Book Review | Timeless Steel
At its best, a book on a sportsperson brings out the hidden stories about struggles and sacrifices, relives the greatest victories and defeats, aiming to showcase the human being behind the athlete, the demi-god, the recipient of the adoration of a million fans.
Timeless Steel, the ESPNcricinfo collection of 29 pieces on Rahul Dravid, brings together some of the finest commentators/writers of the game. The book, which includes interviews, a numbers column and Rahul Dravid’s Bradman speech, delivered in December, has essays by Gideon Haigh, Rahul Bhattacharya, Aakash Chopra, Sambit Bal, Mukul Kesavan, Rohit Brijnath, Sharda Ugra and Suresh Menon. Eighteen of these have been published earlier, including in Mint Lounge. The collection has all the usual ingredients—a portrait of Dravid the cricketer, the man, eulogies from his teammates and rivals, and so on.
Yet though it is a fine collection, there is something missing, a disappointment that perhaps mirrors Dravid’s career, during which he couldn’t win the series in South Africa or Australia. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the book doesn’t break much new ground. Those of us who grew up closely following the travails of the Indian cricket team know that Dravid was the eternal go-to man in the team, the nice guy, the first to congratulate an opposition player on a landmark, the studiousness he brought to the game, and so on. Controversies find no more than a passing mention in the book, though when it was released there were news reports that hyped Greg Chappell’s statements from his essay “Eternal Student”. The turbulent era when Chappell was coach (2005-07), Dravid’s declaration when Sachin Tendulkar was batting on 194 in a Test—these topics have been skirted around gingerly. Then again, these are topics Dravid, ever the gentleman, generally prefers not to speak about.
Writing on The Wall: Rahul Dravid. Photo: Vincent Thian/AP
Indeed, after reading Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open, where the tennis superstar outlines his trysts with drugs, girls and money, Dravid told sports journalist Gideon Haigh that by comparison he had hardly lived at all, Haigh writes in his essay “A Sportsman of Model Decorum”. Diplomacy is such a part of his life that Vijeta, Dravid’s wife, recalls in her essay that once she had to tell him: “Hello, I am your wife. Don’t speak as if this is a press conference.”
These vignettes apart, the interviews are interesting, even if they have already been published. In December 2010, Cricinfo’s Nagraj Gollapudi talked to Dravid on the topic of slip fielding. Technicalities such as the best position to stand, how to position oneself in the slips (putting your weight on the instep so that you can transfer it quickly and move quickly in any direction is apparently the best way), positioning the hands, practising with different kinds of balls…. These make fascinating reading for devoted students of the game, coming as they do from a man with the highest number of slip catches in Test cricket.
Timeless Steel: The Walt Disney Company India (Pvt.) Ltd, 256 pages, Rs 599
Equally absorbing is an excerpt from Aakash Chopra’s essay, “A Cricketer Most Evolved”, where he describes how Dravid added a repertoire of strokes. A predominantly on-side player at the beginning of his career, but with good pull and cut strokes—having played on jute mat wickets—Dravid tweaked his style to be able to play front-foot drives by going back and back instead of back and across, thus allowing his top hand more freedom.
For cricket fans, especially for Indian cricket fanatics, one of the best sections of the book would be the reportage on Dravid’s epic innings, such as Kolkata 2001 or Leeds 2002. The reporters on those matches do a good job here, though Sanjay Bangar’s essay, “Leeds 2002: The Monk of Headingley”, on the Headingley century in 2002 is a little disappointing, given that he had the best view as Dravid’s partner for a good part of that innings.
Ultimately, it’s for innings such as these that Rahul Dravid will be remembered. For those of us inclined to such interests, there’s no greater pleasure than reliving some of those memorable innings long after the excitement of watching them live has passed.