More than any other cricketer, Rahul Dravid’s career has plenty of lessons for the rest of us regarding the power of mental conditioning and psychological training techniques.
“By any meaningful reckoning…he was India’s greatest match-winning batsman, with 24 away wins (Sachin Tendulkar has 20) where he averaged nearly 70. When imponderables are introduced into the equation, with such things as the ability to absorb pressure and match impact, he is the greatest series-defining batsman in the history of Test cricket, his count of eight series-defining performances greater than anybody else’s.” – Suresh Menon in ‘Rahul Dravid – Timeless Steel: Collected Writings on Indian Cricket’s Go-to Man’ (2012)
Rahul Dravid’s performance statistics show that he is the greatest Test batsman India has ever had. And yet, if you ask sportswriters and other cricketers of Dravid’s era as to why he was successful, the consensus view was that “Dravid succeeds because he keeps it simple”. So, if it is so easy to succeed by keeping it simple, why don’t more cricketers do it? Why is ‘simple’ not easy?
At the core of outsized success in any walk of life – including batting and investing – lies the ability of a small number of individuals to train their minds to achieve outcomes which appear to be beyond the reach of 99.99% of the population. While what these individuals do might be simple, that does not mean it is easy. There are, broadly speaking, five sets of reasons why it is not easy to bat like Rahul Dravid.
Firstly, Dravid’s training and his basic mental conditioning started when he was around eight years old. That’s when his coach, Keki Tarapore, started teaching him the importance of playing with a straight bat and the central role of relentless practice in attaining a high level of skill. Long before, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about his famous ‘10,000 hours of practice’ principle in ‘Outliers’ (2008), thousands of Indian coaches like Keki Tarapore (for Dravid), Ramakant Achrekar (for Sachin Tendulkar) and Desh Azad (for Kapil Dev) trained their wards to follow this principle. As Fazal Khaleel, Dravid’s team mate from his school cricket team, who also played Ranji Trophy cricket with him, recollects: “He paid attention to detail, especially the basics. If his form was not good he would go back to shadow-practice – to the hanging ball. When correcting our basics, our coach, Keki Tarapore, would tell us that if the bat did not come down straight, the ball would travel at an angle. Rahul never forgot the instruction. Interestingly, he never made any changes to his basic cricket or in his approach to the game. Right from his school days, he has played the same way. Playing in the V came naturally to him and he never altered it.” (Source: Fazal Khaleel was interviewed by Nagraj Gollapudi of ESPNcricinfo and the interview appeared in ‘Rahul Dravid Timeless Steel: Collected Writings on Indian Cricket’s Go-to Man’)
Whilst many schoolboys growing up in India’s big metros might have access to such coaching and batting facilities, where Dravid really pulled away from his peers was in his appetite for practice. John Wright, who coached the Indian cricket team from 2000-05, was the first to tell the world how seriously took net practice: “I have never seen a more dedicated cricketer than Rahul in the nets. He was able to simulate a game situation, not just by going through the motions but by making every ball count. It was like he didn’t want to get out even in the nets. In a situation when we had three or four bowlers going at him, he wanted to compete. He was always testing himself…” (Source: John Wright, India’s coach between 2000-05 speaking to Sharda Ugra of ESPNcricinfo in ‘Rahul Dravid Timeless Steel: Collected Writings on Indian Cricket’s Go-to Man”)
Not only was Rahul practicing in the nets, mentally he was practicing shots in his everywhere and all the time. His wife, Vijeta, discovered this fact shortly after they got married: ““When I went to Melbourne and Sydney [in January 2004]….I was still trying to get to know him, know his game. It was only then I began to notice how he would prepare: his routines, his obsession with shadow practice at all hours of the day, which I first found very weird…” (Source: Article published in ESPNcricinfo on March 12, 2012)
In addition, to these strengths, Rahul Dravid was one of the first Test cricketers to start using set routines and mental conditioning techniques to improve his game. Dravid started practicing these routines, when he was a schoolboy cricketer. As Fazal Khaleel, Dravid’s team mate from school and Ranji cricket says: “As a room-mate, Rahul was difficult as well as easy to share with. He wanted a zen-like atmosphere in the room – everything peaceful and calm. He was quiet and meditative, would not watch TV much; he read books instead….He had his set routines and rituals, even in those days. He would do breathing exercises and clean his nostrils using the ancient practice of Jalneti.”
