It was 15th January of 1999 and we were celebrating ‘Vasi-Uttarayan’ at Chintan’s Nani’s place. India had just finished a three-test series against New Zealand and Rahul Dravid, was the best batsman for India. He had scored two wonderful centuries at Hamilton in the last test and saved the test for India. Something he repeated on numerous occasions for the next 13 years. Salil, my friend and an underrated cricket talent himself was telling me, “Rahul Dravid is the find of the tour” but soon we started talking about Sourav Ganguly’s flamboyant century in the same Hamilton test. That was the summary of Dravid’s career till 2001. He was the most reliable and the most consistent batsman of the side but was always overshadowed by Tendulkar’s legendary status and by Ganguly’s glamour.
Rahul Dravid is the second highest run scorer in the test history. According to many he is the second best batsman of the modern era after Sachin Tendulkar, and that has been his fate always, or definitely was so for the first half of his career. He was always the second best. Even when he was the best, he was the second best. It started with his debut. He played a gem of an innings at Lords and missed a century by five runs and followed it with a flawless eighty at Old Trafford. But another Test Debutant Sourav Ganguly scored two centuries in the same consecutive tests and Rahul was the second best. Dravid was a master of defence. He valued his wicket. Unfortunately that led to him being tagged, quite unjustifiably, as slow or a ‘test’ batsman. Had Sourav Ganguly not insisted on him using as Wicket Keeper, he might even have lost his place in the one-day squad.
But Rahul Dravid never complained. He symbolized grit and determination. He just hung on. He kept playing beautiful match saving silent knocks in every condition. If there was one game which served as tipping point that made converted India from a decent side to a champion side it was Kolkata test, 2001. After following on India were still trailng by 44 runs and had already lost 4 wickets. And Rahul Dravid went out to bat at no.6. He had to vacate his favourite no.3 position for in-form batsman VVS Laxman. Dravid joined Laxman in the middle and what followed is history. Dravid made an impeccable 180. Once again he was overshadowed by 281 by VVS Laxman – One of the greatest innings in the history of the game. After this series Dravid established himself as the most reliable batsman of the squad and the year 2003/04 placed him among the greatest batsmen of Indian cricket. In the successful tours to Australia and Pakistan (where he even captained the side in two tests) Dravid played a big role. In fact his innings of 233 at Adelaide not only proved to be match winning but sowed seeds of confidence and courage that later Indian sides showed overseas.
He had all the qualities to be a great leader. He was well respected, he was a fantastic performer and he had a deep understanding of the game. Unfortunately his tenure as captain coincided with one of the controversial coaches that India had had, Greg Chappel. But even during such a tumultuous period he didn’t allow his batting to suffer. In fact his two half centuries at Sabina Park Kingston not only got India a victory but inspired Brian Lara to remark that it was the finest piece of test batting that he had seen.
Rahul Dravid has been so consistent over years that it’s difficult to remember a lean patch of his. His brilliance lies in the fact that he always looked comfortable while batting. He succeeded where everybody else failed. His posture and stance with eyes oozing determination and the left elbow with an outward kink were a symbol of graft. His technique was so sound that even when he faced the first delivery of the innings it looked as if he had been there for hours. In the age of shortening attention spans and increasing influence of T20 cricket, he protected value of grit and technique.
Long back Kapil Dev used to present a series called ‘Different Strokes’ where he interviewed a young Rahul Dravid. By the end of the interview Kapil Dev asked him, “You were a good student in school. You were the best in cricket. You were a nice kid at home. How is it possible? How can anyone be perfect in everything?” Rahul Dravid had just smiled in response. But that’s what Rahul Dravid has been for all of us all these years. A great batsman, a gentleman cricketer, a fantastic team player and a humble individual. We may get better batsmen than him in future, but will there be another gentleman like him?
Thank you Rahul. Thanks a lot!