On an overcast August day in the year 2002 at Headingly, Leeds, Sourav Ganguly won the toss and, much to the bewilderment of experts and laymen alike, choose to bat. The skeptics seemed to be justified in their dissent with such a move when the explosive Virender Sehwag perished after notching up eight measly runs. When the naysayers were wrinkling their noses and rubbing their hands, out strode Rahul Dravid wrapped in a jumper to ward off the biting cold and also with a clear mandate to thwart an upbeat and encouraged English attack. What followed next was an unbelievable story to revel in and to store for posterity. In the company of a brave but inexperienced Sanjay Bangar, Dravid provided an exhilarating and exemplary exhibition of the art of facing, and equally the art of leaving a cricket ball! Swing, seam and spin were negotiated with equal equanimity and sharply-rearing deliveries were either played with soft hands or allowed to thud into the body. When his epic innings finally terminated at a gritty 148, it was a job admirably well done and a job that provided an assurance of victory.
Cricketing greats have graced this pristine game with factors and attributes that have been their prerogative. While players such as the legendary Sir Vivian Richards, and the famous fast bowling quartet of the West Indies evoked a fear factor in the opponents, class acts such as Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara instilled a sense of awe amongst competitors and comrades alike. With Dravid it is the singularly unique factor of assurance that has endeared him to millions of admirers across the globe. An assurance that the broad blade will come down upon delivery after delivery with candour, courage and conviction; an assurance that once he has marked his guard, the crease will be his for the taking for an inordinately prolonged duration; an assurance that deliveries pitched just millimeters outside the off-stump would not be met by a fishing willow, but by a broad opening up of the arms or by an expansive leave; an assurance that the players in the dressing room can put up their legs, relax and enjoy the beautiful technique of batting; an assurance that magnificent and mediocre bowling would be meted out the same treatment and the respect which they respectively deserve; an assurance that the crouch at slips would invariably result in a safe poaching of a ball that has ended its fleeting tryst with an edge; an assurance that the need for a specialist glove-man can be compensated with a makeshift, but honest wicket-keeper to accommodate the proverbial extra batsman or bowler!
The sight of Rahul Dravid pressing down his helmet to allow a rivulet of accumulated sweat to stream down has now become part of the cricketing folklore. Possessing unbelievable amounts of concentration (a fact which would be wholeheartedly endorsed by an army of fatigued bowlers around the world), Dravid has more often than not been an insurance against catastrophe for India. Reveling in moments of crisis, he has on innumerable occasions put his hand up and ensured that his team wriggles out of a seemingly impossible entanglement. He has also put up his hand with a willow in it to acknowledge adulation and applause on many a memorable occasion. Instances of Dravid warming the cockles of a plethora of hearts with his staggering deeds are too numerous to recount. And his heroics with VVS Laxman – his perpetrator-in-crime at the Eden Gardens and at the Adelaide Oval – represent stuff that legends are made of.
It is also totally unnecessary to either sing his paeans or account for his accomplishments as doing so would merely mean stating the obvious. He has also distinguished himself severely as a gentlemanly cricketer and a great ambassador of the game by always exhibiting an impeccable behaviour both on and off the field – an added assurance that controversies and chaos would never ever be part of a repertoire of flowing drives, controlled pulls and delectable cuts. A purist’s delight and a purveyor of the textbook style of batting, Dravid’s tenures at the crease have more often than not been a reflection of the resilience of a Rocky Balboa, the intuitiveness of an Inspector John Rebus and the instinct of a Holmes (Sherlock and not Percy!). It is a moot point to ponder as to whether Rahul Dravid would have been the best batsman India has ever produced, but for the simple presence of a phenom going by the name of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Even with a bounty of laurels to his credit, it would not be an exaggeration to state that this unassuming and formidable cricketer has spent the best part of his career under the shadows of the illustrious Mumbaikar, and has on more occasions than one been relegated to being an unsung hero.
Being the human that he is, Dravid has also not been bereft of the attendant frailties and flaws. Though a keen and avid reader of the game, this great student has not able to metamorphose into a master. As a captain and a leader of men, even though not an abject failure, Dravid has not matched up to the standards of either an aggressive Ganguly or an astute Mahendra Singh Dhoni. A controversial declaration leaving Tendulkar stranded on 194 against Pakistan irked an entire nation and made for a stirring debate. In the shorter version of the game, Dravid has copped criticism (at times unjustified and unfair) for not having the ability to up the ante when needed. The non-selection from the historic World Cup winning squad of 2011 must have hurt his pride no end. However, frailties and imperfect contradictions play a vital role in enhancing the perspective about an individual and in unearthing his/her real characteristic traits.
The man who narrowly missed scoring a century on debut at the Mecca of cricket, has indeed come a long way. An unwavering determination, an unflappable temperament and an unbelievable technique spanning more than a decade and a half represents a selfless service to Indian cricket. This messianic cricketer, who abhorred flamboyance and flourish for effectiveness and efficacy, has now decided that the time has come to bid farewell to the game. The famed assurance factor now has found a permanent place in the cricketing hall of fame.
Maybe Dravid decided that it was time when many a delivery mischievously found a gap in a defence, hitherto impregnable, to kiss the stumps; maybe he felt that the ball bouncing off his once ”as-safe-as-a-house” hands was an indicator that a different professional career was on the anvil; or maybe the great man sincerely felt that he had given enough of his blood, sweat and tears for the cause of the game. Whatever the reason, only a cricketing illiterate would dispute the fact that Dravid has done enough and more for the game which he has dearly loved and lived. The sight of this fascinating batsman striding in to bat at the position which he has made his own, along with the likes of Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis will now be one for the archives. However, in a queer way, even while departing from the game, the illustrious Dravid has left behind an assurance factor; an assurance that perhaps he is the only one of his kind – with none before and none to follow.
The redoubtable ‘Wall’ might have been battered, bruised and bleached, but it has always given an assurance and stood by it that it would never ever be broken down. And as it has finally decided to shift itself from the view of many a relieved bowler, every single brick therein stands unblemished with pride, passion and dignity!
Rahul Sharad Dravid, Thank you!