Bangalore: Rahul Dravid has spoken forcefully, uninhibitedly and without reservation more often in the last 10-and-a-half months, as a retired cricketer, than he did in the preceding 16 years when he donned the India colours with such distinction.
Both when he was captain and when he wasn't, Dravid was extremely choosy with his words and opinions, draping himself in a cloak of political correctness lest he should step on toes. Post retirement, as if a load has been lifted off his shoulders, he has spoken his mind, both as a cricket commentator and as a cricket ambassador, revelling in his role of analyst without having to worry too much about sharing a dressing room with someone whom he has castigated in public domain.
In December, soon after India keeled over without a fight in the third Test against England to concede what in the end turned out to be a decisive 2-1 advantage, Dravid questioned the skills, talent and ability of the emerging pack. Last week, in Jaipur during the Literary Festival, he let slip one of the worst kept secrets in the country – that Indian cricketers seldom read books.
To some, it might come across as an arrogant, condescending pronouncement from an individual whose love for reading almost parallels his love for occupation of the crease when he was an active cricketer. But when you plough through the scepticism and cut to the chase, you will have to admit that while not reading books doesn't make anyone a lesser cricketer, it does impede his development as a well-rounded, aware and informed human being.
There was a catchy punch-line to a whiskey ad that went along the lines of 'Tradition is what it used to be'. Whether by accident or design, it seemed to suggest that in the ever expanding, fast-moving world of today, there is no place for yesterday. Sadly, that would appear to apply to a fair few cricketers, not just from India but from across the world.
Dravid must have cringed inwardly when, in Lahore in 2006, Virender Sehwag admitted that he didn't know who Pankaj Roy was. This was shortly after the first game of a three-Test series had ended in a draw, Dravid and Sehwag failing by three runs to equal the then world record for the highest opening partnership in Test history. Dravid and Sehwag had added 410 against Pakistan, falling tantalisingly short of the existing record of 413 set by Roy and Vinoo Mankad against New Zealand in 1956. Sehwag's nonchalant revelation that he hadn't heard of Roy is perhaps symptomatic of the current generation of cricketers – and not merely at the international level – who are so caught up with their own performances, statistics and numbers that they have very little time or inclination for a sneak peek into the history of the game.
For Dravid, of a different generation and with educational qualifications to buttress his cricketing accomplishments, a book is a stress-buster. Today, the stress-buster is the ubiquitous iPod, jazzy earphones et al. We are not sitting on judgement here; no one is suggesting that the iPod-toting modern-day cricketer is any inferior to the book-gorging cricketer. But it won't hurt if the dynamic cricketer of today pauses to look back on the glorious journey that the sport has undertaken in growing, if nothing else, from an amateur practice to a multi-billion dollar professional industry.
There still are cricketers, in India, who read – they read inspirational tales of other professional sportspersons, primarily, but they also read as much about the history of the world as the history of cricket itself. But for every Yuvraj Singh, Manoj Tiwary or Unmukt Chand, to name but a few, there are a hundred others whose only tryst with the written word is when something extremely flattering or extremely unkind is written about them. For most of the rest of the time, it's about looking at pictures, reading up the gossip column, maybe occasionally glancing through the zodiacs, all this with the iPod firmly in place.
It's hard not to imagine that, even before a Test or even a first-class cap is handed out, the cricketer in question receives iPods and related accessories, and the omnipresent pair of sunglasses which often adorns the peak of the cap rather than protects him from the sun or the glare of the floodlights, as the case may be. Slowly, India too are embracing the tradition of an international debutant being handed over his cap by either the captain, or a very senior member of the team. Perhaps, the iPods and the sunglasses are left in a bag just outside his room, in much the same manner as Tinu Yohanan received his cap a day before his Test debut against England in Mohali in December 2001.
This is not to say that Dravid never sported sunglasses, or never listened to music. Indeed, he listened to the most calming, mellifluous, melodic, soothing strains of inspirational instrumental music with the odd chant thrown in before he went out to bat, his mind and body in perfect sync to do battle. It worked for Dravid, as listening to robust, catchy Punjabi music does for Virat Kohli. But yes, a little bit of reading doesn't hurt.
Reading broadens one's horizons, makes him realise that there are many ways of looking at and tackling a problem, enhances his awareness of what's going on around the world, adds new perspectives. Caught up in their own world, cricketers tend to forget that there are real life-and-death issues in the real world. Perhaps, that realisation will free up their minds and allow them to approach their vocation with the seriousness and commitment it deserves, but no more.
Bill Shankly, the great Liverpool manager, once said of the beautiful game: "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death is mistaken, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that." Substitute football with cricket, and you will get the picture of the player of today, so sucked into the demands of his sport that he excises everything else from his life. Bloody-mindedness is a virtue in competitive sport as it exists today, but there is a tomorrow too, when you are done with sport and need to look beyond. That's what the Dravids of the world are better prepared for. Dravid the cricketer is worth emulating, yes, but so is Dravid the person, and that's something young cricketers with stars in their eyes would do well to recognise.