That day is finally here. I have truly dreaded it and wished it would never come. But it has. And what other choice do I have but to face it.
So here it goes…. I admit it. I lied. Vehemently too. Not to myself. But to three generations of women. Not once. Not twice. But for god knows how many thousand times over a period of 16 years. I lied today too. But it’s time to finally come clean. Yes, dear mother, grandmother, and girlfriend - Rahul Dravid is awesome.
Today I had the chance to write the headline that would be splashed on front pages across the country that would bid adieu to Dravid the cricketer. I missed that opportunity and I’m still brooding over it. That headline would have spoken a thousand words. But instead, I’m forced to actually write those thousand words to give vent to the feelings of gratitude I’ve suppressed with my repeated denials.
But come to think of it, maybe that isn’t so bad. I can leave behind my journalist avatar in the office. I don’t need to skim through the record books and stat sheets and the numerous wikipedia entries. I can use only my memory for reference and write as a fan, as the six-year-old boy whose first recollection of the game of cricket was watching this gangly, awkward chap take an age to score a run.
And I suppose that for many of us, that really was our first impression of Rahul Dravid. We yelled at him in frustration, some of the diehard fans among us threw objects at the TV. Playing him in the one-day team was as good as committing hara-kiri.
But the guy improved, you have to say that. His strike-rate improved from 30-something to 60-something by the 1999 World Cup. You still felt like throwing profanities in his direction, but he wasn’t so bad. He slowly but surely improved.
And then out of nowhere, the real Dravid emerged. The 153 vs New Zealand in Hyderabad, the 180 vs Australia in that epic Kolkata 2001 test. And slowly the legend grew. The Test centuries in England in 2003, the strong show in the World Cup that year. The 12-hour innings of 270 vs Pakistan. But most importantly, it was that innings of 76 against the Kiwis in New Zealand that made him a true legend. Shane Bond was as close to Bodyline bowling as you could get in the modern era. And when every other Indian batsmen perished within minutes of taking the field, you had this brave character to weather the storm. He took blows on the helmet, the chest, and several on the shoulder. It was all in vain as India meekly lost that match. But to anyone who woke up at 5am in India to watch it, you felt nothing else but sheer pride – as an Indian, and as someone who believes in the concept of a team.
But more than what he did on the field, it was Dravid the human being that I take away the most from. Cricket and sport for that matter is not everybody’s cup of tea. Fair enough. But what no one can deny is that sport has the ability to bring out every thing that is magnificent about the human spirit. And if ever there was a brand ambassador for that aspect of sport, it was Dravid. He wasn’t your rags-to-riches or broken home story. He was like you and me. Came from a middle-class family, went to a middle-class school, graduated from college with a conventional degree. But that’s where the similarities end. And that’s what makes his story even more inspirational.
It has always been obvious that Dravid wasn’t the most talented of cricketers. Simply put, he isn’t Sachin Tendulkar. Raw talent doesn’t ooze from him, as the cliché-loving commentators like to say. But the man worked hard. The fruits of that hard work will be the subject of several volumes of sporting literature. But apart from being an example of the rewards of hard work, Dravid exemplified what a team man should be. He was not the best at everything he did. But his commitment and dedication to the team gave him not just personal laurels, but elevated India to a higher level both forms of the game. No he wasn’t the best fielder, but he has taken the most catches in Tests. Didn’t have the best ODI strike-rate, but is one of the all-time leading run getters. Wasn’t the best wicket-keeper. But his sacrifice for the team gave India and us viewers some of the most memorable ODI victories.
Apart from his hard work, his image as a polished and refined man should stay with every sportsperson and every ambitious human being. No fines for discipline, or unsavoury comments in the media. Straightforward, honest, and to the point.
He had to undergo the humiliation of captaining the team that was unceremoniously dumped out of the 2007 World Cup. But while those memories pain every Indian cricket fan, you have to credit Dravid for shouldering the blame and more than anything else – accepting defeat with dignity. Because that was his USP – dignity. He could have been dropped from the team on several occasion. Most recently, following his dismal show in Australia – but he left with dignity and his respect intact. And isn’t that how we would all want to sign out from this world.
So, mother I forgive you. I forgive you for saying ‘MY DRAVID’ more passionately than you said ‘MY SON’. If it was your way of telling me that that was the kind of man you wanted me to be, I’ve got the point. I’ve had 16 years of Dravid’s career to watch, before I began my own.
And for those of you who didn’t quite the point throughout his career, the words he used during his retirement speech should be tattooed across your brain every morning when you enter your respective offices: “My approach to cricket has been reasonably simple: it was about giving everything to the team, it was about playing with dignity and it was about upholding the spirit of the game.”
Adieu Rahul Dravid, sport won’t be the same without you. And for god’s sake, don’t think of making a comeback. I’d have to refrain from watching a cricket match with my family again.