There was a time when it wasn’t the coolest thing to be a Rahul Dravid worshipper for an Indian cricket fan. It’s true! There was a time when you even heard stuff like “Who Dravid?”. It’s true!
It was a time not very different from now when Indian cricket began and ended with singing praises of just one man – Sachin Tendulkar
. It was a time when the soon-to-be “best Indian Captain ever” – Sourav Ganguly
– (debatable but then I am a Bengali) was beginning to chalk out his conquest plan. It was when this unassuming batsman from Karnataka began his journey too. And very impressively so. Nonetheless, it was a tad too early for the Archies Galleries of the country to stock Rahul Dravid posters. I tried though and not before long, I had a room with a wall dedicated to The Wall
(I am sorry. I just had to say this) – unofficial bad quality posters, painfully sourced official ones, newspaper cuttings, magazine covers and the works.
When Ganguly was impressing all and sundry with his century on Test debut in England that June of 1996, I found my hero in Dravid who fell short of being the other Indian debutant to crack a ton by just five runs. It was to perhaps mark two things that stuck with Dravid almost throughout his career – the man who played second fiddle and that man who would inevitably lose his wicket in the 90s. Gradually and thankfully, the latter was forgotten.
There was something about the way this man faced some of the most fearsome bowlers, there was something about the way he pulled an Allan Donald-bouncer to the boundary, gracefully danced down the wicket and hit Muttiah Muralitharan out of the park or hit those picture-perfect cover drives. There was a grace that back then I only found and admired in the almost flawless batting of the Pakistani great Saeed Anwar.
Two innings of Dravid’s will forever stay with me; those drove me unashamedly to tears – his 145 in 129 balls against Sri Lanka in Taunton, England (ICC World Cup 1999) and the 180 he scored in the mammoth and very heroic 376-run stand with VVS Laxman against Australia in Eden Gardens, Kolkata in the second Test of the 2000-01 Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Both times, the “hero” was not him. Ganguly with his 183 in 158 deliveries was the Man of the Match against Sri Lanka. No one will dare to forget Laxman’s knock of 281 in THAT Test Match. What was that bit about second fiddle again?
Dravid even went ahead to say Laxman’s innings made him feel inadequate, embarrassed even. Typical of him. To take nothing away from either Ganguly or Laxman but it took two to tango and if the Wall wasn’t being the Wall in each innings, history would have been very different surely.
I discovered like the rest of the world how there was more to mere batting artistry that made Rahul Dravid the legend that he is. He defined in every sense what being a ‘team player‘ is all about. Whether being shuffled up and down the batting order, keeping wickets to accommodate an extra batsman in the side, or even captaining a troubled team, Dravid was up to every challenge his side threw at him.
There is a class about Dravid’s cricket and character, you didn’t find lying loose everywhere. You won’t either for a long time to come.
Ever since the man called it a day, there has been a favorite idea of the online content folks on every birthday of Dravid’s – "Quotes on Rahul Dravid that make him great". Of course, there will be tributes. There better be. But there is just the one by Harsha Bhogle that sums up the cricketer and the man Dravid is – “The wolf who lived for the pack”. Oh boy, he did!
Happy birthday, Rahul Dravid. There will never be another like you.