On April 3, 1996 when Rahul Dravid made his ODI debut against Sri Lanka in Singapore, he was a young, shy, boyish looking bBngalore lad who got out only after scoring 3 runs and failed to deliver. Almost 15 years later, as he dons the blue coloured clothing for the last time on the cricket field, he has scored over 10000 ODI runs, has captained his team and is one of the most revered members of the world cricket fraternity. It’s been a long journey indeed with its share of bitter and sweet. The statistics will speak for the sweet.
But I say bitter because despite his selfless contribution to Indian cricket, Rahul Dravid has never really got his due. On most days his carefully crafted intelligent knocks that are full of precision and technique are often overshadowed by a more glamorous display of batting ruthlessness that comes either from a bigger star or from a heavier bat. When it comes to Dravid, somehow commiserations manage to exceed the celebrations. He is what we can call Indian cricket’s unsung hero.
Rahul is all about the understatement. He comes across as a sorted family guy who quietly carries on with his business and is anything but a controversy’s child. Unfortunately, things like ”propriety and sobriety” are not marketable; which is probably why we fail to see the star in him .Unlike Dhoni’s helicopter shot or Sehwag’s ”upar cut” Dravid does not have a trademark shot .When he walks in to bat, unlike the usual feelings of euphoria , excitement and uncertainty , there is an unexplainable sense of safety and tranquillity. He is usually not a party to famous individual cricket rivalries. Instead he is content to compete with himself and the only headlines he makes are the ones that come out of his Britannia bat.
It is amazing how underneath this calm and composed demeanour there is man with nerves of steel and the concentration of an eagle. Terms like aggression and power are generally synonymous with batting legends. However, for Dravid an ice cool temperament and unwavering focus are his weapons of mass destruction during any cricketing battle. Yet there is a passive aggression about him that tells the opposition that no bad delivery is going to be left unpunished and he will not serve his wicket to them on a platter.
He is like that industrious and persevering workman who would show up on time for practice, plan his entire innings with careful precision and reflects on his mistakes every night before going to bed .These are the characteristics that invite wonderment and respect from the public but not stardom. So, in our cricket doctrine, while Sachin Tendulkar is the ultimate God and Saurav Ganguly is at least God on the off side, for some odd reason Rahul Dravid is considered as a mortal. However, this is also because this Bangalore boy’s career is far from being a fairytale. Instead it is something that is closer to reality. It has had its share of wins and losses, ebbs and flows and praise and criticism. What he is today , is a product of his own blood and sweat .There have been no flukes or elements of ”divinity” but plenty of ‘devotion”
He has been a regular at the no.3 batting position for a long time, which is one of the most crucial positions in any batting line up. He is also the ultimate team man who has played the role of a makeshift wicket keeper, a captain who led by example and a role model for youngsters. In the process he also drew flak for not having an appropriate strike rate, declaring an innings when Tendulkar was at 194 and being too orthodox as a player. Now, after 10889 runs, 334 one day matches, more than 15 years of experience, comebacks after comebacks and numerous coveted awards, everything else seems smaller and irelevant.
Dravid, the cricketer has always been bigger than Dravid the showman. He is not someone who needs to stand out, be in the limelight or make his presence felt but something about him tells you that he is ALWAYS THERE. His greatness doesn’t lie in being worshiped and applauded but instead it lies in the fact that he chooses to be taken for granted. If there was ever a movie on cricket, he would be hailed as one of the best supporting actors in the history of world cricket.
So, at 38 years of age, as he walked out to bat in his last one day match something was different. The stadium was packed to capacity, the applause were a lot more louder and every shot of his was being cheered on by the spectators. When he got out after a scoring a well played 68 in typical Dravidesque fashion , he evoked a standing ovation from the crowd, as well as his teammates and every England player rushed to shake hands with him and exchange pleasantries.
It was as if, suddenly everyone realized that ”he may not be there anymore”, and just like his entire career his swansong was not entirely picture perfect. Despite losing the match, Rahul Dravid came out as a winner. When a journalist asked him – ”Do you sometimes feel that you have not got enough accolades’?” To that he said ”.I’ve never really worried about that. People keep telling me that maybe you don’t get the recognition you deserve, but I think I’ve got enough. In my own mind I’m very comfortable. I think I’ve got a hell of a lot of recognition.
When I look around me and I look at the other cricketers of India who’ve also done well, the number of guys who play first class cricket for years, there can be no complaint. Outside of cricket, you look around and see so many guys who struggle day and day out and get nowhere near the reward for the effort they put in. Living in India you just see it every day, it’s in your face. There are a lot more disadvantaged people than you and you can’t really be complaining about small things. I’m very comfortable and happy with what I’ve got. I think I’m recognised and rated for my work by colleagues and peers. A lot of nice things have been written about me in these 15 years and I’m very comfortable.”
So here is a little song dedication from 1 billion cricket crazy fans (especially the girls) to ”the wall”- my favourite cricketer, my first crush and the perfect gentleman,
”Because maybe you are going to be the one who saves me and after all you are my wonderwall”!