For eight months now, the Indian cricket fan has waited with breathless anticipation for the ultimate cricket icon, Sachin Tendulkar, to score his 100th international hundred. All this while one man has stayed under the radar, doing what he has done with quiet efficiency for several years now.
In this season of hype and noise, of made-for-TV fasts and high-pitched spectacles, Rahul Dravid has reaffirmed one’s faith in old-fashioned values of solidity and integrity. The 38-year-old Bangalorean, in the autumn of a glorious cricketing career, has shown that true class doesn’t need a megaphone for self-promotion but only needs an unswerving commitment to one’s profession. In the process, Dravid has provided an inspiration to the silent majority who prefer their heroes to be performers rather than showmen.
To be in the limelight and yet stay out of it can’t be easy. Yet, Dravid has handled the highs and lows of life with equanimity and perhaps greater dignity than most of his peers. Remember Dravid’s first Test in 1996 was also a debut match for Sourav Ganguly. Comrades in the revival of Indian cricket, their attitude to life and the game could have been scarcely more different.
Ganguly was the ‘Prince of Kolkata’, almost born to rule. Dravid, by contrast, carried a rather more prosaic epithet — ‘The Wall’. Ganguly was emotional and excitable, baring his chest to adoring supporters at Lords in a coming of age cricketing moment. Somehow one can’t imagine Dravid revealing his biceps in public. When Ganguly was dropped, Kolkata came on the streets. If Dravid were to be dropped, it’s doubtful that the traffic would stop at Bangalore’s MG Road. Perhaps, Ganguly’s ebullience made him the better captain, but clearly Dravid’s dedication has ensured longevity.
Of his contemporaries, only Tendulkar stands ahead of him in terms of runs and centuries. Perhaps playing in the Tendulkar era has meant that we have never quite been able to appreciate the full range of Dravid’s skills. The Bradman age saw the emergence of many great batsmen, but such was Sir Don’s influence on the game that all others were overshadowed. The Tendulkar phenomenon has had a similar effect. And yet, if Tendulkar is the artist, Dravid has been the artisan, chiselling away at perfecting his craft to the point where he can actually claim to be in the same exalted space as the Mumbai genius.
In some respects, Dravid actually has the edge over the mighty Tendulkar. For example, if you exclude Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, Dravid’s average in an overseas series is marginally better than Sachin’s, as is his contribution to India’s overseas wins. Quite remarkably, 32 of his 36 Test centuries have come in wins or draws, confirming his stature as a true match winner. Add to nearly 13,000 Test runs, the small matter of 10,000 ODI runs and 200-plus Test catches, and Dravid’s place as an all time great is assured.
And yet, more than the runs, it’s the character of the man that has stood out. In a long international career, there is only one controversy that one can associate with Dravid: When as stand-in captain against Pakistan in Multan he declared the Indian innings with Tendulkar 194 not out. For those who see Tendulkar as a demi-god, the declaration was seen as the ultimate act of apostasy, designed to prevent a living deity from reaching yet another milestone. For Dravid, it was the result of a philosophy that always puts team above individual, a mindset that even led him to become a wicket-keeper for a while in the ultimate interest of Indian cricket.
This year has perhaps best defined the man’s spirit. Dropped from the One Day side, not considered good enough to play in the World Cup, battling with form, it would have been easy for Dravid to opt out. Amid a slew of talented young batsmen, Dravid could have been forgiven for feeling like an antique item. This was, we were repeatedly told, the era of T20 cricket, of heavy bats and big sixes. Technique was seen as a cricketing romantic’s nostalgic yearning; contemporary cricket was all about speed and power. Dravid’s best shot was his forward defence, head right over the ball — a stroke many believed was best left to practise in a coaching manual, not on the cricket field. And yet, it’s this very defensive correctness that has seen Dravid succeed in England this year when the young guns around him struggled.
Indeed, 2011 has been the year when Dravid the batsman re-invented himself, not for the first time. In the late 90s, he wasn’t considered good enough for limited overs cricket. Not one to be easily disheartened, he worked at his game to the point where he was the top scorer in the 1999 World Cup. This year, he was picked for his first ever T20 international, a seemingly desperate move by an Indian cricket selection system that was running out of options. Dravid responded by stroking three consecutive sixes, his way of reminding the Indian cricket fan that genius in sport will not be chained by format.
It is possible that having answered every challenge, Dravid will seriously consider retirement soon. There are very few cricketing mountains he has left to climb, and there will be no doubt a desire to spend more time with a young family. When he does eventually take the final bow, it’s unlikely to be a dramatic announcement. Somehow, theatrics and Rahul Dravid simply don’t go together. He will wish to fade quietly into the sunset, leaving behind memories of a bagful of runs, plenty of catches, but, above all, a resoluteness of purpose. In an age of umpteen Page 3 mini-celebrities, Dravid is a Page 1 star to be treasured.
( Rajdeep Sardesai is editor-in-chief, IBN 18 Network )
The views expressed by the author are personal