Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tiger Woods 923 days without title and Sachin Tendulkar 370 days without century - contrasting critics

The following post by the author was published on Cricketcountry on 27.3.2012

Out of the pit

On March 26, 2012, when Tiger Woods closed with a two-under 70 for a five-shot win over Graeme McDowell, he looked his old dominant self in the well-remembered red shirt. The man who has often been acknowledged as the greatest golfer of all time, thus won the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his first PGA Tour triumph in 923 days.

Although Woods would like to count the unofficial Chevron World Challenge of last December, and thus take some months off his title drought, the fact remains that he has won his first major tournament since the BMW Championship on September 13, 2009. It was his 72nd tournament win, one short of Jack Nicklaus and currently 10 away from the record title collection of Sam Snead (82).

The interim period had not been easy for the champion, with sex scandal, divorce, swing changes, three separate injuries, sacking of his long-time caddy along with public and media scrutiny about whether he would return to winning ways again – all taking their toll.

It all boiled down to a question of holding on to his self-belief – after all, a champion of his ability cannot suddenly lose his skill.

Immense as this news is in the sporting world, it also highlights a curiosity underlining the difference between the followers of global sports and the Indian counterparts glued to the spectacle of cricket.

Longitudes and Attitudes

Woods is often mentioned in the same breath as Muhammad Ali, Pelé, Don Bradman, Mark Spitz, Babe Ruth, Carl Lewis and a select few hallowed names as the greatest of all time in the absolute scale of sportsmen across disciplines and eras.

In contrast Sachin Tendulkar is merely the greatest batsman of modern times – and many of his critics, who are unwilling or incapable of rational analysis, grudge him even that status.

However, when it comes to extremes of criticism of their respective trades, the Indian master has had much more to endure than the supreme golfer.

While Woods has been openly censured in the last two and a half years, sometimes mercilessly enough to resemble the psychological version of Biblical stoning, most of his critics have dwelt on his moral transgressions and raised significantly limited questions about his prowess as a master golfer. Indeed plenty of lambasting, sermonising, analysis – even ridicule and abuse – of his personal life have taken place, often indulged in by people one would scarcely trust near their own womenfolk. However, there have certainly been a very few calls for his handing in his mashie and putter – and if doubts have been raised about his sporting future, the voices have generally remained reasoned and rational.

There has hardly been media madness created by tally marks notched against each day Woods lived without winning his next tournament and 24x7 channels dealing with nothing else but the vigil.

However, in contrast to the 30-month barren spell of the golfer, Tendulkar has top scored for India – by some distance – in their World Cup win just a year back. His spate of centuries, which had become a flurry during the 2010-11 season had suddenly dried up for the last 12 months, but by no stretch of imagination had the dry run approached anywhere near that of Woods.

Yet, the extent, level and the recurrence of voices calling for his head reached such illogical levels of chaotic cacophony that ultimately the great man, who had forever let his bat do the talking, decided to append his willow crafted arguments with words as well.

Which leads us to the question: Why this difference in attitude? Why this largely national impatience to pull down icons from their pedestals? Why this urge to defile monuments?

Woods, in spite of his obvious greatness, does have two more names to overtake before racing ahead of the field. In contrast Tendulkar’s number of hundreds, which has for so long been the national obsession, is far ahead of what anyone else has achieved in the history of the game – by a good 30% distance. Yet, the wait had been too much for the fanatics who throng around the game to keep them from debasing the achievements of a phenomenon and the immense irrational pressure built up on the genius has probably imploded into a change of his outlook and attitude.

Is it that Indians, in stark contrast to the Americans and other nations with rich sporting heritage, are not used to having many champion sportspersons in their midst? Are their expectations when they suddenly find such a winner in their midst at odds with the logical world? Do they ascribe powers more suited to their familiar mythical heroes to this unknown and unaccustomed phenomenon of a sporting great? Is it the celebrated crab mentality – perhaps one of the reasons why there is an everlasting dearth of world class sportsmen?

In India, one can only keep wondering.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sachin Tendulkar century results in defeat for India? It's a moronic myth

This post by the author was published on Cricketcountry on 24.12.2012. However, this seems as good a time to revisit the topic as any

Rewind to World Cup 2011. Sachin Tendulkar races to a scorching 111 off 101 balls against Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and other Proteans. His glittering innings is studded with three sixes, one of them a blistering hook off an express Steyn bouncer. Indians pile up 296, and look well established in the driver’s seat. However, Faf du Plessis and Johan Botha gallop along a lightning quick home stretch before Robin Peterson mauls more than the 13 required runs from the first four deliveries of the final over bowled by Ashish Nehra.

