The celebrated writer Amitav Ghosh once said about the process of writing: “It never gets easier; it’s always hard, it’s always a test. I’ve reached a point in my life where if a sentence seems easy, I distrust it.”
For many writers, practicing their craft is a daily, ongoing struggle. As Susanna Daniel says writing can lead to a state of “active non-accomplishment”. “Stunted ambition. Disappointed potential. Frustrated and sad and lonely and hopeless and sick to death of one’s self.”
For many writers, the joy lies in this struggle: to enter this web every morning, get trapped within and wriggle out by the end. To battle each sentence: twist it one way, then another before trashing it forever; to occasionally gather enough momentum to finish a paragraph; to extricate oneself from traps one has created for oneself; to get lost in one’s own plot before eventually creating a way out. This must bring a most masochistic joy.
I think of all this when I watch Rahul Dravid: his daily search for the struggle, his eagerness to bat on a spiked pitch, his desire to treat every ball like a grenade, his technique to counter any ball on any pitch and, most striking of all, his temperament to put behind the struggle that went before and focus on the struggle that awaits. Not for him a flat pitch on a sunny day. He’s not going to derive immense joy in hitting through the line. He craves a that masochistic joy.
For me, an ideal Dravid innings needs a most challenging pitch. If it’s a batting beauty with the ball coming on to the bat, give me Sehwag or Laxman; if there’s a truly great array of bowlers set to be unleashed, give me Tendulkar. If it’s a minefield, give me Dravid.
Great bowlers and a taut state of the match are a bonus. Kolkata, Adelaide and Rawalpindi are awesome but I want Headingley, Perth and Jo’burg. I want Kingston. I want Hamilton. The pitch must be spiced up or crumbling or smattered with cracks. A crater would be ideal. Or even a sandpit. Dravid cannot take stance knowing what the ball is going to do after pitching. He must not be offered predictable bounce. It’s all too insulting.
Dravid is the anti-McGrath. A batting metronome. Ball after ball, over after over, he wears bowlers down with his patience. It’s almost as if he has a plan: leave, leave, defend, leave, score. He sets up the bowler, making him bowl where he wants. Amid all this he calculates the vagaries of the pitch. It’s when he’s in a struggle that he’s in the zone.
For Hoggard, Caddick, Tudor and Flintoff at Headingley read Collins, Taylor, Collymore and Bravo at Kingston. For Donald, Pollock, McMillan and Klusener at Johannesburg read Doull, Cairns and Nash at Hamilton.
Today he was up against Edwards, Rampaul, Sammy and Bishoo. They were operating on a pitch that was up and down, just that nobody knew when it was up and when it was down. The ball jagged to and fro. Partners came, partners swished, partners got talked to, partners swished again and partners left. Through it all Dravid struggled, a truly masterful struggle.
He advised Raina to stop wafting down the leg side, he admonished Praveen when he swished. He disapproved when Mishra got impetuous and seemed to be advising Harbhajan to play with soft hands. He was sweating and his gaze was narrowing every hour. No one else could handle the pitch or the conditions. Only he knew how to enjoy this torture.
When I see Dravid bat, I think of our daily lives, the frustrations we endure. I think of how we struggle through the mundane: paying bills, shopping for groceries, standing in long queues, cleaning utensils, vacuuming. I think of how we go through days at work, bogged down by clerical chores, stuck in pointless meetings, often accomplishing tasks that we least enjoy. I think of our silly struggles and how we’re often overpowered by them.
And then I think of Dravid. Of course I admire him for his technical expertise, his equanimity, his ability to rescue a side. Of course I marvel at the way he bats and bats and bats. Of course I enjoy how he battles a crisis.
But most of all, I’m constantly in awe of his mastery of something we all try and run away from: the struggle.