A Critique of Rahul Dravid’s Bradman Oration

Rahul Dravid delivered the 10th Annual Sir Donald Bradman oration at Canberra on Wednesday (Click here for the entire text and video of the speech). It was a great speech to be read (and not heard) but he is trained to be a professional cricketer and not an orator, so that is all right by me.

It was a moving speech, lasting a little more than 37 minutes. The speech can be broadly divided in to four parts. In the opening segment, Dravid eloquently acknowledged the venue itself (The National War Memorial) and how trivial it made the whole sport of cricket to be. He tied the history of Australia and (pre-independent) India and their cricket teams. In the second part, he paid his respects to  “A great Australian, A great cricketer” Sir Don, painting an excellent picture of the Don from the Indian point of view. He described the India v Australia, 2001 series – easily the best test series he had been part of – in the context of Bradman’s passing two days before the start of that series.

Dravid tried to dispel some of the commonly held (and sometimes wrong) stereotypical notions about cricket in India, the Indian fans, players and the riches, in the third segment. His anecdotes poetically let the audience know that Indian team is a unique collection of individuals from different backgrounds who have travelled their own distinct road to get there and each of them has a different story to tell.

So far, so good. In fact, it was positively uplifting and if, as a listener/reader you caught yourself getting swept in the emotions of it all, I wouldn’t blame you. If in fact Dravid had penned this speech, he should seriously consider a career as a writer after his cricketing career is over. The speech had depth of thought, self-deprecating humor, pride and most of all, a trait that we have come to associate with Dravid, humility.  There were some real gems.

He said, talking of The National War Memorial, “This building, however, recognises the men and women who lived out the words – war, battle, fight – for real and then gave it all up for their country, their lives left incomplete, futures extinguished.” When paraphrasing Bradman on the expectations of a cricketer, “That the finest of athletes had, along with skill, a few more essential qualities: to conduct their life with dignity, with integrity, with courage and modesty.” Speaking about the confluence of the multitude of languages, culture and backgrounds in the Indian dressing rooms that he has been part of, he said, “In a world growing more insular, that is a precious quality to acquire, because it stays for life and helps you understand people better, understand the significance of the other.” In his own way, he delivered a joke with a punch line, thus: “And even Shane Warne likes India now. I really enjoyed played alongside him at Rajasthan last season and can confidently report to you that he is not eating imported baked beans any more. In fact, looking at him, it seems, he is not eating anything.”

In the closing segment, Dravid discussed the current state of affairs in cricket and the future, and sounded out that the warning signs are there for all to see – reduction in the numbers coming through the turnstiles all over the world, from Kolkata to Johannesburg – and urged cricket to treat its fans right and “not take them for granted”. He made suggestions of perhaps limiting ODIs to ICC tournaments instead of abolishing them completely and provided endorsement to MCC cricket committee’s (of which he is a member) day-night test trials.

While talking about the scourge of betting and doping in the sport, Dravid said, “As players, the one way we can stay ahead for the game, is if we are willing to be monitored and regulated closely. Even if it means giving up a little bit of freedom of movement and privacy. If it means undergoing dope tests, let us never say no. If it means undergoing lie-detector tests, let us understand the technology, what purpose it serves and accept it. Now lie detectors are by no means perfect but they could actually help the innocent clear their names. Similarly, we should not object to having our finances scrutinised if that is what is required. … Players should be ready to give up a little personal space and personal comfort … If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

This really sticks in my craw. I know Dravid idolized Steve Waugh (and was asked to even write the foreword to Waugh’s autobiography) but he didn’t have follow in Waugh’s footsteps regarding the use of polygraph to prove a player’s innocence. Dravid himself admits that lie-detector test tool is not perfect, yet he feels comfortable to put the players through it. What if a player who is actually innocent is found to be not telling the truth by this imperfect tool? Are we willing to sacrifice the life and career of a player, if not many, for this need to prove to the public that the game is played by polygraph-approved players?

Dravid advocates to his fellow players that they should be ready to give up a little bit of freedom and privacy. Why is he putting the burden on the players rather than the official gatekeepers of the sport – ICC and ACSU who are actually getting paid in the millions to do just that? I don’t really have to remind you of Benjamin Franklin’s quote about willing to make compromises to personal liberties for the sake of a little safety, do I?

Of course, he did add the  “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” line. That certainly should put everyone else at ease, especially the innocent ones. When a player of Dravid’s standing and stature makes such ridiculous statements, what chance do the younger players have if they disagree with it, but to tow the line? We have heard the original proposal from Waugh. Now we have had the endorsement from Dravid. I wonder how long it will be before ICC makes polygraph tests mandatory?

For a man who was delivering a well-crafted, poignant speech, this drop in standard felt, in my opinion, very out of place. Even though it wasn’t the most brilliantly delivered speech, the content of it – for the large part – was from the top drawer. I only wish he hadn’t pontificated on the polygraph topic and asked the players to give up a bit of their freedom and privacy, but oh well… Even Sir Don faltered a bit when he was at the threshold of perfection and ended with 99.94.

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