What followed demonstrates one of the most vitriolic vagaries of Indian cricket. The man, who in another three weeks would be worshipped by millions as the all-conquering “Captain Cool”, for the time being became target of the most abusive avalanche of criticism in the media and social network circus.

But, venting wrath on Mahendra Singh Dhoni alone did not quite placate the fuming fans. Their roving eyes soon discovered a spotless piece of brilliance invitingly laid out, almost asking to be stained by poison tipped brushes splattering murky graffiti, much of it tinted with the dirty green of envy.

A few days earlier, Sachin Tendulkar had teed off with a 115-ball 120 at the Chinnaswamy Stadium against England, and India had raced to 338. A steady158 by Andrew Strauss, aided by some ordinary bowling at the death, had ensured a thrilling tie. For the Indian fans, who had been quite sure of victory when England had required 52 off the last five overs, it was as bad as a defeat.

Can tantalising correlation of this kind, repeated in such quick sequence, be resisted? Whispers started drifting around the cricketing grapevine, facts were rearranged into make-believe analysis on social, electronic, digital and print media. Chinese whispers bubbled through the network of fibre optic cables, posted, shared and tweeted around millions of PCs and mobile phones. A moronic myth was born: India loses whenever Sachin Tendulkar scores a hundred.

Of Tendulkar’s 48 ODI hundreds, a few of the 13 in which India ended up second best, were variously revisited and recalled.

Did they not show that Tendulkar is a fighter against odds, the last man standing when lesser players had given up long back? What of the 33 centuries in wins, and one apiece in a tie and an abandoned match?

Well, far too much factual accuracy for the lip-smacking attractions of such a phenomenal urban legend. It is so much easier to indulge in the pseudo-statistical witch hunts. Recurring repetitions of the rumour ensued, powered by the might of forward and re-tweet buttons, and soon the myth assumed proportions of universal truth.

The Tendulkar admirers protested for a while, but remote examples were flashed as incontestable exhibits. Single-handed battles against defeat were held up as proof of the supposed negative correlation.

His 143 against Australia in 1988 at Sharjah, his 141 against Pakistan in 2004 at Rawalpindi, his 175 in 2009 against Australia at Hyderabad…  Some of the maestro’s best innings were placed under the glaring fire of fanaticism, to scrutinise and detect flaws – to burn holes into the magnificent credentials if required.

Even in statistically-savvy forums was floated a question by armchair analysts, and I quote: “Sachin scoring over 65 increases the chance of India losing the match. Any data on this? In the World Cup it was true 90% of the times.”

* It was doubly strange.

In the 2011 World Cup, Tendulkar scored 120 against England in a tie, 111 against South Africa in a loss and 84 against Pakistan in a win. So, three 65-plus innings had been played yielding three different results, leaving one to wonder about the 90% figure. But, criticism and data never go hand in hand, especially when Tendulkar enters the scene – as has been indicated in this article. Facts can be sucked into the vortex of whirling rumours in the digital age.

Such a provocative counter intuitive assertion, backed not by proof but one-off examples, is always attractive. It is this same fascination for curious correlations masquerading as truth that draws mankind to search for patterns in tea leaves, life lines on the palm, alignment of planets during birth and positioning of the bed with respect to the door.

Interestingly, there is a scientific name for such pseudoscientific phenomenon – Pareidolia, the perception of significant pattern where there is none.

There was a second reason that puzzled me. How could such an asinine assertion stick around without the robes of ridiculous reason being slashed with logical arguments till the bare nakedness of ignorance was exposed in public eye?

The problem essentially boiled down to the following hypothesis: Tendulkar playing a major innings increases India's chance of defeat. And in so minutely recorded a sport as cricket, the data is available for everyone to investigate and interpret. A reasonably trained statistician can easily determine if there is any truth in the statement.

Binary Logistic Regression

So, let us see how the claim fares in the face of unbiased logical analysis.

There are two parameters here - Tendulkar’s score and the result of the match. We are interested in knowing how the first affects the second.

Many a times in life we encounter problems of inferring how one variable depends on others. Think of a simple situation where you are not quite sure how the salary is structured in a company. However, you do know that three of your colleagues earn basic pays of 15,000, 17,500 and 20,000 and the corresponding take home salaries they carry back are 28,887, 34,012 and respectively 39,005. (You can fill in whichever currency symbol that suits your dreams).

