Rahul Dravid. The Wall. With a counting ticker of runs that will tick no more.
I have a very weird association with Rahul Sharad Dravid. I was a child when he made his debut in 1996. Over that period in late-1990s, a lot of girls became instantaneous fan of this new chocolate boy in the Indian cricket team. My sister was one of them, and she even bought a couple of posters of him to put up on the walls of our shared room. As an irksome brother, it was my moral duty to counter any action of my sister!
So I responded by cutting a large newspaper print poster of Sourav Ganguly and sticking it in my cupboard. Had my sister not been almost six years older than I was, I might well have stuck the Ganguly cut-out over the Dravid poster. For the record, I was a bigger fan of Sachin Tendulkar (back then and now), but Ganguly was the more immediate contemporary of Dravid then.
For a period of about a year during 1998-99, my sister went to the USA and allowed me the chance of watching Rahul Dravid’s cricket with a more objective eye. It also helped that it was about the time when I had started understanding cricket better and started following it more passionately. And most importantly, in that span of time, Dravid played some glorious knocks. I watched some of them live, followed some of them over print media, and gradually came to the opinion that this man is a promising cricketer – a great one in the making.
I remember that century in each innings performance at Hamilton early in 1999 against New Zealand that I had followed in the newspaper and over 7 pm Doordarshan news, when the news was about half-a-day old. It was the first time an Indian had managed such a feat since Sunil Gavaskar had done it (for the third time) late in 1978. And then I also remember that incredible run in the World Cup 1999 in England where he ended up as the highest run-scorer of all. Those two back-to-back centuries against Kenya (Bristol) and Sri Lanka (Taunton) are also remembered, despite the fact that he was not the highest run-scorer for the team in either of those two innings! He scored his top-4 ODI scores in the year 1999, and 6 of his 12 career ODI tons.
Late in 1999, he scored his only 150+ score in an ODI, only to be outscored by a teammate yet again. Some would say ‘the story of his career’! I disagree… I say it was a storyline that threatened to become his tale before he changed the script completely. He may have been outscored yet again by teammates during his 2001 knocks against Australia of 180 (Kolkata second innings) and 81 (Chennai first innings), but those contributions were recognised very well for they well worth their weight in gold. I remember listening to Hindi radio commentary about the emotional gestures that he made on reaching that hundred at Eden Gardens, and thinking that the commentator must have gone nuts!
The next time after that innings that I remember Dravid showing any emotions on the cricket field was flashing a simple smile after pulling Waqar Younis for a four to seal an Indian win over Pakistan in the World Cup 2003. But before that comes that 2002 tour of England – a tour that elevated Dravid as a member-elect of the pantheon of Indian batting legends – a membership that he confirmed with that knock of 233 (and another 72* for good measure) at Adelaide a year and a half later. During this time, he even kept wickets for India in the ODI squad and was the rock on which Ganguly built the church called Team India.
He has scored many brilliant knocks since then, including his highest Test score of 270 against Pakistan at Rawalpindi in 2004 in the Third Test of the three-Test series locked at 1-1. But for me, like many others, nothing would ever beat Leeds 2002 and Adelaide 2003.
He won the ICC Cricketer of the Year Award in its inaugural year with great performances that continued up to 2006. He even acquired the captaincy of the Indian cricket team in that period. And that was my biggest problem with the career of Rahul Dravid. He led India to Test series wins in the West Indies (2006) and England (2007), and even led over a streak of 18 consecutive ODI wins while batting second... but I never thought him to be as good a successor to Sourav Ganguly's captaincy as would have been ideal. For some explicable as well as inexplicable reasons that I don't want to venture into at the moment, I did not believe he was a very good 'captaincy material'. That is purely my opinion, and quite possibly, it is in someway influenced by India's performance in the World Cup 2007.
In respect of his captaincy alone, the words of Mark Antony said at Julius Caesar's funeral in the great Shakespearean play seem quite apt: "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." So let it be with Dravid!
When his form dipped through 2007 and later years, and when his runs came only against Bangladesh, New Zealand and Sri Lanka (at home), I did feel that he should have retired back then. Arguably, he managed to keep his place only due to the fact that the rest of the team was able to perform well and dare I say it, 'carry' him. It allowed him a chance for one final resurgence that began in the West Indies and continued to England in 2011. Though it was not a good time for the team, Rahul Dravid batted like the Rahul Dravid of yesteryears.
The failures of the Indian team over 2011 and 2012, as well as Dravid's own failures from 2007 to 2010, will take nothing away from the fact that he is indeed amongst the best Indian batsmen that have ever played the game - and it is quite a list! As he bid farewell today and my Twitter timeline went dewy-eyed with the announcement, it was time to sit back and reflect on what has been a wonderful era for Indian cricket. Now, only two cogs remain from the giant wheel that helped roll Indian cricket forward over the last decade... and this latest cog to call it a day has well and truly deserved his name to be spoken with respect and dignity!
Thank you Rahul Dravid for your contribution to Indian cricket, and wish you the very best for all your future ventures!