As the years went by and as Dravid rose up the cricketing pantheon, his mental conditioning techniques were perfected to a high level of proficiency. Vijeta, Rahul Dravid’s wife recollects, that around 2006-07: “When we began to travel with the kids…we made sure we got two rooms, next to each other. The day before every match, the boys were told that their father had to be left alone for a while, and he was. He would go into his room and meditate or maybe to do a few visualisation exercises. On the morning of the game he would get up and do another session of meditation before leaving for the ground. I have tried meditation myself and I know that the zone Rahul is able to get into as quickly as he does takes a lot of years of training to reach.” (Source: Article published in ESPNcricinfo on March 12, 2012)
The sum total of everything we have discussed so far allows you to visualise not just a supremely skilful cricketer but also one whose mental conditioning has given him enormous reserves of mental strength. Dravid himself pulled the entire construct together in an interview he did for Cricinfo editor, Sambit Bal, in 2004: “I try to have as many nets as possible in the last couple of days before the match. When I feel comfortable with my game, I stop. Then I start thinking about the match. I look at the wicket. I try to analyse the kind of bowlers I will be playing, their strengths and weaknesses. I replay in my mind the memories of my last encounter with them. I look at videos if they’re available. If a bowler got me out last time, I try to think about how I got out, what mistake I committed.
And I do my best to be in a relaxed state of mind, because that’s when I play at my desk. I try to slow things down a couple of days before the game. I have long lunches, do things in an unhurried way. The morning of the match, I always get up a couple of hours before we have to get to the ground, so that I have plenty of time to get ready. I take my time to have a bath, wear my clothes, eat breakfast. I never rush things…” (Source: Sambit Bal’s interview with Rahul Dravid first published in Wisden Asia Cricket Magazine (2004))
In addition, as his career progressed, David sought feedback from peers and introspected on his to understand his weaknesses. Then he figured out technical solutions to these weaknesses using his cricketing intelligence and then spent hundreds of hours at the nets fixing these issues. Finally, he implemented these technical fixes in live cricket matches against high quality opposition. John Wright, the coach of Indian team from 2000-05, noted this before most other people: “He never made the same mistake twice. He learnt hugely in one-day cricket – which probably was an area he had to work at a little bit more than others. He had been dropped from the Indian one-day team and then went on to come back and have a very good World Cup [in 2003]….He had all the shots but he worked hard at turning the strike over, getting the singles, and dropping the ball on the on side, when you normally might put it on the off side. At the start people would try to slow him down, but then he worked out a way so they couldn’t do that.” (Source: John Wright speaking to Sharda Ugra of ESPNcricinfo in ‘Rahul Dravid Timeless Steel: Collected Writings on Indian Cricket’s Go-to Man’)
In the published material that is available on Rahul Dravid, this case study – of how Dravid sorted out his one-day cricket batting – is covered in some detail. This ability – to understand and acknowledge ones weaknesses, then to figure out a solution and finally to have the mental strength required to implement the fix in front of a global audience – is very rare. It is unlikely that this suite of characteristics can be coached into a person; you need the said individual to have the curiosity and the mindset to grow in this fashion. Dravid had that growth mindset from an early age.
Greg Chappell, who was India’s coach for much of Dravid’s tenure as captain of the Indian team from 2005-07, said, “Rahul is an avid reader, who reads in the search of knowledge with which to improve himself. He is a like a child in that he constantly asks questions and then asks why when you give him an answer…In that way, he was eminently coachable. He could take concepts and turn them into action because of his intelligence and a strong belief in his ability.” (Source: Greg Chappell writing in ‘Rahul Dravid Timeless Steel: Collected Writings on Indian Cricket’s Go-to Man’)
Dravid’s wife, Vijeta, says that even if he had a bad on the cricket field, his growth mindset would help him bounce back: “At the end of the day’s play, he may be thinking about it, his batting may bother him…but at that point he can compartmentalise his life very well. He won’t order room service or brood indoors. He would rather go out, find something to do: go to a movie or watch musicals – which he loves. He will walk out to the sea or go to the bookstores.” (Source: Article published in ESPNcricinfo on March 12, 2012)
As in Test cricket, so in investing, the most successful investors are those who not only work on their technical skillset but also think deeply about the underlying workings of great companies. Such investors are then able to see the companies in a way that nobody else can; in specific these investors are able to gain insights into the functioning of these companies that no one else has. Furthermore, by introspecting and by reviewing their previous investment decisions, such investors are able to identify deficiencies in their investment toolset. Then, Dravid-like these investors proceed to identify remedies to their deficiencies. The greatest investors, like the greatest Test cricketers, are a combination of strong technical skills combined with a growth mindset.
Saurabh Mukherjea is part of the Investments team at Marcellus Investment Managers (www.marcellus.in) and is the author of “Coffee Can Investing: the Low Risk Route to Stupendous Wealth” and “The Victory Project: Six Steps to Peak Potential”.