Members of the Indian team are treated as stars by the cricket loving public in the country while those who achieve high levels of success in the international arena attain the status of demigods. They are invariably the objects of adulation and people go out of their way to ensure the comforts of the icons. They seldom stand in queues, doors open automatically for them and their words are heard with reverence. In this scenario the picture of one of the legends of Indian cricket standing in a queue with other parents in the school where his son was studying, warmed the hearts of old-timers. The player involved refused to comment, obviously embarrassed that a photo, which was taken and posted in social media without his consent, had attracted public attention. To those who know him, the action was typical of Rahul Dravid, one of the all-time greats of the game.
One of a kind
Dravid has always been a very different cricketer, conducting himself with dignity on and off the field. He has seen himself as a human being first and his actions and behavior, both during his playing days and after that, emphasize this point. During the decade-and-a-half that he represented the country, there had been no occasion when one had seen him make even a gesture in anger or annoyance. He had never shown any dissent against the decision of the umpires nor had he indulged in the types of gamesmanship that is practiced by almost all cricketers in the international circuit.
First, let us examine the profile of Dravid the player. With more than 24,000 runs against his name in international cricket, he remains one of the biggest run machines of all time. Out of this 13,288 runs were scored in Test matches at an average of 52.31. He has 36 Test centuries to his credit and his highest score of 270 places him just behind Virender Sehwag, Karun Nair and V V S Laxman, so far as highest individual scores by Indians are concerned. Though generally perceived to be not a natural for one-day cricket, Dravid nevertheless showed his class by accumulating 10,889 runs with 12 three- figure knocks in this version of the game. He was most prolific batsman in international cricket between 2001 and 2007 and is one of the few of his tribe who scored more runs abroad than at home. The 210 catches that he took, mostly standing in the slip cordon, make him the most successful catcher in Test cricket. During the early years of this century, he kept wickets in limited overs cricket, more to lend balance to the side and performed the job creditably.
The statistics detailed above would in normal circumstances have made its owner a prime national icon. However, it did not happen so in the case of Dravid as his career coincided with that of Sachin Tendulkar, who was definitely a more talented and popular player. Dravid himself once put it pithily “crowd actually feels happier when I get out early as they get a chance to watch Sachin bat that much sooner!”. But this should not, in any manner, detract the worth of Dravid for his side or his technical prowess. He was Indian cricket’s crisis man, one who could be expected to stick around gamely and deliver when the chips were down. His batting technique was built on classical lines and founded on firm defense, which helped him to score runs against all bowling attacks, irrespective of the weather and ground conditions. He played a vital role in all the important wins recorded by the national side during the first decade of this century. It was for this reason that he was nicknamed “The Wall” by his teammates.
Though Dravid’s highest Test score is the epic knock of 270 against Pakistan at Rawalpindi in 2004, his best innings was played at Adelaide in December, 2003. Against an Australian attack that had India on the mat at 85 for four, Dravid played a superlative innings of 233 and with the support of Laxman (148) took the visitors to 523 in reply to the home side's first innings total of 556. In the second innings when India, chasing a target of 230, were under pressure, it was Dravid (72 not out) who again played the role of a sheet anchor to guide his side to a four-wicket win. The pair of Laxman and Dravid had earlier, in February 2001, scripted one of the greatest fightbacks in Test history at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, and forced Aussies to eat humble pie after enjoying a first innings lead of 274 runs.
England was a favorite hunting ground for Dravid; he scored three centuries each in Test matches during the tours of 2002 and 2011, with 217 scored at the Oval in 2002 being the highest score. It is a tribute to his technical brilliance and sound temperament that Dravid could score centuries in all Test playing nations of the world, a feat that has since been achieved by Younis Khan of Pakistan.
Dravid’s greatness as a cricketer is not defined by his performances in the field of play alone. He ploughed a very different path from the very beginning and distinguished himself by his innate decency and dignity with which he carried himself. His serious school boyish look and bright smile would have made him an advertiser’s dream but he chose to stay away from promoting products or causes other than ones that carried a message to the society at large. When Steve Waugh published his autobiography titled “Out of My Comfort Zone” in 2005, he chose Dravid to write the foreword, a gesture that showed the high regard that the Aussie legend had for him. In 2007, Dravid was asked by Times of India newspaper to act as their editor for one day, and he handled the task with class and finesse.
