Saturday, March 10, 2012

The last of his kind

He called a press conference on a sunny afternoon at Chinnaswamy Stadium..One hour later,he was gone.No fuss, no frenzy. In the days leading up to this public announcement, he had made it a point to reach out to everyone who made a difference in his cricketing life. Gavaskar,Tendulkar et al. Symptomatic of the grace and stature of the man.

Meet Rahul Sharad Dravid..The hero's best friend, for 16 years..Dravid was bloody good, heck he is an all time great. But he never felt the need to tell. He never gelled his hair, never acted like a casanova, never made obscene gestures after a test match hundred. Sophisticated he was, but classy.

Mothers heat and eat previous night's rice from the refrigerator. They never force others in the family to do so. Dravid was the same. He took many bullets for the team. His answer was always a YES. "I want to win the World cup, will you keep wickets?". "I want to accommodate Yuvraj at 6, will you open?". "Youngsters are not good enough at short leg, could you?" Quintessential team man. Declaring when SRT was at 194 in Multan was totally on. He reasoned that India needed wickets that night. When you practice what you preach, you are not culpable.

Dravid fought and polarized public opinion all the time, during his long career. They said he couldn't play One day cricket because he couldn't rotate strike. Dravid worked real hard on his game. 10000 ODI runs later, we know who should be smiling. He could slog for the team too. He has one of the fastest 50s in ODI's. Neat, for someone who swears by the text book.
They then said he was not a good fit for Twenty20 cricket. He batted 3 and 6 for RCB and very successfully at that. Why, one season, he was his team's best player on view. Hard work/work ethic was his forte. Often times, he was the first batsman to bat in the nets. His enthusiasm to hit balls in the nets belied belief for a man touching 40.

Dravid, on the face of it, did not have the recipe for success in a cricket mad country like India. He was no show pony, he couldn't make news by creating a drunken stupor..Superstar you needed to be to make it big and he wasn't. Importantly, even after 2 or 3 years of Dravid in the Indian team during the 90's, not many kids wanted to become a Rahul Dravid. Ganguly YES, Tendulkar YES, Dravid why? His unrelenting performances over the past 16 years have now registered. There are kids waiting to become Rahul Dravid now.

An endearing quality in Dravid was that his greatness was palpable. You knew you could become a Rahul Dravid with sheer determination, focus, intensity and a good amount of ability. Destiny's child he certainly wasn't. He was the working class hero, not a magician that answers to the initials SRT.

When Dravid made his debut, Sachin Tendulkar was a superstar already. When he leaves today in 2012, no one is flabbergasted if the word Dravid is uttered in the same sentence as Tendulkar. Some achievement, that.

Two things I wish he had done differently? One, he did not quit before England in 2011. Yes, he ended up making 3 hundreds in the UK, but it was pretty clear he was on his last legs. Mohali 2008 was a new lease of life. Expecting two re-births was one too many. That a thinking, intellectual cricketer did not figure out the right time to go left a bit of a sour taste in the mouth.
Second, he did not leave on a cricket field, in whites, there by robbing us the chance to celebrate him and maybe shed a tear. These are minor blips in a fascinating journey.

Rainy day, Indian captain loses toss and is put in to bat. India lose flashy openers and are 20/3.. Rahul Dravid was born for this situation. And he is the last of his kind.

Brett Lee summed it up when he said "If you cannot get along with Rahul Dravid, you are struggling in life"..
Thank you Rahul. Thank you for the enchanting memories. Thank you to the thorough gentleman we learned to love.