Circa 1996-Lords, England. A gangly and freckled 23 year old from karnataka stroked a fluent 95 on debut, making the purists sit up and take notice of his copybook technique and unflappable temperament. The more pronounced Dominic Cork's outswinger became, the more the debutant stretched and leaned into his crisp cover drives. Not many, however, remember that match for that particular innings, as he was eclipsed by another debutant from Kolkata who went to cross the 3 figure mark and get his name on the honors board at the Mecca of Cricket. The man who missed the feat by 5 runs was Rahul Sharad Dravid. An ironic prescedent of being overshadowed alongwith a glorious career were set in motion.
The Rahul Dravid story goes well beyond numbers, like it does with most sporting heroes. But for the statistically inclined, lets get them out of the way. 13288 Test runs at 51.7 with 36 hundreds and 63 fifties to go with nearly 11000 ODI runs with 12 hundreds and 83 fifties. One of only 5 men to achieve the grand double of crossing the 10k mark in both formats. The only man to have scored a hundred in all Test playing nations and the holder of most catches in Tests. The man who has taken strike against most number of deliveries. If you break it down further, he scored 50 or more in 1 out of every 3 times that he took guard for India. Numbers the best would envy, but numbers dont do him justice.
Being upstaged all through out your career by your teammates cant have been a very pleasant feeling, especially in a country like India where public memory lasts a little more than 3 days. Let it be Taunton 1999, Kolkata 2001, Hyderabad 2000. Not letting this affect him and almost enjoying working away arduously in the background is an indicator of his character and self belief, an important victory that he achieved against himself.
In this age of fist-pumping, chest-beating, expletive-mouthing showmanship, his manner was more poise and calm. Almost as though the only point he was proving was to himself. He brought a zen-like serenity to the proceedings when he was in his zone. Though you never got to see many over the top moments with him, the sight of him waving his Britannia stickered bat to acknowledge the crowd became a common one over the last decade and a half.
There weren't many theatrics with Dravid, but there was never any dearth of drama either. When he walked out to bat, the cricket field doubled up as a stage, the 11 men on it became the quintessential villains, and Dravid the hero of restoration who took them on till they were ground into dust. He took you into a world of battle, drawing you in further with every delivery he left alone, every square cut he essayed off the front foot, and every ball that he protected his wicket. You were no longer a viewer, but became a part of the drama with every time he tapped his bat incessantly behind his right toe, left elbow prominently sticking out, sweat dripping from the chin-strap of his helmet. He would leave you exhausted at the end of a Dravid Special, sated and spoilt. His dismissal was often followed by self admonishment, never seeming satisfied with his efforts, berating himself till he disappeared into the change rooms. And nothing anyone else did after he left the field of play seemed half as attractive or classy.
If Tendulkar's greatness is in part a product of being a gifted genius, Rahul's greatness lies in how human he is and how acquired his genius seems to be over hours of dedicated repitition. If SRT's charm lies in how impossible his achievements seem, Dravid appeals to us by how he makes it all seem possible through hard work and perseverance. While this humane element makes Rahul Dravid so endearing, the real reason he strikes a chord with most people who have followed his career closely, is that he is the embodiment of virtues we would all love to possess. He makes us want to be more gentlemanly and fair spirited, more competitve yet respectful, more dedicated, focussed and selfless. He makes us wonder how someone with so much behind him can still be so humble and self depreciating.
He didnt just show you how to make a sharp rising delivery drop dead right at your toes, he taught you lessons of life.
Before he can ride into the sunset and into the pantheon of all time cricketing greats, he has one last challenge to face. The attention, tributes, praise as he announces his retirement. Today, the spotlight is all his. And I hope to God he savours it, because he sure as hell deserves it!
The thought of an Indian Test XI without The Wall at no 3 is a scary one. To not watch him in white flannels, impeccable and impregnable, doing battle for his team and country seems a travesty.
Test cricket is going to be a poorer place without that high left elbow and extravagant front foot stride.
And yes, that man did get his name up on the Honors Board.
Thank you, Sir, for all the memories and inspiration.