The greatest tribute to Dravid was the invitation by Australian Cricket Board to deliver the Don Bradman oration at Sydney in 2011. This was the first time that a person from outside Australia was invited to render the oration. After conducting meticulous and painstaking research, Dravid delivered a lecture that had the listeners spellbound not only on account of eloquence of the speaker but also by the range of topics covered and the crisp and cogent views expressed by him. It was an effort that made all of us proud to be Indians as Dravid won over the Australian public with his elegance and erudition.
One area where Dravid might have reasons for feeling disappointed when he looks back on his cricketing career would be his stint as captain of the national side. He was appointed as skipper on a full time basis by the selectors in 2005. He started out well with India winning 17 ODIs on the trot while chasing and clinching an away Test series against the West Indies. However, after this, the team got embroiled in a bitter fight between coach Greg Chappell and the senior players in the squad. Dravid was caught in between and could only watch helplessly as the performance of the side nosedived. It reached the nadir when India was knocked out of the 2007 ICC World Cup in the group stage itself. The sight of a shellshocked skipper brushing away a tear from his eye as the last Indian wicket fell against Sri Lanka, thus marking their exit from the championship, would remain forever in the minds of all who witnessed it.
Looking back, one finds it ironical that Dravid, who attained success as a batsman by placing reliance on classical defensive technique, is considered by many as a failure as captain, despite bringing a dash and flair to the job. The Test series win on two occasions on foreign soil, against the West Indies (2006) and England (2007), and the first ever Test victory against South Africa on their home turf show that Dravid had enjoyed a good run as skipper in Tests. His record in limited overs matches is also good though they get clouded by the World Cup debacle, the one big failure that he could do little to prevent. Finally, it reached a stage where he stopped enjoying being the captain and quit the post after the tour of England in 2007.
Dravid was unfortunate not to have been a member of a World Cup-winning side, despite taking part in three editions. He was the highest scorer in the 1999 World Cup and was the hard working deputy to Saurav Ganguly during the 2003 edition, when India reached the final. His career in limited overs cricket at the international level wound down to a close after the 2007 World Cup and though he played the occasional ODI, he was not in contention for a regular place in the side.
After bidding adieu to his playing days, Dravid volunteered to become the coach of the national under-19 side. This was a more challenging and less glamorous job than being the coach of the senior side; this was definitely less remunerative financially than assignments in the commentary box as well. He plunged into the job with the same amount of dedication and commitment that had marked his career as a player. In consultation with the chief selector Venkatesh Prasad, he decided that a player should not be given a chance to represent the country in more than one ICC U-19 World Cup. Thus the goal of cricket at junior level was clearly spelt out as one to groom the youngsters for graduating to the senior level. The selected players were given the required technical inputs by the coach, who also placed special emphasis on physical fitness and mental conditioning. The side reached New Zealand, the venue of the championship this year, well in advance to get acclimatized with the weather and pitches in that country. India dominated the tournament and won the trophy in style, outplaying all the opponents who came their way.
The World Cup win by his wards would have been a highly satisfying one for Dravid, the coach. Though it cannot be compared with the ICC World Cup, this victory would have helped to get over the disappointment of not being part of a side that lifted the most sought after trophy in international cricket. This could also have been providence’s way of making up for the chagrin he had to suffer during his tenure as captain.
Dravid is the perfect role model for all aspiring sportspersons in our country. He has shown that a person with average talent can reach the very top by the dint of sheer hard work and complete dedication to the task. He also retained interest in matters outside the game and utilized the opportunities he got for evolving into a complete human being. Humility and honesty have remained Dravid's defining traits despite his many years in international cricket and the success that has come his way. He was the ultimate team man, willing to bat at any place in the order, including opening the innings and even keeping the wickets in limited overs matches to ensure balance for the side. No other cricketer has toiled so much for the game in the country, both during his playing days and after. Dravid would remain forever the Timeless Steel of Indian cricket, one whose strength and character would never diminish.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)