Degrees of fandom


For sheer idolatry, I can’t look beyond Sachin. As far as my cricketing life goes, he remains the alpha and the omega, the one shimmering constant through all these years. He started whacking the ball around the time I entered elementary school and has continued whacking it through my days in middle school, high school, college, working years, graduate school and more working years. My grandfather (born in 1915) watched him bat and I won’t be surprised if he’s still whacking the ball when my son (if and when he’s born) watches his first cricket match.  This is truly a one-man institution.

For a fascinating storyline, I can’t look beyond Azzu. The script has everything: humble beginnings, a grandfather’s dream, talent from heaven, wrists of gold, a dazzling entry, a monumental ascent, the bolt-in-the-blue “mian, kaptaan banoge”, a betrayal, greed, hubris and that mighty fall. Even today, while I occasionally take the field in some inconsequential game, I turn up my collar and rush towards gully. Azzu was flawed. But how beautifully flawed he was!

For edge-of-the-seat excitement, I can’t look beyond Dada. There was never a silent moment. I either felt like hugging him or cursing him: a chaddi dost one moment,  a badtameez another. Even today, that delectable cover-drive – clinically threading point and gully – gives me goose-bumps.  What a captain, yet what a rogue. He inspired, he infuriated. He was truly a Bollywood superstar who happened to walk into a cricket field. And thank god for that.

For pure cricketing beauty, I can’t look beyond VVS. The batsman for an ideal day: blue skies, soothing breeze, stretching out on the lush lawns with beer on one side and biryani on the other. A lover for company. And VVS batting, calmly, serenely, without a care in the world. When I read poets write of the Elysian fields, this is all I can think about.

All this is fandom. Yet there’s no real intimacy in any of these. There’s nothing really personal. These are all emotions that a lot of boys and girls share. I’m not the first one to marvel at Sachin’s back-foot thump – what Peter Roebuck once memorably likened to pushing open a barn door – neither will I be the last one to float after the ball makes  the sweetest of sounds when VVS’ bat makes contact. I’m just another brick on the wall.

**

That’s what brings me to the scoreboard, the manual scoreboard at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, worn down after years of service with those gaping holes that held metallic plates. I remember that scoreboard well, the first thing I used to look for when I ran from school to the stadium, trying to catch the last half an hour’s play of a Ranji Trophy game. The stadium was mostly deserted, the cheers from the dressing-room echoing around the whole ground. A couple of men used to make it a habit of enjoying a siesta in the terraces.

But that scoreboard was important. Because on so many, many days it showed R Dravid. Either he had batted all day and was battening down the hatches. Or he had walked in after an early wicket late in the day. Either way, it was so reassuring to see him. Invariably he would calm the nerves and see us through to stumps. I would go back home chirpy, read The Hindu’s description of his ‘dogged’ innings the next day, before looking forward to that run to the stadium again the next evening.

Adding to the intimacy was the fact that R Dravid had studied in the same school, his name embossed on the House Captains’ board just as one entered the main corridor. Once I spent a few hours peering through the school annuals in the library, copying down his scores in inter-school and inter-house games in a notebook. Someday, I thought, everyone else will hear of my secret.

You know what I remember first when people talk of the 1996 World Cup quarter-final  in Bangalore? Not Prasad, not Sohail, not Jadeja, not Sidhu, not even Ata-ur-Rahman. But that big banner in the North Stand that screamed, ‘Where’s Dravid?’. Someone else had discovered my secret and was now publicising it to the whole world.

I remember the announcement in the morning assembly on June 20, 1996. Our school principal, in a most droll tone, reading out: “One of our own, Rahul Dravid, will be making his Test debut at Lord’s today. There is no better place for a cricketer to play his first match.”

I cursed my cable operator all evening for not showing ESPN before taking refuge in All India Radio. I spent the evening with a transistor against my ear, listening to the warm applause from the Lord’s crowd. My mind kept going back to the Chinnaswamy, when so many cover-drives were met with an eerie silence, only a handful of us witness to the magnificence of the artwork.

Batting with the tail, he moved to the eighties, then ‘nudged a single’ to enter the nineties. The commentary was irritating me but I could have cried then and there. Our dear R Dravid, standing on history’s threshold, at Lord’s, shepherding the tail. I had only heard of S Ganguly but Dravid – he was our own, my own. Just get to that hundred.

You know the rest. Lewis to Dravid. Jack Russell takes the catch. Dravid walks. Out for 95. Five runs short. Five measly runs. I switched off the transistor. Five runs!

For the last 14 years, everyone else has shared my joy. I could have cried again during Headingley 2002. And I was most privileged to watch first-hand his twin fifties in Kingston – easily the best I’ve watched in the little I’ve seen live in a ground.

I’ve written about those innings here but what I didn’t mention was the photograph that we took after the game. Two Josephites, two Bangaloreans, standing in front of the scoreboard in Sabina Park – after India’s historic series win in the Caribbean – in one frame.

That triumph will probably be R Dravid’s acme. As a fan, I can happily say the same.

Published by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

I’m a freelance writer, editor and author. My debut novel - What's Wrong With You, Karthik - was published by Pan Macmillan in India. You can order it here: https://www.amazon.com/Whats-Wrong-with-You-Karthik/dp/9389109507/ I have worked as a reporter and editor for ESPNcricinfo. I was part of the team that launched their digital magazine – The Cricket Monthly. You can read all my articles here. I used to write a fortnightly column for cricketnext.com, I host podcasts and (occasionally) write pieces at 81allout.com. I have contributed articles to Wisden, Nightwatchman, The Hindu, Mumbai Mirror, Indian Express, Forbes.com, AOL, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and Yahoo India. I have worked for Bloomberg News and Wall Street Journal as a features reporter.

