Ever since I began to follow cricket in 1999, I have admired quite a few batsmen. However, following Rahul Dravid’s retirement in March, I realised that I looked up to Dravid much more than any other player, and not just because he was India’s most dependable batsman. For me, Dravid is much beyond than just a legendary batsman;he is perhaps an institution of his own.
When Dravid called it a day from Test cricket, he had already established himself as one of the all time greats, and probably the best number three since Don Bradman. But the most absorbing part of his 16 year old career was how he applied his off field attributes onto the cricket field, resulting in astounding success. Watching the ‘Wall’ build, brick by brick was one of the most delightful sights that a Test match could offer. It is said that for Dravid, the preparation for an overseas tour began at least a month in advance, as he methodically made himself battle-ready depending upon the opposition and the conditions. It paid rich dividends, as he ended up being India’s finest performer abroad. By nature, Dravid is a self confessed introvert, and liked to switch off mentally after a strenuous day of Test cricket. Not surprisingly, this nature of his allowed him to withstand all kinds of pressure on the field, and never once did he succumb to it.
Dravid’s work ethic can be a lesson in management. Dignity and modesty were the hallmarks of his personality. He combined the four H’s – honesty, humility, helpfulness and hard work and this made him a respected gentleman on and off the field, perhaps the last of this breed in today’s slam-bang cricket culture. He was honest about his own form, never did he find excuses for bad performances; on the contrary he was quick to praise those who deserved it, and would also try and continuously improve his game by taking tips from fellow cricketers. His class was proved when he decided to retire because he did not want to block a youngster from coming into the side, and more so because he felt that his time had come after the young Australian pacemen breached his defence time and again in what turned out to be his last series.
Rahul Dravid acknowledges the crowd after carrying his bat for 146 in the 2011 Oval Test. It was his last Test ton (source – theguardian.com)
Leadership brought about a whole new aspect of Dravid’s personality. It is well known that he was thrust into the job only because there was no alternative following Sourav Ganguly’s controversial sacking in 2005. But then, Dravid had always been a team man and he took the role of captaincy as well, albeit reluctantly. During Dravid’s tenure, not once did he give the impression that he was treating captaincy like a burden. On the contrary, he led India to memorable series wins in the West Indies and England – the former being single-handedly scripted by himself – scoring 81 and 68 on a torrid Kingston wicket as India pipped the hosts by 49 runs in the decider.
Unfortunately, most people remember his tenure as captain only for the embarrassing ouster from the 2007 World Cup. A few months later, following the win in England, he renounced the captaincy, when few were expecting it.The most successful of careers have their downs, and Dravid faced a battle early in his career to save his one-day place. He answered his critics in the way he knew best, and ended up as the highest run getter in the 1999 World Cup. Later, he also agreed to keep wickets for the team’s, and his own sake. Ganguly had apparently felt hurt at Dravid’s diplomacy during the Chappell controversy, but then Dravid was stuck between the devil and the deep sea. Given Dravid’s nature, he would never have intentionally offended anyone, more so the captain under whom he enjoyed his most fruitful period from 2002 to 2004.
Just when the daggers were coming out for him again, Dravid, aged 38, produced a classy performance in England in 2011, scoring three hundreds in four Tests. He ended up being the only Indian cricketer to put up a fight as the visitors were thrashed 0-4. The innings of 146 at the Oval where he carried his bat was in my opinion one of his best ever. A few months later, he became the first non-Australian to deliver the prestigious Bradman memorial lecture, and he did so with the same class and dignity with which one associates his batting.
Matthew Hayden summed it up perfectly when he said, ‘If you want to look at aggression on the field, it is in Rahul Dravid’s eyes’. The look on his face in the slips while anticipating another addition to his record catching tally was indeed a testimony to the amazing powers of concentration that this soft spoken gentleman from Bangalore possessed. Just four months before he retired, I had the privilege of watching the cricketer I admired most at the Wankhede Stadium, as he scored a typically watchful 82 en route to crossing the 13000 run barrier. At that time expectations were high from Dravid to deliver an England-like showing in Australia too. Alas, it did not happen and the Wall eventually began to creak, with India getting another 0-4 shellacking.
Dravid never indulged in sledging, pointless banter or the nonsense that many of today’s players take pride in. He was the quintessential gentleman of the gentleman’s game – the nice guy who finished first. He kept to himself on the field, and armed with his orthodox technique and powers of determination and commitment, made India proud on numerous occasions. His priceless worth in the team was often underestimated, and perhaps he did not mind.
But then that was Dravid for you – humble, selfless, committed – a gentleman in the true sense and a role model for thousands, including myself. He will forever be a shining example to follow, not merely because of his statistics, but because of his morality and the way he approached challenges. For Dravid went much beyond than being a cricketer. He was an instituition of his own.