First things first, I’m a diehard Dravid devotee. I’ve done it all. Made the scrap books, sent him letters, camped at the Wankhede to watch nets sessions, gone and watched Tests alone in the stadium, woken up at 2 am to get a glimpse of him batting on foreign shores, cut class to cheer him on and I once even managed to flag down the car of a CCI member, make him take me back in and get me onto the guest list so I could watch a training camp from close quarters.
Why do I do all this? Why do I love Rahul Dravid so much? Here goes:
My initiation to the game of cricket was as a gawky, troubled 14-year-old back during the 1996 World Cup. I switched on the TV mainly to try and spot my cousins at the Wankhede who were there to watch the India-Australia tie. While that attempt proved futile, the buzz at the ground, the contests, the atmosphere and the revelry all caught my attention. I was hooked for life.
Little did I know that my newfound craze would soon coincide with the arrival of a young man who would help change the course of my own life. A 23-year old Rahul Dravid made his debut for India just after the World Cup. His arrival in the ODI format went without much notice but then he burst onto the Test scene a couple months later.
Rahul’s sincerity immediately caught my eye. The deliberation with which he approached everything was endearing. Whether it was a bouncer from Allan Donald, an intrusive question from the media or the scores of young female fans that were quick to line up outside his home in Bangalore’s Indiranagar — he met them all with the proverbial straight bat. He was neither cocky, nor stand-offish — he alone of his peers managed to find that middle ground, to give of himself to the public, while retaining that element of his personal space that he valued. He was being true to himself. He knew his limitations and strived hard to defy allodds.
Rahul's struggles and triumphs on the cricket pitch inspired my own life story, even drove it. Every battle he fought gave me inspiration. It encouraged me to shake away the inadequacies I felt as a teenager, the confusion I faced after my parents parted ways and the lack of any concrete goal in life.
Rahul’s progress didn’t come unhindered. After a successful rookie year, he was dropped from the ODI side. Questions were asked about his strike rate, his temperament for the shorter format and whether he too would wander away like many young promising cricketers before him. Dravid dug in deep and battled the demons inside to bring back the confidence he needed to shine in front of a crowd.
Rahul took one step at a time and made the transition from an unsure middle-class boy to an erudite, classy statesman for the game and his country. In the process he has motivated many like me to go beyond what destiny has scripted for us. To challenge the cobwebs in our minds. His life and career is testament to the old adage - Life's battles don't always go to the stronger or faster man, but sooner or later the man who wins is the one who thinks he can.
In 1998, I was an 11th grade student at St Xavier’s College in Mumbai. A session on ‘Cricket as a Social Phenomenon’ was organized on campus just before the Indian team toured New Zealand. On the guest panel were Sanjay Manjrekar, Nari Contractor, Harsha Bhogle and from the then Indian team – Ajay Jadeja and Rahul Dravid.
After a heavy discussion on the impact the sport had on society, the session opened up for questions. Predictably most of them went to the current cricketers and were of a genial nature. Then came the unexpected bouncer. A seemingly brash young man who had to be a fellow student but whom I didn’t know, got hold of the microphone and posed a question to Dravid (who was then out of the ODI squad) - “How come you bat so slowly in ODIs? Why can’t you rotate the strike? Don’t you think your ODI career is over?” The sound of the rest of the audience booing quickly reverberated before Dravid answered. His reply was polite, without a hint of annoyance and included something about how he was continuously working on his game. Harsha Bhogle then decided to interrupt and jump to Dravid’s defence with an added vigour – “In six months from now India kick off their World Cup campaign at Hove against South Africa, and let me tell you, I have no doubt that the man padded up to bat at number 3 will be Rahul Dravid.”
History will tell you that Dravid not only batted one-down for India in that World Cup, but he was also the tournament’s top scorer despite India not progressing beyond the Super Six stage.
So what makes people stand up for a cricketer like Rahul Dravid when there are many others who are more gifted? There’s an episode of the television drama series ‘Bones’ where the lead protagonist – a female forensic anthropologist who solves murders, says this about her male FBI partner-
“Anthropology teaches us that the alpha male is the man wearing the crown, displaying the most colorful plumage and the shiniest baubles. He stands out from the others. But I now think that anthropology may have it wrong. In working with Booth, I've come to realize that the quiet man, the invisible man, the man who's always there for friends and family... that's a real alpha male. And I promise my eyes will never be caught by those shiny baubles again.”
For me, those words could have well been written for Rahul Sharad Dravid. The cricket community and it’s legion of fans never failed to recognise that Rahul was special. But there was always a catch. Dravid was always thebridesmaid and never the bride.
The world may have had its more talented, swashbuckling favourites. The ones who walked with a swagger, who jumped out of the crease and hit into the stands, who played to the galleries and knew they were thebest. But since the day I spotted Rahul Dravid walk out onto the field, he’s been the one and only person I’ve proudly proclaimed as my idol.
And he’s never let me down. There have been others in the sport who may have played the game with more craft, but you will struggle to find a better role model than Rahul Dravid. He is not the world’s greatest cricketer. He is the however the greatest man to have played cricket. He recognises the influence cricketers have on the game’s followers and is conscious of never letting anyone down.
As a cricket journalist over the past year and half, I’ve tried to refrain from writing about my idol for fear that I wouldn’t be able to be objective. But today, I realize that objectivity is over-rated — after all, the true impact of sport is how it impacts each one of us. So today, I write of my idol, from my mind and heart — because he is, after all, the reason I chose to follow the sport and more, he is the reason I today am what I am, as person and as journalist.
In a sport that is increasingly associated with terms like fixing, betting, finger-gate, and financial impropriety, Rahul Dravid has helped many like me to live in hope of a better tomorrow.
In the foreward to Steve Waugh’s autobiography, Dravid very aptly wrote that Waugh had given grit a good name. As he himself hangs his boots, the best tribute I can pay to him is – Rahul Dravid, you’re the man who has given cricket a good name.
With Rahul retiring from Test cricket today, there is no doubt that I will shed a tear (or more), but like a line from ‘The Wonder Years’ goes - Some heroes pass through your life and disappear in a flash. You get over it. But the good ones, the real ones, the ones who count - stay with you for the long haul.
Today, Rahul exits the stage he has graced for 15 years; he puts a period on accomplishments that are unparalleled. And today, I realize that he is not going anywhere; that Rahul Dravid belongs to that rare class of man who will stay with me for the long haul.
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Rahul Dravid: End of an era