Friday, March 9, 2012

Thank you Rahul Dravid

Today, Rahul Dravid retired from international cricket. It is hard not to feel a bit emotional for the man who showed very little emotion on and of the cricket field. It is the end of what has been a glorious and illustrious career,spanning more than 15 years, ending with him being the second highest scorer in test cricket. Here are some stats: In 286 Test innings, Dravid played 31,258 balls. Given that no other batsman has faced more than 29,000 deliveries, it puts into perspective the amount of hard work and sheer effort that went into scoring those 13,288 runs.

Hard work, effort, determination, discipline, concentration, humility, dignity. These are the words which come to mind when you speak about Rahul Dravid. He was the perfect man to be out there along with the aggressive stroke makers in the Indian batting line up. Calm and assured, he waited for the bowlers to make a mistake to score his runs. Leaving the ball alone and a compact defensive push were as important strokes to Dravid as the typical flick off his pads or the elegant square drive. As a 11 year old cricket fanatic, I vaguely remember his innings coming in to bat at no.7 on his debut at Lord's. And he never looked back after that, at least in test cricket. He might have his critics in one-day cricket, but nothing can be said about him in test cricket. He was out on 95 on his debut. He would have liked a century on debut, for he has this sense of history about him. He would have wanted to be on that honours board. 15 years later he inscribed his name there with a Dravid special. In an era when Indian opening batsmen were nothing more than sacrificial lambs, he often walked in to bat early in the innings. He was instrumental in turning India's overseas records from abysmal to respectable. It was not just by the sheer number of runs he scored overseas, but the sense of calm and belief he brought to the dressing room when he was out in the middle. He was a man who could be counted stand up at the toughest times, and he delivered more often than not.

People from my generation should realize how lucky we have been to grow up watching distinguished gentlemen of outstanding integrity playing together - Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman, Srinath, Kumble. Hence, it hurts to see youngsters like Raina and Kohli swearing and showing middle finger. They need to learn from Dravid that you let the bat do the talking, for Dravid was a man of few words. Respect mattered to him, it is a word he will often use in conversation ("the respect in your dressing room and that of your opponents is what matters") and he strived to achieve it, at times maybe too hard. For me, Dravid has never got the recognition he deserved. I would say he was a bit unfortunate to be playing in the same era as Sachin Tendulkar, the world's best batsman after Sir Don Bradman. Dravid has often been the supporting act during great innings by Sachin, Laxman, Sehwag, Ganguly et al. His great innings have often been overshadowed by those who came in later when things were easier, or should I say, made easier by Dravid. But then, Dravid did not seem to mind that. He was never comfortable with the glaring media attention. He liked to stay in the back, away from all the attention; doing what he does the best - scoring runs. This can also be seen the way he announced his retirement - in a sudden press conference, not before a game like Ganguly or Kumble. No carrying around the stadium over the shoulders, no guard of honour, no last standing ovation. That is just not Dravid.

When anyone will sit down to make a list of All Time Greatest India XI, the no.3 spot will be reserved for him. Such has been his influence and contribution in Tests, it might be very easy to overlook his contribution in ODIs. Early in his career, he was criticized to be unfit for the shorter format. But he went back to the nets, developed his game, learnt to play with soft hands, and came back a much much improved player. He has always been selfless, and it showed in his willingness to keep wickets in 2003, just for the sake of balance of the team. It was not something he enjoyed. He did not look comfortable doing it. But he was willing to make himself look ugly, just so that the team would look good. He was also willing to bat anywhere in the order for the team. Whenever there was talk of a youngster coming in and a senior dropped from the one-day squad, it was always, unfairly, Dravid. He might not have been the quickest runner or the fastest scorer, but still he was invaluable.

Thank you Rahul Dravid for your contribution to Indian cricket. You shall be sorely missed. Never again will I get that assured feeling when a no.3 walks in to bat for India at 12/1 on a seaming Lord's wicket, or a pacy Durban wicket, or a hard bouncy Adelaide wicket, or a Mumbai dust bowl. Never again will I enjoy a batsman defending or leaving a ball as much as I did watching you. In this IPL age, never again will I see a batsman grind out a century, batting for more than 8 hours against genuine fast bowling in tough conditions to save a game for India. Never again will I see a man doing whatever it needs for the sake of the team - be it opening the batting in tests, or playing down the order to guide youngsters, or keeping wickets for the sake of team balance. Never again will I see a more dignified gentleman and a true role model-with his behavior on and off the field. Never again will the sight of the Indian slip cordon be the same. Never again will I see the sweat dripping down the helmet as a testimony of the hard work and disciplined effort put in. Never again will there be another WALL.