From a shy boy who finished his homework on time, attended his “extra-curricular” sessions religiously, put his heart in everything he did, Rahul Sharad Dravid has not changed much in last 30 years or so. From playing U-15, U-17, U-19, U-21 and Ranji Trophy before his international debut, to the time he came to bat at number 8 in his last competitive match, he gave all he had, and sometimes, even more. From making his debut at Lords and almost scoring a magical century to getting bowled to a rash shot in his last match (a younger Dravid would have committed suicide for that shot), he took on every challenge that was thrown at him. The shy school boy forged himself into a gritty man who can take anything and still remain the calmest monk in the monastery.
At a time when Indian cricket was facing its toughest test, every lost match was considered “fixed”, rose a few gems who changed the face of team. Sachin Tendulkar was already carrying a billion hopes, in Saurav Ganguly nation was discovering a captain who could “take it” to the opposition camp, Anil Kumble was still an unproven talent, VVS Laxman was a baby in testing waters, Rahul Dravid had to prove himself every time he came to bat.
He was not considered good enough for the team during now legendary 2001 Australia series, if not for THAT innings, he would have been dropped. But a fighter he was, he dug in with a partner who had similar mentality and created history. Soon he booked the number 3 slot for himself.
As a young talent he was made to stand in slips to bowling of a certain “Jumbo”, he just made that place his own and retired with a never before matched astonishing figure of 210 test catches. He was asked to keep wickets in ODIs, he surely left that spot as the best part-time keeper. He was asked to open at Lahore, he responded with a 410 run opening partnership with the most volatile player of all times. He was criticized that he was too slow for ODIs, he responded with fastest 50 by an Indian and two 300+ partnerships in ODIs. He was told that he was not a twenty-20 player, he responded by hitting 3 sixes in 3 balls. Navjot Singh Sidhu once said “Rahul Dravid is a player who would walk on broken glass if his team asks him to.” He was that kind of player.
Sachin was natural talent, Saurav a natural leader, Laxman was god-gifted, but it was Dravid who made it large on sheer hard work alone. He is epitome of humbleness. He played by the spirit of the game. He put the gentleman in gentlemen’s game. He practically proved that being humble and being aggressive are two different things. In Hayden’s words “All these things going around are not part of aggression. If you wish to see aggression on a cricket field look into the eyes of Rahul Dravid.”
He was known for his dedication and concentration. McGrath once said “you have to get him out the first time he commits a mistake, for the chances of him committing another are rare.” He even made Brain Lara confess that “If I have to ask bat someone for my life, it would be Kallis or Dravid.”
I remember reading an interview where his true persona came through. Like words were provided to the silent battle he fought for a decade and half. He was asked about his dedication, the long miles he had put in on way of becoming the player who surpassed all in terms of spending time in the middle. His reply was expected to be about the journey he had travelled and hard work he had put in. But his reply was beyond that. He said he was fortunate to be one of the select few who represented India on world stage. He said he knew he was not the most talented player of his generation and he got to play ahead of many talented ones. Every time he went to bat, he would consider it a favour, he had to play for all those who didn’t get to play because of him. He had to put a price on his wicket for them, if not for himself. He had to be dedicated to justify his place in the team to himself. He was that kind of person.
As per me, he was part of the reason I watched cricket. The fabulous five – Sachin, Saurav, Dravid, Laxman and Kumble – made me fall in love with the game. I am not a natural talent and I know that. And so do millions of Indians. He was inspiration to them. He taught us hard work can get results. He made us believe in what we had and stop complaining about what we didn’t. He was a teacher, by example, for all who were ready to work hard. He kept millions of dreams alive, because we knew what dedication can achive.
Now that he is not there, the cricketing world seems so full of void. So much that it’s almost impossible to fill it. He would be remembered as the last batsman of a generation who could play every possible delivery with copy book shots and still score runs. Finding gaps was as easy for him as going to gym on day 1 is. This blog can go on and on and on and on, just like the man this is dedicated to, but I rest my keyboard with this great graphics I encountered recently.