It should be more or less reasonable to conclude from the available information that at the end of the month, the money deposited in the bank is approximately [(2 x the basic pay) – 1000]. Having derived this equation, you know that if your basic pay is 25,000, you can expect around 49,000 as your take home salary.

The statistical technique most often used to find out the relation of the resultant with the influencing variable(s) is known as regression analysis. (In this example, take-home pay is the resultant variable and basic-pay is the solitary influencing variable.)

However, the problem we are looking at is slightly different. Here we do have a numerical influencing (x) variable representing Tendulkar’s score, but the resultant (y) variable can take only two values, win and not-win. In other words, the y variable is binary – where a win may be denoted as ‘success’ and not-win as ‘failure’. We use the term not-win to absorb the ties and the no-results, queering the pitch further against the maestro, loading the results against him by counting anything that is not a win as failure.

In such situations, the statistical technique used to look at the data and decipher how a numerical xinfluences a binary y is called Binary Logistic Regression. This particular method takes all the available past data into consideration, and predicts the chance (probability) of the y variable being a success given the numerical value of x.

In other words, Binary Logistic Regression equation, fitted on the 442 data points denoting Tendulkar’s scores in each match along with the match results, provides us with the estimated probability of India winning the match given his scores x number of runs.

The result of this analysis is shown in the graph provided at the top of the article. Incidentally, the graph has been generated by feeding the available data into a popular Statistical package, called Minitab, thus taking elements of human bias absolutely out of the equation.

The following table summarises the results – which can also be verified from the graph:

Tendulkar's score
Probability of Indian win
0 or cheap dismissal

If indeed, as claimed by the clamouring critics, a Tendulkar century increases chances of a loss, thereby decreasing the likelihood of a win, then the graph should have dipped when it neared 100 on the horizontal axis, thus indicating a lower probability.

However, as established by the graph and reconfirmed by the table, the available data shows that reality is diametrically different from the laughable allegations. The graph proceeds upwards as Tendulkar's score increases, without caring for the manufactured intuitions of naysayers. The probability of a win becomes higher and higher with each added run. At 100, the graph shows a healthy 68%, which tells us that according to the historical data encompassing 442 innings, if Tendulkar scores a century, there is 68% probability of India going on to win the match.

As it traverses an upward path, unchecked by the raucous rambling of mathematically challenged armchair analysts, the rising line seems to pierce the heart of the fake fable near the hundred run mark and go right through it, continuing to rise even as the score becomes higher and higher.

Does the myth blow up embarrassingly in the faces of the critics?

Well, the American educator Laurence J. Peter was spot on when he memorably observed, 'Against logic there is no armour like ignorance'. Hence, it may be too much to expect enlightenment or conversions into rationality from this statistical exercise. A myth born out of the dangerous fumes of little knowledge, fed on addictive lures of spurious patterns and mindless malice, may explode when faced with facts, but will continue to thrive in the unlimited delusional space available for the multitude who would rather keep their eyes wide shut.

This analysis is for those adherents who still retain the ability to listen to the ripples of reason beyond the deafening din of detractors.

20 years back - a dream comes true for Imran Khan's Pakistan

March 26, 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 World Cup final which fulfilled the dream of Imran Khan and his army of unpredictable talents. Arunabha Sengupta revisits the historic day.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

When a fascinating World Cup semis was ruined, 20 years back, by farcical r

On March 22, 1992, an edge of the seat thriller of a World Cup semi-final was ruined by 12 minutes of rain and a ridiculous application of the rules. Arunabha Sengupta looks back on the match which is one of the most embarrassing moments of cricket history.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Has Sachin Tendulkar's genius mind been disfigured forever by stinging criticism?

This post by the author was published in Cricketcountry on 21.3.2012 

The master voices his opinions

When Sachin Tendulkar scored the elusive 100th century at Mirpur, his subdued reactions came as a shock to some of us. The absence of his ever present smile and his gesture towards the Indian crest on his helmet were perhaps tell-tale signs of untold hurt that the past year’s relentless, blatant criticism has left on him.

While the hundred seems to have lifted the monumental pressure that weighed him down all this while, a fact underlined by the sparkling half century against Pakistan two days later, his interview after reaching the landmark raised concerns about the stinging wounds that have probably disfigured the mind behind the genius forever.

