very next test he played against Sri Lanka at home, India was tottering at 32 for 4 against a very ordinary bowling attack. India I am sure would have lost the Test in a featherbed such as that one in Ahmedabad had Dravid not hit a brilliant 177* on the first day orchestrating a stirring revival of the team’s fortunes. I remember pretty well Dravid’s expression reaching three figures that day when he clenched his fist letting a deep-throated shriek whose significance not many would have understood easily. The man was totally defiance and authority personified that day as it became the only occasion in his career that he scored so many runs on a single day in Test cricket. In the course of a knock that still thrills me whenever I see it on YouTube, he was not only validating his own self-belief but also putting the unscrupulous selectors to unforgettable shame.

Dravid played extraordinarily well in the rest of the tournament but was once again overshadowed by a phenomenal triple-hundred by Sehwag in the Second Test which stole all the thunder from the former’s showing. Dravid’s contribution to India’s victory in that series was second to none but as it always happened, Sehwag was awarded the Man of the Series Award at the conclusion of the series.

India reached the coveted Number One position in ICC Test Rankings the very same week.

***

Dravid if he was really considered to be expendable in the ODI scheme of things,could have easily been forgotten in 2007 itself. But as things turned out, he certainly was not. In 2009, on his recall he had to fill the shoes of ‘better’ players like Sehwag and Yuvraj and also was supposed toshepherd the team in swinging conditions in the Caribbean. And had he played poorly, there would have been no reason to persist with him in my opinion. But on the contrary he did really well given the extremely limiting circumstances. When both the injured players returned, Dravid was unceremoniously shown the door just like how Dinesh Karthik is being shunted in and out of the team today.

And people assumed India did not need Dravid since it was already a self-sufficient unit even capable of winning the World Cup which they did eventually. But I still cannot fathom how India’s self-sufficiency and champion traits vanished abruptly into thin air as soon as theycrossed the sub-continent in 2011 for their series against England.

When I look back, I don’t see any player of Dravid’s stature being treated as harshly as him. For a player who is barely remembered for his ODI role, he played 344 matches in all and captained the team on 76 occasions. He won 43 ODI for India as captain and was part of two of the greatest ODI partnerships of all time.

A limited-over liability like him was considered key to the fortunes of a young T20 team like Rajasthan Royals not only account of his ‘much-despised’ leadership skills but also for his scoring abilities which fetched him four Man-Of the Match awards in the IPL. He finished fifth in the list of top run-getters in IPL 2013 and led a moneyball team into the playoffs which finished as runners-up in the Champions League tournament that year.

That was Dravid for you. Whenever occasions arose where he faced the danger of being boxed or labelled on account of his deficiencies, he took no time to stand up and prove everyone wrong. He had the rare ability to silence his critics and break stereotypes, but I could not shake myself off the fact that had my influence been much lesser on him, he would have done succeeded more resoundingly and earned himself a hero’s reputation.

In his lone T20 International against England, his three consecutive sixes off Samit Patel shook everyone out of their slumber including that of mine. It would have been a memorable swansong for a glorious career had my influence not cut his innings short. It would have been a literal slippershot to all his cynics had he hit at least a fifty that day taking India to victory. But I was there watching the match live and you were not entitled to ask too much.

***

Many of my readers might still be puzzled as to why I keep attributing Dravid’s misfortunes to my influence.

There have been, according to estimates from credible sources to which even my friends can testify, a staggering number of 1322 occasions so far where I have managed to wreck India’s fortunes with immediate effect just by switching on the TV to watch the match even if the team was doing really well till then.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Left was reduced to single-digit numbers in the Parliament and in 2019 the time when I was going full-on anti-BJP siding with the Leftists, their parliamentary presence fell to an even horrible low.

A staggering talent like ChiyaanVikram who in my opinion could only be compared to Rajnikanth or Kamal Haasan in terms of screen presence and acting prowess was not even part of the list that was released by distributors in 2019 that set the terms for the release of the films of the industry’s biggest stars. I know no other star who literally has invented ways to squander his talent and ability inspite of being extremely committed to his craft.

However that is not the end of my story with ChiyaanVikram. In 2017, I remember watching from the floors of a nearby hospital a fabulous two-minute teaser featuring my matinee idol sashaying across the busy streets of New York resembling very much the likes of Pierce Brosnan and George Clooney. It was the teaser of Dhruva Natchatiram directed by the promising GauthamVasudev Menon and almost all of Kollywood were after so many years going gaga over the promos of a ChiyaanVikram movie. I remember leaving the hospital with my wife in my bike filled with pride and excitement which she mistakenly attributed to the child she was carrying in her two-month old womb. Now my two-and-half year old son is beginning to pick up expletives from the teaser that released when he was the size of a pea in his mother’s body and using them against me. My wife still chides me whenever I play the teaser in my Smart Television for uselessly waiting for a movie which has no possibilities of seeing the light of the day anytime soon.

***

In last year’s World Cup when India bowed out of the tournament I decided to shift my allegiance to everyone’s favourite, the New Zealanders for the Final. Till the very last moment, everyone around me was confident of their victory and the manner they lost the Cup is a harsh reminder of how powerful I could be over those whom I support.

Even if you think all these are funny coincidences, let me finish with another illustration that has much to do with the hero of our story.

Rahul Dravid, if I may remember correctly ended his career with 13,288 runs finishing second on the list of top run-getters in Test cricket when he announced his retirement. Both his competitors Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis were suffering terrible slumps in their form when Dravid called it quits. As a result, when Dravid retired it was thrilling for people like me to see two Indians sitting at the top of the Test runs table and I wanted the list to be undisturbed in the years to come, which was not in my opinion, an altogether unrealistic expectation.

But an out-of-the-blue Ricky Ponting made a stunning comeback to hit big and finished 90 runs ahead of Dravid when he retired. The list was consequently rearranged but it still did not look that bad for me with Dravid occupying the bronze position.

Kallis before playing his last test match had averaged only 17 in his last seven tests. Before his last innings, he wasa huge 114 runs short of Dravid and as a result much to my delight, by all meansDravid’s place looked extremely secure in the list.

But in Durban against India in 2013, the South African all-rounder suddenly looked unrelenting. I was following his knock with bated breath when he was scoring steadily in the first innings. One part of me was confident that if the Kallis threat was somehow dealt with, the list with Tendulkar, Ponting and Dravid could remain undisturbed for atleast a couple of decades since no other current batsmen looked like potential contenders to the hallowed list.

And the pessimist in me, was even prepared to brace myself for the unlikely eventof Kallis breaking Dravid’s record and moving to the third position by a wide margin.

However what followed these calculations was something totally unanticipated and mathematically quite improbable. Kallis hit 115 before he fell to RavindraJadeja. What a swansong! The Hindu wrote a great half-page tribute the next day to the retiring Jacques Kallis who finished just exactly one run higher than my Rahul Dravid in the all-time list.