Time-tested TITANS

TENDULKAR and DRAVID are twin towers of ineffable majesty. It's simpler to embrace the greatness of both men than compare them, for both have handled success remarkably well. And a large part of their success has owed itself to their ability to deal with the attendant pressure, writes S. RAM MAHESH.



The twin towers have stood, despite being built on the unsteady sands of time, defiant of the waves of change crashing and breaking around them. The high watermarks have been many and they have been indicative of the edifices they have etched — towers of ineffable majesty.

One arrived ready, a cherub with curls, all of 16, precocious bat in tow, carving bowlers to size, and wowing a nation. His genius was so apparent it smacked you like a cold fish to the eye. A generation adjusting to life after Gavaskar, and another to whom the name Gavaskar evoked memories passed down by word of mouth, were beginning to feel wildly fortunate that they came into the world when they did.

"Any name, however, was needed to revive our shrinking egos and on that name we settled," wrote Philip Lindsay in his admirable book titled simply `Don Bradman' on what the great Australian meant to his country, "about it we talked, we lovers of cricket, and had there been a god of cricket the game to whom we could have prayed that lad's name would have risen from almost every home in Australia, freighted with a country's hopes, imploring heaven that he would not let us down, but would carry to greatness the promise he had already shown."

Familiar? Not for nothing did the Don see shades of himself in Sachin Tendulkar, weaver of dreams and, until very recently, master of destiny.

The other, slender and serious, didn't so much arrive as step up to the plate repeatedly. Rahul Dravid's temperament was admired, his technique approvingly dissected. But no, no traces of genius could be found in this one.

He was meticulous, yes — his eye for detail and capacity to plan and prepare for an innings were looked at as an accountant's ability to painstakingly even out the reds and the greens and the blacks are looked at. Impressive no doubt, but where was the romance?

He was grudgingly accorded greatness. Even there it was not a greatness easily bestowed — his was supposed to be a greatness good batsmen "could aspire to". A greatness that was paradoxically both easier and more difficult to attain than Tendulkar's. Easier because you didn't need genius hardwired in your DNA to take you there; more difficult for precisely the same reason.

Yet, somewhere along the way, as the paths of these two men began to more frequently criss-cross — so interlaced are these that one played his 100th Test at the Wankhede, the same day the other became India's most capped with 132 — Dravid displaced Tendulkar as India's leading light and one of the world's best batsmen.

Mumbai's little big man was India's defining batsman of the 1990s. In a team yet to start winning abroad, Tendulkar was a mainstay like none other, a "colossus", as Dravid called him. The current Indian captain was still finding his international feet, while

Tendulkar was more than seven years into world dominance. Then, India gloried as the compulsive brilliance of the younger man (Tendulkar!) and the earnest splendour of the other super-imposed.

By 2003-04, the Bangalorean was no longer just India's man to tide over strife, he had taken over from the one he admired — a man 14 years of international cricket was beginning to take its toll on.

"One of the things that's always struck me is his balance — he's got great balance," Dravid told Sportstar on a batsman's perspective of Tendulkar, the batsman. "And he's got great economy of movement. He's either fully forward or fully back. Then there's his impeccable judgement of length and line, his ability to read situations and adapt accordingly. "That's some thing I've tried to pick up from him.

He's obviously got the skill to do that as well. I've tried to pick up how calm and relaxed he is. He's very focused when he's batting. I've been at the crease quite a few times when he's joined me, and I really admire the confidence he exudes when he comes in to bat."

For a nation bred on the exploits of Tendulkar, whose genius so readily lent itself to cult-hero status, the ascension of Dravid proved a problem. A people prone to comparison, Indians needed to know who was better. Dravid averages 58 to Tendulkar's 55, but can he set about the bowling with as much ferocity? Can he, as the commentators are wont to say, hit the good balls for four the way Tendulkar does? Simpler was to embrace the greatness of both men, as Lindsay writes in a different context in his admirable book ("At first, I was ashamed of betrayal, clinging to Macartney, but I soon realised that I could love both men, and that it was not betrayal but rather a heightening of my passion to divide it thus; for it was cricket the god, of which these two men were priests, that I adored.").

For both men have handled success remarkably well — a large part of their success has owed itself to their ability to deal with the attendant pressure.

"To carry the pressures he's (Tendulkar) had to, people have looked up to him as an icon, it's not easy," said Dravid on the eve of the Mumbai Test. "He started as a young kid, to grow and develop, and achieve what he's achieved it's no exaggeration to say he's carried the hopes of millions." But how aware was the Indian skipper of what he — Rahul Dravid — meant to his countrymen?

"I've always said how lucky I've been to play cricket for India, where you literally have millions supporting you. And you can make a difference to people's lives, it's a real privilege. I am very aware of that, but I just try and be committed, try and do my best every single time. It's very important to play good cricket and play as a team, after all that's what they want — a good team. But, the only thing I can control is trying my hardest, doing my best."

That he has managed with a felicity few in the past have matched: the most runs by any batsman at the pivotal number three spot; the fifth highest average of anyone with over 3000 runs at that position; and an overseas average that's a whopping seven and 10 runs better than Tendulkar and the mighty Gavaskar respectively.

"Having a better average abroad is something I'm proud of," said Dravid. "Growing up, I was told a lot about the need to adapt, so it's nice. But I'm not too fussed about that. It's more the knocks I've played in India and abroad that have helped India win."

The moment, when Tendulkar walked off to boos at the Wankhede after making one in 21 balls was poignant — it reeked of crassness on the crowd's part, it showed how the `now' could eclipse 17 years of grandeur.

Though there is a lot of cricket left in both men, neither will stay around forever. Their milestones of longevity are perversely a reminder of a scary day in the future India will wake up to not see the names Tendulkar and Dravid in the line-up. Let's hold on to every moment whilst we can.