A man who had gladly borne the irrational expectations and mindless denigration of millions for 22 years, has perhaps finally grown tired of the turncoat tricks of fans, media and former team-mates. The back he has strained to breaking point in constructing the cricketing fortunes of the country has perhaps had enough stealthy knives plunged into it in surreptitious stabs.

For the first time, ever since he strode out to bat for India as a 15-year old, the master has given vent to emotions with words along with his bat.

It was quite surprising to hear Tendulkar take an uncharacteristic pot shot at some haranguing voices, stating that “there are people he did not respect, and he had a bigger job playing for India.”

No one in his senses, and aware of the accusations of selfishness and frenzied calls for his retirement all through last year, can blame him for the words. Even fewer can question the truth that drips from the statement. Yet, it somehow adds to the conviction that the champion has finally realised that no matter how much his willow serves the nation and the game of cricket, there are some ex-cricketers, media personnel and elements in the public who will steadfastly refuse to open their eyes and continue to heap abuses on the greatest batsman of modern times.

The way many members of the cricketing fraternity have performed synchronised about turns after the hundred only underlines the justice of the statement. However, one cannot deny the indication that perhaps there are ripples of disturbance in the Zen-like serenity of the mind that has till now guided his magical skills on their way to colossal feats.

Timing the retirement

The most stirring part of the interview was perhaps when he aired his views on retirement.

Ever since Vijay Merchant had famously declared, “Retire when people ask why and not why not,” the virtue of calling it a day at the top of one’s game has been an unquestioned axiom. And yet Tendulkar declared, “My belief is that if I feel I can contribute, I am mentally there where I feel I am bringing value to the team, then I should be playing. It's a very selfish thought that when you are at the top you should retire.”

Tendulkar’s opinion challenges decisions made by Gavaskar, Dravid

On the face of it, the opinion seems to challenge the decisions of some of the game’s absolute legends, Sunil Gavaskar being one of them. It also places Rahul Dravid's recent retirement, after one dismal tour preceded by a superlative English summer, under a question mark.

Yet, when one digs deeper, there are indeed merits in the statement that can be glimpsed, raising uncomfortable questions about the Merchant gospel.

Indeed, if we consider a player calling it a day while at the peak of his powers for the sake of going down as a legend who timed his retirement to perfection, is he not playing for the most personal of milestones that one can conceive? Is it not depriving the country of a portion of his very best abilities? Would we really like to end up with say 90% of the potential contribution of the greatest cricketer produced by the country and miss out on the remainder, because he wanted to retire at the peak for the glory associated with the decision? Would it not make him selfish, putting his personal ambitions ahead of the needs of the country?

And, at the same time, isn’t it a ridiculous license for a largely mediocre career to climb to the realms of greatness in public consciousness because of the last small stretch that conforms with the credo of calling it a day while the going is good?

It is questioning a hallowed tenet that has been engraved on the fabric of the cricketing community, but it requires a Sachin Tendulkar to doubt the veracity of what others consider universal truth. It is this ability that has allowed him to leap across frontiers to achieve landmarks that remained invisible to the naked eye, such as the 50th Test century, 15,000 Test runs and 100 international hundreds. Gavaskar famously set the target of 40 Test centuries for a young master and the wizard currently has 51. His thinking is bound to reset the conceptions of mortal minds, however brilliant they may be.

However, therein is the danger of greatness.

Open to abuse

While the writer has full faith in the integrity of the batsman extraordinaire to call it a day the minute he feels he is past it, not all cricketers of the present and future can be worthy of the trust.

A statement uttered by Sachin Tendulkar has enormous bearing, every word carrying the potential to be an agent of change. He is a phenomenal influence and amazing role model for not just Indians, but people the world over. Cricket administrators have used his charisma to sway the masses into quelling fan unrest during international matches. His magnetism has been used for educating the public on social causes. His personal opinions about respective merits of captains had not too far back kick-started a massive regional damage control initiative in the press of a certain section of the country.

Hence, there remains the chance that some future players may piggyback on his words to travel the additional mile as extra baggage for the team. They can quote him to eke out extension periods. In a country where the spine has to be bartered for a place on the selection panel, removing players past their prime may become even more challenging.

Temporary or permanent?

Opponents, including the most infamous of sledgers, have rarely tried to needle Tendulkar, because it is known to be counterproductive. Likewise, the most notorious members of the media have always wisely refrained from asking provocative questions, because Tendulkar has been known to sidestep the bait. Hence his voluntary comments come as a surprise to many.

