26th May 1999, a date vividly etched in my memory. I had till then, been bred on a diet of pile-drivers and choke-slams. Least did I know about cover-drives and leg-glances. Only the fervor of World Cup had activated my Indian cricket-loving genes. What I saw on my TV screen that day wasn’t awesomeness or brilliance , it was finesse mastered up to the level of perfection. Rahul Sharad Dravid massacred the Sri Lankan bowlers with a calm that only he could muster up. His eyes didn’t have the aggression of Sourav , nor the hunger of Sachin – just calm , sheer calm. The crowd at Taunton witnessed 2 Indian tornadoes that day – Sourav Ganguly’s 183* and Rahul ‘The Wall’ Dravid’s 145.
His critics have always criticized him for not displaying enough fire-power on the field. He’s always been compared to Sourav and found to be lacking his flamboyance. He’s been put on the same pedestal with Sachin at times , and these critics found him to lack the ‘Entertainment’ factor. What such people fail to understand is that all 3 have given to Indian cricket what only they could have. Comparing them would be akin to canvassing the sweetness of Mango , Cadbury and ‘Jalebi’ – all 3 are sweet , yet one cannot be equated with the other.
Playing as many as 32,000 balls in test cricket alone and amassing more then 13,000 and 10,000 runs in Tests and ODI’s respectively is a feat worthy enough of the history books. Add to that 210 test catches in the slip cordon , a record that would put most wicket-keepers to shame. Brand Dravid has never been about records or personal milestones ; it epitomizes unity , team spirit and never-say-die attitude. He’s been the lone oars-man every time the team was in choppy waters. He’s been equally content to play second fiddle when the batsmen at the other end was on song.
Cometh the hour cometh the man , they say. But ‘The Wall’ has stood tall for the nation for 16 long years without asking for name or fame. He was the player who couldn’t say No. Middle order batsman , opener , wicketkeeper , anchor , finisher , slip-fielder , Captain are some of the various roles that he essayed for the sake of the team , Team India. Commentators often discuss pitches before every match – grassy , bouncy, flat , turning , wet , dry etc.. I wonder if Rahul ever heard one of these pitch-reports in matches that he played. For him it was always about staying at the wicket – runs automatically flowed. He was slow but steady , boring yet reliable and uncharacteristic yet classy.
I quote Richie Benaud here “One of the most over-used words in the cricketing dictionary is ‘great’ , because there are very few players in any country who qualify. It is in any case a subjective view and all of us are limited by the number of players we have seen over the years. When judging earlier players , we have to take the word of people we trust, who have in fact seen them play. My view of Indian batsmen is that there have been a lot of very good ones, some able to play in all conditions, some best when playing on their own pitches.
I believe there are thre ‘great’ Indian batsmen and I put them in the order of appearance on the Test scene – Sunil Gavaskar , Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. Tendulkar and Gavaskar have given me many days of great enjoyment and Dravid over the times has played some wonderful innings. His best attributes are courage and clear thinking and an ability to carry the attack to the opposition by keeping a step ahead of the bowlers.”
I wrote this piece not to earn praise or accoloades.This piece is my tribute to a role model who has refused to rest on his laurels , and remained as intense throughout his career in his quest for perfection as he was when he started out. His epic battle was full of trials and tribulations. Yet , he came out triumphant every single time. He fought wars on his own terms. He was one of the most adept at bullying bowlers with his bat even though he didn’t have the Boom-Boom sixes or Najafgarh fours in his inventory. He could hold one end for days at a stretch , he could score a 22-ball 50 when the team needed it . He’s given every drop of his sweat and blood for the Team in Blue.
Any number of words will fall short to describe this Bangalorean who penned his career through 3 D’s : Dedication , Discipline and Determination.He broke free of the stereo-type that haunted him in his early years at the international level. He emerged from the intimidating shadows cast by his team-mates and today is , and always will be ‘A LEGEND’.