Friday, Oct 10, 2003
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By Nirmal Shekar
The season is here. As in falling autumnal leaves, all the familiar hues are there; you can hear all the familiar rustle too.
Who's greater? Who's better? Who's the victim? Who's the winner? What if they had batted first?
In the event, it wasn't really a surprise to hear one of my old favourites, so to say, being played yesterday, shortly after breakfast time.
"You know,'' said a friend, "Dravid never gets his due. It's always Sachin-this, Sachin-that."
This happened about the time Rahul Dravid was walking back to the middle to resume his innings on the second morning of the Test against New Zealand at Ahmedabad.
Sachin versus Rahul, or, Tendulkar versus Dravid, if you want to sound nice and proper. That's the favourite theme for the mother of all debates in Indian cricket.
There is the school that believes Dravid has been short-changed by everybody, from the team management to the BCCI to the media the press and television.
In any other country, they would have built monuments for him, but out here we let him suffer in the shadow of Tendulkar so goes their argument.
Dravid is more dependable than Tendulkar, he is a bigger match-winner than the man from Mumbai so goes the argument.
And when one of them fails and the other excels, as in the first innings at Ahmedabad, the arguments take on the stridency of a war cry.
It is a cry, too, that successive generations of cricket fans and critics alike are familiar with, in India and elsewhere in the cricket playing world.
It was Sunil Gavaskar versus Gundappa Viswanath in the 1970s and 1980s here, and such debates date back to the days of Don Bradman, perhaps even earlier.
If we cannot compare, sport would be such a boring business. If we cannot argue the case of one against the other, what is the point of sport? What would school lunch hours be without these debates? What would dinner table conversations be without a slice of Dravid or Tendulkar?
Perhaps the only ones who haven't felt the need to spice up their dinner and breakfast with this debate are Dravid and Tendulkar themselves. Oblivious of the cacophony, untouched by its undercurrents, the two men have seemed serene and majestic in each other's company in the middle, each feeding off the other's strengths.
Yet, the great debate is very much alive. And kicking, too, at a time such as this.
There can be no doubt at all that Dravid is a top class batsman with a water-tight technique, one who is among the greatest of this era, and more importantly, one who may, by the time he retires, claim his place among the greatest of all time.
Time and time again, the classy, handsome man from Bangalore has done for India what the great Steve Waugh has accomplished for Australia. When the chips are down, these are the men you count on.
And there can be no doubt too that Dravid's skills, his temperament and his technique would have been celebrated much, much more if he had not been a contemporary of one Mr. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
Where would Viswanath have been in the 1970s and 1980s if one Mr. Sunil Gavaskar was not around? The same question can be asked of Gordon Greenidge vis a vis Viv Richards and several other great batsmen in the history of the sport.
But where does that leave Tendulkar? Is it his fault that he happened to have been born when he was? It is his fault that his incomparable skills and charisma, his awesome achievements and his genius, have turned him into Mr. Cricket in this country of over a billion people?
If Dravid is the immovable object, then Tendulkar is the irresistible force; take your pick, but the places are not inter-changeable.
Dravid has many virtues: patience, perseverance, undoubted skills, the willingness to make enormous sacrifices for the team cause, and a faultless technique.
Tendulkar has almost all of these...and something more, something that is sighted once every two decades in any sport, something that made Don Bradman, approaching age 90, sit up in his drawing room in front of the television and draw his wife's attention to a little Indian's batting style.
Tendulkar, in short, is a genius. As great as Dravid is, you don't have to smear the face of a genius to make the man from Bangalore look good. He looks bloody good anyway, irrespective of the company he keeps in the team.
To argue the case of Kanchenjunga's timeless beauty, you don't have to sully the Everest. For, the Everest will always remain what it is...the tallest of them all.
Every connoisseur of the great old game, in this country and elsewhere, will forever be happy that they have been able to savour the beauty of the twin peaks of Indian cricket at the same time.
Yes, The (great) Wall of Indian cricket is on song; but those of us who can crane our necks and see beyond The Wall, can sight a monument. Its name is Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
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