What remains to be seen is whether this particular interview was the final bit of stress released from the recesses of the soul. Or is it that the ever so familiar wonder boy has been finally transformed by the unthinkable pressure, moulded by the continuous heat of madness and malice, to end up with some sharp edges?

When Inzamam announced his arrival with a sensational innings - 20 years ago

On March 21 1992, that’s exactly 20 years ago, a young Inzamam-ul-Haq announced his arrival on the cricketing scene with a blistering 37 ball 60 in the Benson and Hedges World Cup semi-final. Arunabha Sengupta looks back on the scintillating innings.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sachin Tendulkar's reaction after his 100th speaks of the untold hurt he has had to endure

This post by the author was published in Cricketcountry website the day after the 100th hundred.

Understated in his celebrations

The helmet did come off. The bat was raised. Eyes closed, face turned up, half upraised hands flanking the head, and he did seem to utter the same silent prayer. Everything seemed quite like the 99 previous occasions, but there was distinct difference. And not all of it could be attributed to the hair.

One does not associate Sachin Tendulkar with the coarse celebrations nowadays abundant in the Indian team, but his winning smile is almost as wide and widely known as the blade of his bat. That smile was conspicuous by its absence. The gestures of jubilance came off as if from the recesses of memory, reactions conditioned by 99 rounds of rehearsal. But, it was like watching the live proceedings on a dial up connection. Every movement seemed slow, laboured.

Never before had the greatest batsman of modern times looked so subdued in his celebrations. Was it the realisation that it had not been one of his better innings? Was it the relief after a year of relentless hype and hysteria? Or had the achievement left him too emotional?

The nation had grinded to a halt with Tendulkar closing in on the elusive century. The silence in the loudest of countries was almost deafening enough for a ball pitched in Mirpur make itself heard on the streets of Mumbai. As he ran for the 100th run, millions of Indians around the world went into a simultaneous orgy. The team mates erupted, and even the Bangladesh players rushed up to congratulate him with heartfelt joy. But the man in the middle remained stoical. It is a record that will probably never be broken, but the one who set it also set his face in a stony expression.

Did the hurt show through?

Why? We may never know. It can go down as yet another of the innumerable mysteries of Indian cricket.

The only clue that we have pointing to the working of his inscrutable mind is the way he pointed at the Indian tricolour on his helmet.

Perhaps for the first time the relentless criticism of the past year had finally seeped through and ruffled his personal space.

Yellow journalism and traditionally biased reportage, going viral with the exploding number of experts frequenting social networks, the favoured game of the season being to call for Tendulkar’s head, millions of people with zilch to show as contribution to the nation alleging his 33,000 runs and 99 centuries to be products of selfishness, worldwide people asking him to look in mirrors and retire – the last 12 months had been a graphic demonstration of how to defile national treasures.

Perhaps the great man, for once, wanted to make a point that no amount of runs with his bat, no amount of wins engineered by his performance could ever convince a country full of people rooted to fallacious fables, holding on to moronic myths. Perhaps it was his way of saying that all the 100 centuries I have scored have gone down and added to the Indian total in a way no one has ever done for any country.

It is indeed sad that someone respected the world over as the best batsman of modern times has to deal with so much arm-chair contempt for his 22 years of sweat and blood in his own country. Has the cherished journey, which has reached a landmark people did not even know about, left him a disappointed man, pained at the careless way every insignificant voice has managed to trivialise his unparalleled achievements?

The resumption of finger pointing

As Irfan Pathan and Pravin Kumar leaked runs like two water-balloons entrusted as pincushions, Bangladesh overhauled the Indian total of 289. And it being India, thousands of accusing fingers, supported by the team against individual clichĂ© and united by collective behaviour, pointed towards Tendulkar’s strike rate as he approached his century.

Well, in this country of paradoxes, one of the downsides of being a champion is that you can never win.

As a culture, we are not used to sporting greats. When one such rare individual appears, we tend to bestow esoteric powers on them, expecting them to be the mythological gods we grow up listening about. And finally, when the brilliant but mortal men cannot keep up with our soaring expectations, we drag them down to earth with an acceleration that defies reason, logic and decency.

In such a land, it is indeed strange that it was the first time in 22 years that we saw Sachin Tendulkar display symptoms of hurt.

