His own man

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"It's had its share of ups and downs, I admit," he said, when asked of the past year. "But getting to 10,000 in Test cricket has been nice," says the former Indian skipper Rahul Dravid in an interview to the Hindustan Times.

If you had spoken to Rahul Dravid during his last weeks as Indian captain, or tried to get in touch with him soon after he stepped down from the job, with a short, crisp statement and little else by way of explanation, you would have known a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.


It has now been nine months since that fateful day, and many things have happened in Dravid's life since. He has lost his place in the one-day team, and is mature enough to realise that this is not merely an issue of form - unless there is a dramatic change in policy, and simultaneous injuries to three or four young one-day batsman, he is not going to get a look-in.


He has shepherded the Bangalore team to second-last place in the inaugural IPL, in the middle of having mud slung at him by Vijay Mallya, the high-profile and occasionally petulant team owner. Oh, and yes, Dravid has gone past 10,000 Test runs, joining one of cricket's most elite clubs.


Cricket in his blood

With so much having been written and said about India's most popular cricketers, it's tough to come across something new. So it came as a bit of surprise when Dravid let on that his uncle had played two representative matches, a long while ago, back in the Central Zone, in the days when the premier first-class competition was not necessarily the Ranji Trophy.


It turns out Dravid's father Sharad was a batsman himself, playing university cricket in Indore, and turning out for his employers Kissan (from where Dravid got the "jam" nickname) when they were a player short in a Sunday match.

But if you thought slipping in a couple of looseners over ginger lemonade would soften up Dravid, think again. "You're not going to get much of an answer out of me, mate," he says when you mention that people still don't quite know why he gave up the Indian captaincy.


Was it some barbed remarks from the chief of selectors that triggered it off? "I think the important thing for me was to do it till I enjoyed it. I just felt the time had come to move on, and I just knew it," he begins, half frowning. "It's hard to explain exactly how I knew it. It might have seemed odd to people, but as a person you just know for yourself when the time is right, and I felt my time had come."


Well, if he gave up the Indian captaincy, then surely it should have been easy to just walk away from his role in the Bangalore IPL team? "There were aspects of the IPL that I enjoyed. Playing T20 cricket was new to me and I wanted to see how I'd go in that form of the game. We didn't do well as a team and that was disappointing. There were other things that could have gone a bit better, both on and off the field."


One year on...

"It's had its share of ups and downs, I admit," he said, when asked of the past year. "But getting to 10,000 in Test cricket has been nice. The IPL, there were parts of it that you did enjoy and appreciate but also parts of it that could have gone better, and made it a better experience. Overall it's been alright."


Alright is not really the best word to describe a career in which someone has scored 10,000 runs in ODIs and Tests. "I didn't set out playing with 10,000 Test runs as a goal. If you play for a long period of time, like I have, you will achieve some of these things," said Dravid. "I've played unbroken, missing only one game, in my Test career. You have to be fit and scoring consistently, or you'll get dropped at some stage - the fact that I've been able to do that is important, not so much the number itself. But it's nice to be in the company of some players you really respect and admire," he added.


The method

While Dravid's image in cricket is largely spotless, the one criticism frequently directed at him is that he does not speak up enough on issues that matter. "You don't need to say things in public to get things done. There's a lot of stuff we've got done in the journey of my career, without having to say it in public," said Dravid.


"You look at the support staff the Indian team now has, the player contracts, sharing of revenue, professionalism that has come in - there have been a group of players who have helped in that process, helped create that. And I'm happy to have been part of that and played my part. You don't have to make bold statements in the public all the time."

A man, not the Wall

It's one thing not making strong statements about team-mates or administrators, but Dravid has been largely aloof from his public as well. Just as we finish our main course, young Riddhima, in her early teens, comes across for an autograph, and though perfectly polite, Dravid is almost bashful.


"All my life I have been a bit shy. I'm introverted, if you want to put it that way," he said. "Things have changed a bit as well. When I started off, people wanted to know more about your cricket and how you came through the system. That's changed a lot with the way the media has changed and with the public also wanting so much more than just the cricket aspect. In some ways I'm still quite guarded about the private and personal side of myself and I like to keep it that way. Everything else I do is in the public eye but there must be something you share with family and people you're close to. Otherwise what's the difference between your family and the public?"


Trying to find out just what he means by the support he gets from his family is a bit tougher as Dravid usually keeps wife Vijeta and son Samit well out of interviews he gives. "My parents gave me a lot of encouragement and support, and my wife's been really good as well. I'm away a lot and she's had to manage many things on her own. Even when I'm there physically, at home, I sometimes get so involved in what I'm doing that I'm not 100% there mentally, preoccupied with a game that's coming up. She's been very understanding," he said.


His father's son

But dealing with an understanding wife and parents is one thing, handling a young son another entirely. "He still doesn't understand exactly what's going on. There are times when he'll ask me why I have to go somewhere and insist I should stay with him. When a two-and-a-half year old says, 'Why do you have to practice, play with me instead,' there's not much you can say," says Dravid, a smile forming for the first time since the interview began.


"It's terrific, because irrespective of what sort of day you've had, he's going to still expect the same things from you. He's not going to judge you any differently if you've been batting all day on a tough wicket in a Test match. He still expects you to sit down and play with his toys, read him a story. That's great. It grounds you and brings you back to reality. There's nothing to live up to when I'm with him."

The home stretch


There's no gentle way to put it, so you just say it bluntly. When you tell Dravid he's coming to the end of a long career, adding, just for effect, "Who knows? You might still play another five years," he bursts out laughing. "That's one thing I can tell you right now, I'm sure I won't be playing in five years. The closer you come to the later stages of your career, you learn to stay in the moment and take things as they come. You learn to enjoy things a bit more. You're a bit more relaxed as a person, about who you are, what you've achieved."


"In the early stages, you want to make a mark, establish yourself, then you want to do things as a player and as a team, then you come to a phase where you probably know you've done quite a lot and want to enjoy things. At each stage you need to be different. At some points you have to recognise that you need to step things up and take it to another level. I needed desperation and hunger at one phase. I need something else now. You're not always trying to prove a point. You learn to enjoy things for what they are and take things as they come."


I, 'Batman'?

Even as dessert is declined and coffee arrives, we ask how he looks at himself as a batsman. "As a batsman there are some things that everyone has to conform to - you have to watch the ball, you have to keep your head still, you must show the full face of the bat as much as possible, you want to judge length well. There are basic principles to batsmanship, but we all do things differently. My technique is different from the copybook, but it works for me.


There are things about my game that are not necessarily correct in the traditional sense, but I've learnt how to make it work for me. It's unique and it works for my body structure and my way of thinking. Each batsman has to figure this out for himself. That's the charm of the game." That it is.