My first memories of Dravid was when listening to the radio commentary of a domestic match in the early 90s, I am not sure which one Ranji , Duleep or Irani Trophy. But in those days when we used to scourge the newspapers and Sports magazines for expanding our Cricketing Knowledgebase, the greatest pride in evening conversations with the cricket gang was being in the know of budding young talents and details of their batting/bowling style. Rahul Dravid hit five leg side boundaries that day and ended the day at 20 odd not out. The commentators were speaking in superlatives about the wristy quality of those shots and I must confess that I was led to believe that the next Indian strokeplaying genius had arrived. But apart from some raised eyebrows in subsequent evening chats, my Rahul superstar story never seemed like taking off, not for a few years anyway.
The name “Rahul Dravid” had somehow caught my attention and I mentally associated his name with a swaggering personality and was really disappointed on 2 grounds when he made his debut in England, one – he wasn’t the swashbuckling strokemaker I imagined him to be and two – he seemed quite introverted and almost invisible as a personality at that time. I felt he could never be one of my cricketing heroes, I worshipped the stroke players – the Sachins, the Laras, the Richards, the Gowers and the Azhars of the world.
However like an acquired taste, slowly but surely “The Wall” got to me..completely!
In the early 1990s, the feeling was that when Sachin got out , India crumbled and we were really the whipping boys when traveling overseas. It was only when Dravid and Ganguly came in that things started changing. Result wise 1996 -2000 was not much different but we saw some more spine with Ganguly , Dravid and Lakshman joining Sachin and showing spurts of brilliance. Rahul consistently proved himself abroad in tours of England, South Africa New Zealand and Zimbabwe. In the ODIs , he scored heavily in the World Cup of 1999 and seemed to have put the “Only for Tests” tag behind him.
But he had failed miserably in Australia on his first tour and like Manjrekar before him the question was whether he would fall short of being a truly great player. But the Match fixing saga, Ganguly’s elevation to leadership and John Wright coming in as Indian coach, really proved to be the catalyst for Rahul’s march to greatness. The basis of this was an intense desire to contribute to the teams cause at whatever personal cost. He would grind out many an innings leaving the headlines to his strokeplaying counterparts. A case in point is the legendary Kolkatta Test which was a watershed game for India and Dravid played supporting cast to VVS and Harbhajan in the amazing win. He continuously worked on his technique, coupled it with his gift of patience and created his own dogged, stonewalling style of batting that had just one aim, to be able to contribute to Indian Wins.
And win we did, Tests in West Indies, England, Australia and even Pakistan. In all of these series, Rahul Dravid played innings of great substance. Though he was the main protaganist, the flashy sidekicks often stole the show. In this period he was undoubtedly India’s leading batsman, better than Sachin, Lakshman , Ganguly or Sehwag.
In the era of speed metal he played classic Rock. He made leaving the ball outside the off stump watchable and gave the game a new concept in “Positive Defence”. One outstanding statistic is that he is the only player to have faced more than 30000 deliveries in tests. Match that next-gen!! If you put together his career figures and analysed them there is no doubt that he will be India’s greatest match winning batsman. That was the way he had planned it and that is what he achieved, but being the gentleman that he is, he wouldn’t mind if it were not mentioned.
Of course many legendary stories exist – donning the wicket keepers gloves for the team’s sake, becoming the best ever Indian slip fielder, opening the batting in tough conditions, carrying the bat through and captaining India to rare series wins in West indies and England. Many people think he is not as gifted as others, but I feel no one else is as gifted with his qualities of Patience and winning attitude. A true Genius in his own right.
The records speak for themselves but Rahul’s legacy will be in the dignified way which he has handled himself. He is one of the few cricketers whose careers are completely blemishless. All his actions portrayed heroism, magnanimity and understated class, so apt for a role model to youngsters pursuing the sport. He is eloquent is his writing, a deep thinker and a hard worker – an Indian middle class icon. He is one of the nicest people in the game and has shown how Nice Guys can finish first. Kohli and Co please take note. Thank you Rahul for the memories – One of the Greatest Cricketers and an even greater Gentleman.