All I can say as an attempted antidote is that there still remain teeming millions who believe that their lives have been blessed by being allowed to share the same era as the great man. Here is hoping that this realisation will bring a smile on his lips when he takes off his helmet and raises his bat the next time.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Rahul Dravid's retirement announcement - a study in self-effacing dignity

This post by the author was published in Cricketcountry on 10.3.2012 - the day following Rahul Dravid's retirement

The last vestiges of hope disappear

As he appeared, dapper and dignified as ever, many clutched on to the faintly-flickering wish that it was not what it was touted to be.

Indian cricket after all is one of the loudest and most confusing arenas of the world. A variety of voices, from the immensely-respected to the eminently-negligible, each louder than the next, join together into a discordant crescendo, drowning the sweet sound of the willow striking the leather, of the ball thudding into the gloves of the keeper, and the last murmurs of reason, logic and decency.

In such a world, was it not greatly probable that Rahul Dravid was there to speak about something else? With Greg Chappell, the Indian Premier League (IPL), eight consecutive overseas defeats, form and fielding of the seniors, Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th international century, acerbic aspersions about his own guts, and so on ... surely there were plenty of things that could be discussed without broaching on the unthinkable.

However, one look at the man and it was certain that all the fears would come true. Not that his expression struck one as forlorn, nor did his manner betray emotions. He was as poker faced as he used to be while standing in the slips. It was just that the face in question belonged to Rahul Dravid. The quintessential cricketer whose focus on the purest ideal of the game never flinched because of the chaotic din that surrounded him. 

A sum total of 13,288 runs in Test cricket, 36 centuries and 210 catches would not propel him to call a press conference to air his views on the game and the plethora of peripherals that currently surround it.

He would always allow his bat to do all the talking, unless the very subject of discourse by definition made it impossible. 

And when he started to speak, the last vestiges of hope disappeared. There was no foreword, preface or prologue – none of the never-ending previews the world of cricket has become so used to. He started off by declaring that he was retiring from all forms of the game.

For a generation of followers who have lived and breathed cricket, it was like suddenly losing a lung.

Straight bat overcomes doubtful moments

There had been plenty of apprehensions that come naturally to those who get tied into knots trying to follow the peculiar, serpentine ways of Indian cricket.

Was it a personal decision? Or was it ignominy thrust upon him by some cricket illiterate honchos of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)?

After all, Dravid had always been India’s ‘go-to man’ in times of crisis. The one-stop solution for all problems.

Was India 0 for 1 with pace bowlers breathing fire on a green wicket? Ask Dravid to walk in, put his head down and take the country out of danger.

Was the balance of the team suffering because of wicketkeepers who could not bat? Make Dravid put on the gloves, crouch behind the stumps, stretch himself to the limits to restore equilibrium.

Was the regular opener injured? Did a slot need to be opened up for another middle-order batsman? Send Dravid to open the innings.

No quality player to take on the English conditions in a Twenty20 match? Persuade 38-year old Dravid to make his international T20 debut.

So now, was it a problem of appeasing an ignorant, irrational, fanatic set of cricket followers who wanted change at any cost? So, was it a case of send for Dravid for the last possible time?

However, as he so often did by walking out to the middle, the maestro put all seeds of doubts to rest. There were no telltale edges to the statements, no trick shots aimed between the lines. Dravid was his usual self – cutting off flourishes, going about his business with the straightest possible bat.

He had decided to call it a day because he felt it was time – having been a part of a glorious era of Indian cricket history, he would like to move on, for younger men to script their own tales of triumph.

Self effacing to the end

There were no allusions to any of the phenomenal achievements of his career. None of the 36 centuries – many of them in path-breaking victories – were alluded to. There was no mention of his sterling contribution during an the glorious era of Indian cricket he confessed to playing in, when for the first time wins became more frequent and expected than defeats, and a huge proportion of them were engineered by his own broad blade.

He was just happy that it had been such a long and fulfilling career. He thanked one and all for making it memorable. He had learned from his colleagues many of whom were legends in their own rights, he had been inspired by his captains, he had been helped along by his team, he had been kept fighting fit into his late 30s by the physios and trainers.

He did not really hint that he was one of the biggest and noblest legends the game has ever been blessed with. Or that he himself had inspired a generation and more to take to cricket in the way it was meant to be, that he had carried the team along on uncountable occasions, that as far as fitness was concerned, for an Indian cricketer he had the unusual record for maximum number of catches, being the first to break the 200 barrier. In fact, with his traditional modesty he remarked that keeping him fit must have been a tough job.

