100 not out, lot to go
In many ways, Dravid plays his cricket the way I did - not too flamboyant, writes Steve Waugh.Updated: Mar 18, 2006 20:49 IST
I had just completed my book "Out of My Comfort Zone" last year, and I thought a foreword penned by a cricketer would add to the book. I also decided that it should ideally be by an opposition player, as I felt that any Australian would paint a picture of me that might have been flattering but not entirely truthful. The first player who came to mind was Rahul Dravid. His was one of the most respected names in the game, he was honest and articulate, and in many ways played his cricket the way I did - not too flamboyant, mostly steady.
I called him, gave him a stiff deadline and asked him if he would be able to write it. Being the nice bloke that he is, he agreed immediately, and within a couple of days sent a wonderful piece for the book.
Rahul is the kind of person whom young cricketers can look up to not only because of his success but also because of the way he conducts himself. His remarkable career is proof that nice guys don't finish last. He believes one can be ruthless on the field even while maintaining decorum. He is also a player any captain would like to have when the chips are down, and it's obvious that challenging situations and tough oppositions bring out the best in him. Finally, he is a complete team man who goes about his work with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency.
Rahul, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly have defined India's batting for the last decade and India is fortunate to have had them playing together for that long.
I am not getting into the comparison game because all three are very different, but the variety this trio brought to the team ensured that India became a more successful unit, particularly post-2000. But while Tendulkar's aggression and charisma and Ganguly's elegance invariably got noticed, Rahul's steady but crucial contributions were often overshadowed.
It's only now that people are recognising that he has probably played more critical knocks than his great contemporaries. The pieces of the jigsaw are now falling together and when we look back at the last decade as a whole, we recognise the value of a technically correct, mature player like Rahul.
Besides his exploits as a batsman, Rahul has always struck me as the ultimate team man, as I said. It was not ideal for him to have to keep wickets in one-dayers, but he took it on as a challenge and even though he was made to continue for almost two years after the 2003 World Cup, he did not complain or create a fuss. It is a testimony to his fitness and versatility that he kept for over two years and made the most of a tough situation.
There have been a few lows in Rahul's career as well, particularly as a limited overs player. I remember having dinner with him in Bangalore in 1998. He had been left out of the one-day side, and he asked me whether he should change anything in his game in order to score quickly. I had told him to stick to the basics and be patient because I knew that he was too good to be out of the side for long.
Today, Rahul has hit a new level in his game. He is comfortable in his own skin, and knows his game well. Like me, he's got there at around 33, which in this day and age is not quite the twilight of a batsman's career. With improved fitness and recovery techniques, today's 33-year-old cricketer is as fit as a 28-year-old used to be. Rahul may have played two-thirds of his career, but he still has a fruitful one-third ahead of him.
He has also got the captaincy at the right time. Sourav did a very good job at the helm, and gave the Indians an edgy, aggressive attitude. Rahul has the advantage of leading the side after having the luxury of concentrating on his batting and today, he is 100 per cent sure of his own game as he handles the responsibility of leading the side.
As I mentioned earlier, I am aware that many people see Rahul and me as similar cricketers -- I am flattered because it's good to be compared to a guy who has an average of over 57! The game can make great demands on players like Rahul and me. Justin Langer is also a similar kind of player, and while critics expect the odd trough from more attacking players, they tend to be a little harsher on us. However, with a body of work that will now cross 100 Tests, Rahul not only has the numbers to prove that he is an all-time great, he also has played more match-winning and match-saving knocks than many of his peers.
First Published: Mar 18, 2006 00:43 IST