"A phenomenal batsman and a great human being. If you can't get along with Dravid, then you're struggling in life" - Brett Lee.
Lee's comment is an apt reflection of the enormous esteem that former India captain Rahul Dravid is held in because of his on and off the field conduct during his illustrious and glittering 16-year international career. It is every professional's desire to be respected and admired not only by their colleagues, but also by their contemporaries in the opposition. And, Dravid achieved that without much fanfare through his innumerable gritty knocks, mental strength, discipline as well as his positive and inspirational attitude to the sport and life.
Dravid ends his career with 13288 runs, including 36 centuries and 63 half-centuries with a highest score of 270 at an average of 52.31 from 164 Tests; and 10889 runs, including 12 centuries and 83 half-centuries with a highest score of 153 at an average of 39.16 from 344 One-dayers. As impressive as these numbers are, they don't tell the complete story of Dravid's importance and value to the team.
Dravid's contribution to Indian cricket includes many intangible contributions that aren't reflected in the mountain of runs he has scored in his international career. He has always gone the extra mile for the team's cause, be it being the wicket-keeper batsman for a while in ODIs so that India could play an extra batsman; or being flexible with his batting position to suit the team's needs. The runs also don't completely reflect his strong technique, immense powers of concentration, mental strength and leadership. But, perhaps, the one aspect of Dravid's batting that has been overlooked is the high level of stability he brought to the team each time he went out to the middle.
He could come in at 5 for one or 100 for one and not be unfazed by the situation and the enormity of the task at hand. Dravid went about constructing his innings by being compact in defence and playing the aggressive shots when he needed to as he went about blunting the opposition bowling attack and made the job easier for the batsmen following him. It is an acknowledgement of the value that Dravid brought to the team that it was a given that there's no need for concern as long as he was in the middle doing what he does best.
It probably didn't matter to him that he was taken for granted by the public and didn't receive as much adulation as the flashier batsmen in the team. But, what did matter to him was the team and he literally shed sweat and blood for the cause as he rescued India from countless sticky situations.
Most of Dravid's landmarks haven't been given their fair due by the media and fans alike as he has regularly been overshadowed by the Sachin Tendulkars, Mohammad Azharuddins, Sourav Gangulys and Virender Sehwags. Come to think of it, Dravid has pretty much been the unsung hero since his Test debut at Lord's in June 1996 where he made an impressive 95; but it was his fellow debutant Ganguly, who took most of the plaudits for his century. And, the trend continued until his sunset days as an international cricketer when despite being the only redeeming factor in India's humiliating Test whitewash in England in 2011, all the attention and hype was centred on Tendulkar scoring his 100th international hundred. Dravid though took it all in his stride even as he put such a premium on his wicket from early in his career that he earned the nickname 'The Wall' as a compliment to his steadfastness and for being the pivot around which the Indian batting revolved irrespective of the format.
It is a tribute to Dravid's courage, self-belief and mental strength that he remained the mainstay of India's batting despite being overshadowed by his other team-mates and the fact that his contributions to Indian cricket have largely remained under-appreciated. Dravid thrived in challenging situations and nothing illustrates this better than the fact that his Test average is higher away than at home. Most of India's batsmen have struggled on pitches overseas as they are bouncier and more conducive to swing; Dravid's compact technique, however saw him literally carrying India's batting in those conditions.
Another aspect of Dravid that tends to get overlooked is the level of fitness that he maintained through his career. Dravid also retained the desire and pride to perform even as he continued to hone and work on his skills and scripted his own destiny to become a cricketing hero. He has conducted himself impeccably on and off the field; is articulate and is aware of his responsibility to the society. In his own way, Dravid has proven there is no substitute for hard work and determination. He has also shown that irrespective of
demands and pressure, it is important to remain true to one's character even as situations demand a revamp of that role. Dravid respects the game's traditions and has been a shining example of the ideals associated with the game.
All good things come to an end; but there are some things one wished continued for eternity. I have got so used to watching Dravid coming out at No. 3, and knowing that is not going to happen at the international level ever again is something I find difficult to accept and resign myself to.
But, what I am thankful for is the fact that I got to see Dravid defy the odds and engrave his name as one of the best batsmen to have ever played the game. Dravid - Thank you for the glorious memories and being a role model for the ages. It has been an honour and privilege watching you bat.
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