One could not help but sense that here was the eternal team man, whose self effacement is curiously matched only by his staggering accomplishments. Here was someone who could be out for 270 trying a reverse sweep to accelerate the score.

In a country which is sustained by the sound byte, where one-season wonders relive their 15 minutes of glory over and over again across the numerous media channels, often revisiting the same innings ad infinitum, he did not have one word to say about his phenomenal performance for the last one and a half decades. Unlike many ex-cricketers, there was no casually-affected impression that he had conquered all the summits that mattered. All he mentioned about his own showing was that he had tried to play cricket with dignity, upholding the spirit of the game – sometimes failing, but always trying, and hopefully succeeding once in a while.

A defining example of someone for him walking the way was more important than the landmarks to reach. Besides, his record speaks for itself – he does not really have to.

No dream is chased alone

For good measure, he even thanked the selectors – for having faith in him, and the media – whose craft he respected. There was no axe to grind – for what the selectors did to his ODI career in 2007, for what the media has written off and on, often with impotent yet poison-tipped pens, for the last four years – even longer if we venture into the vernacular press.

He thanked the fans too – acknowledging the importance of the cricket follower, saying it had been a privilege to have played before them. The BCCI may well treat the fans as dispensable, but one of the greatest cricketers of India did uphold their importance.

He thus acknowledged, among others, the very fans who had bayed for his blood with each failure ever since the winter of 2007, the same fans who had cheered the South Africans to victory at the Eden as he led the Indian side. Dravid, with the same wisdom that seemed to forever radiate from his batting, appears to have mastered the Vedic principle that with everything positive there is an in-built negative in the eternal saga of karma, and one has to take the rough with the smooth. He is thankful for the excellent returns that his efforts has achieved, and is prepared to forget the slights that have come on the way.

Hence, he had no inclination to wait for the final fling of success with an easy home series, to retire with a flurry of runs. The last tour was just a normal downswing in the ebb and flow of fortunes, and there was no need to extend the career to neutralise it with some easy success. It would not add to his greatness, neither did the last series diminish his glory.

In 1989, the late Professor Purushottam Lal, Padma Shri-winning poet, was afflicted with a mystery illness which very nearly proved fatal. Recovering from the near-death experience, he wrote an exquisite and unique autobiography, titled Lessons.

Unlike other memoirs, it contained little about the author, but was full of accounts of people, famous as well as unknown, who had touched his life in some way or the other. In the work was imprinted a message – a life, meaningful or otherwise, amounts to nothing without the people one interacts with.

In much the same vein, Dravid’s announcement of retirement carried an identical message. He mentioned one and all – including family, friends, coaches of his international as well as junior days, the BCCI as well as the Karnataka State Cricket Association – and all the while he hardly dwelt on himself. He was thankful for the contribution of each of the souls that touched his own, throughout his career or during the days when it was shaped.

Yet, the shot selection was as meticulous as ever. In the ever-inflammable fabric of Indian cricket, there are umpteen ways of courting criticism – mostly by treading on acutely-sensitive egos, by making the cardinal mistake of acknowledging many while forgetting a few.

Hence, the only names that he mentioned in his entire message were ones that could offend none – that of his parents, brother, wife and sons. He recognised the sacrifices of his wife Vijeeta has gone through while he was perpetually away on international tours, bringing up their children almost like a single parent.

Ready to fit back into the groove of normal life

He added that with time, being away from the family had been becoming more and more difficult. Now that it was all over, he would like to spend time at home and enjoy the pleasure of taking his sons to school.

It presented the picture of one close to his roots, perhaps ready to fit back into the groove of things now that the high-flying days are over – something a phenomenal number of stars with far less credentials increasingly struggle to do.

There have been suggestions that he would be ideal as an administrator or coach or mentor. All that may be true.

However, throughout his career there have been plenty of advice about whether he should defend or attack, play off the front foot or back and across, keep wickets or stand in the slips, open the innings or come in at number three, call it a day or continue playing ... Maybe, now that his playing days are over, he deserves to live his own life without carrying our relentless demands on his shoulders even after departing from the cricket field.

Perhaps he will enjoy all those very mundane moments of domestic bliss that we take for granted but which the foremost international sportsmen have to forfeit to attain their goals. Our best wishes will be with him as he pursues his life after having lived our loveliest dreams.