24 thoughts on “Degrees of fandom

  1. nice…staying at stone throws from “the mecca”, cant wait for india’s tour of england next summer….something tells me dravid wld still be around to score a century..and then..no switching off the transistor shall happen..no five runs shall happen…I shall wait…

  2. That 95 was heartbreaking, yes. I’m not as much as a fan of cricket , not now. But back then I remember everyone speaking about Dravid. I even saw him play as a schoolboy. But he somehow ended up disappointing in his early ODIs ( I always compared, and still do, his and Gilchrist’s debut – both were injury replacements in the middle of tournaments but had totally different approaches to the game)

    To me he is solid, but too slow to adapt in the 90s something he changed only in the noughties and blossomed. Wanderers was an exception. He was like a gladiator there.

    I agree with Arun above , we wait here at Lords. There’s a huge unsung English crowd who love Dravid more than Sachin – that includes at least three of the Lord’s curators and groundsmen.

  3. Dravid will always have a special place Sid! But I think there is an impostor playing currently in the Indian team – just can’t bear to see him get out in the fashion that he is! He needs his final swan song in a grand manner – would hate to see him dropped:-(

  4. While admiring the nostalgic sentiments expressed in awell-written article, I would have loved to see some comments about Vishy, one of the most elegant batsmen India had produced. It was Jack Fingleton who wrotew in the HIndu that Vishy was the exponent of square cut.

  5. Hey Sid,

    I am Mayank Jhaveri, a cricket based blogger. I am no Josephite and neither a Bangalorean but I have the same love and respect for Dravid. What a man he is and what great service he has done to the nation, yet almost always been robbed off much deserved accolade.

    When I read your article “Thou shalt not pass” on Cricinfo, it instantly became one of my favourites. I didn’t know about this blog of yours, but now that I do will immediately blogroll it. I really enjoyed reading some of the other articles as wel. Good job.

    Oh by the way, I have myself written 2-3 article about my humble GOD and here they are:
    http://freehit-cricketanalysis.blogspot.com/2010/09/dravid-or-tendulkarto-choose-or-not-to.html
    http://freehit-cricketanalysis.blogspot.com/2010/06/rahul-dravidindias-best-test-cricketer.html

    Give them a look.
    Cheers,
    Mayank Jhaveri

  6. Nice post. It must be special to carry around personal reminisces of Dravid. Being a die hard fan myself, it pains to see how people love to not notice him. Harsha Bhogle’s recent article on cricinfo sums it up well.

    However, I choose to differ on his legacy being purely based on his doggedness. Much like Ramchandra Guha wrote about Gavaskar, Dravid has shown time and again that he can seamlessly blend into a fast-paced game, when required. Of course, we have always chosen to not remember this aspect of his batting.
    More importantly perhaps, Dravid is as much an artist as any other great. Moreover, he’s probably one person who’s built up his artistry painstakingly. More like Michelangelo to Laxman’s Mozart. Tendulkar is probably Da Vinci. Hope the analogy is clear.

  7. One of the reasons (There are many more) I hold Dravid in very high esteem is his flexibility to bat anywhere.Even SRT did not want to open in tests.While Sehwag prefers not to open and wants to move back to middle order.
    His contributions in giving India regular overseas wins is unparalleled

  8. Really love your writing. That banner is the first thing that crosses my mind when I think back about the World Cup quarterfinal. Did not quite understand the ‘not even Ata-ur-Rehman’ pun!

    Dravid had to take a great catch to remind everyone of his 200th catch – was eagerly awaiting this event to unfold at the Chinnaswamy against Australia! The stadium would have shook on that Sunday, but then it was not meant to be!

    Also loved the collar up walk of Azza with his full sleeves on! Used to imitate him back in school! 🙂 VVS has always been my No. 1 after the 281. Amongst batsmen from other countries who do you love? Amla and then Jayawardene are the only ones I can think of!

    Kudos to your writing …!

  9. Hi Sidvee,

    An extremely late comment but I really loved this piece. I went to a ODI match between India and WI at Chepauk when I was 9-10 years old. India won this match mainly because of Azharuddin’s brilliant 81 against Walsh et al. (This was a week before the Mongia-Prabhakar crawl at Kanpur.) I became a huge fan of Azhar from that point — for a long time, I liked him more than SRT — only to be let down terribly. I just have three questions:
    1. You spoke of a betrayal — was it Azhar betraying SRT and the Indian team or somebody betraying Azhar?
    2. When did he change from this nice next-door boy to a man without morals?
    3. Was he tricked into fixing by the small gifts route that eventually made him feel obliged or did he hanker after the gold himself?

    I know these are nasty questions you may not want to answer :-), but I thought, hey what’s the harm in asking :)?

    1. Hi Sriram. Thanks for the comment. I meant Azhar betraying me as a fan. I don’t know when the exact transformation happened. And I also am not aware of the exact nature of his entry into the bookie nexus. I would suggest books like ‘Not quite cricket’ and ‘Fallen Heroes’ where you may get a few of those answers.

  10. Really well written Sid. Very heartfelt. I am a Josephite too and even I remember koli making that announcement in his drab tone. 🙂 I was in std. 5 then… I also remember how articles from the newspapers would be put up on the notice board everytime our very own hero made a big score. Great memories!

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