Rahul Dravid, myself and years that rolled

Suvajit Mustafi
Saturday, 11 January 2020

Cricket was always prominent in my home. Still a primary school student, I was introduced to the name – Rahul Dravid through the sports pages of the newspapers. For some reason, I always read it 'David' until a history exhibition project introduced me to the terms – Aryans and Dravidians.  

Cricket was always prominent in my home. Still a primary school student, I was introduced to the name – Rahul Dravid through the sports pages of the newspapers. For some reason, I always read it 'David' until a history exhibition project introduced me to the terms – Aryans and Dravidians.  

I was too naïve to comprehend phrases like ‘technique’. A few of my colony bhaiyas often discussed it when they mentioned Sanjay Manjrekar and this young Dravid who was piling up run-mountains in domestic cricket. My father would often say if right selections were to be made for the 1996 World Cup, Dravid and Sourav Ganguly should make it to the team. His words meant gospel, and I went on to believe the same.

Those days I maintained a diary with my hobby revolving around calculating averages, something that was a lot to expect from anyone aged in single-digit. I followed the Challengers Trophy and the Wills Trophy in 1995; these two youngsters looked at ease against the senior India bowlers. Dravid played for Wills XI and later for India A that season, both sides led by Sachin Tendulkar. Ganguly played the Wills tournament for his state side, Bengal, and then for India A in the Challengers.

Both were at ease against the likes of Srinaths, Kumbles and Prabhakars. They played six matches each in both the tournaments. Ganguly scored 280 runs at 70 and also picked eight wickets; whereas Dravid would score 204 runs at 68. 

In the end, it was 'experience' vs 'talented rookies' that the former won. 1996 World Cup commenced without them.

It's another story that they both broke open the selection gates with their show in England later that year. I went on to be a Ganguly devotee and a massive admirer of Dravid.

A lean guy, who sported a light moustache, Dravid grew a long way since his international debut in Singapore. Years kept on rolling, he grew in stature, and he became an integral part of my growing up years. 

A shy introvert. An advertiser’s delight. A face on posters of every adolescent girls’ wardrobe. The most eligible bachelor. The ideal husband. The perfect team man. The impeccable orator. The underrated captain. The inspirational mentor. The Wall. The Gentleman. As the journey of the timelines passed, Dravid could slip into any of the mentioned templates.

For a cricket follower, Dravid, in a nutshell, could be defined by these: Monk-like focus, dedication to training, an appetite for big scores and keeping his life simple. 

The1998-99 New Zealand tour, 1999 World Cup, Eden 2001, Guyana 2002, Leeds 2002, Adelaide 2003, Rawalpindi 2004, Eden 2005, Jamaica 2006, remain etched in memories of an Indian cricket follower. 

For Dravid, it was never about 'I' or 'me'. Be it keeping wickets in prestigious tournaments or bowling the last over of a match, Dravid would readily do anything. Quite rightly, Harsha Bhogle defined him as "the wolf who lived for the pack."

Tendulkar was the greatest batsman of the generation. Ganguly was the captain India needed to upgrade. Anil Kumble won India the most number of Tests then. Virender Sehwag’s batting would drop jaws, while VVS Laxman would snatch games from the defeat’s jaws. 

Amid all of them, there stood Dravid, the side’s fulcrum, silently yet impactfully playing his part – outshining Tendulkar many a time under the most challenging phases; being Ganguly’s go-to man in every crisis; providing Kumble with a chunk of his wickets courtesy brilliant reflexes at slips or short and silly positions; giving Sehwag the cushion of assurance so that he could continue in the most ballistic way; and well, many of Laxman’s exploits would have been an incomplete jigsaw without Dravid.  

Despite lacking the Tendulkar-like completeness as a batsman and not possessing the gift of timing that Ganguly or Laxman or Sehwag did, Dravid stands the sixth-most run-getter in international cricket with 24,208 runs. Where he stood above the rest was his ability to concentrate.

Hard-work over skills is another takeaway from Dravid’s career.

Over the past two-and-half decades, his image transitioned from being the ‘poster boy’ to the ‘guardian’ of Indian cricket. Dravid remains the symbol of resilience, commitment, goodness and of course, patience. 

Trivia: Talking of patience, did you know that Dravid has faced the most number of balls in Tests cricket? He has faced 31,258 balls.

I never was a big fan of Dravid’s captaincy that bordered around defensive tactics. The Tendulkar-declaration at 194, Ganguly’s sacking and Sehwag’s ouster could be handled better. He let the then Indian coach Greg Chappell take over and dictate. 

Despite the wins in West Indies and England, the phase from 2005-07 wasn't the merriest in Indian cricket. However, I began enjoying Dravid, the captain of Rajasthan Royals in his last two seasons of his career (2012 and 2013). The aggression and tact also reflected in his approach to batting. He was finished as an Indian cricketer, and a free-minded Dravid was much bolder in T20s.

Years after retirement, Dravid continues to be involved with the sport. His guidance to the youngsters has been tremendous. No, he isn’t responsible for creating the Indian fringe as the NCA chief or the coach of India A and U-19, as popularly perceived. He’s providing the finishing touches. He should instead be credited for building a strong structure addressing specific concerns, focusing on the meticulous process and for his ability to instil responsibility in the young players.

His contribution isn’t restricted to cricket, and there’s a lot to learn from him. He has been an exemplary role model, and there were times even I tried to emulate him by wondering what would a Dravid do in such a situation. 

Any sportsperson would like to contribute like him; a professional would like to concentrate and focus like him; an administrator would like to pick his brain; parents will want their kids to behave like him; kids will want their parents to be as exemplary as him; he’s also a hope for the scores of mediocre individuals, being an example that talent isn't the only gateway, rather it's grit and determination that paves the success path – and all of these make him one of the favourite sons of the nation.

Happy Birthday, Rahul Dravid! From the little boy who clipped those newspaper pieces to a cricket columnist today, you have played a sizeable role in shaping my life. Thank you.

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