Of all the things that Rahul Dravid can stake claim to, savagery is not one of them.
Yet, a few weeks back, he found himself on unfamiliar turf. If the sight was a tad bewildering, what ensued a little later was even more startling. In what can only be termed as a momentary lapse of reason, Rahul Dravid turned into an unwieldy mixture of Gilchrist, Sehwag and Jayasuria, striking 3 sixes in a row. The wall, age 38, being called upon to scale another wall – his first and last t20 international.
Great players allude to a style of play that becomes inseparable from their very being. While Laxman’s style is intertwined with sublime artistry, Tendulkar’s synonymous with mastery, Dravid excels at rigor. His innings are an essay in concentration, a sermon on effort and a testimony on patience, all woven into one. He grinds bowlers down until they stop bowling and start praying. In the last 15 years, his presence at the crease is reason enough to hope. A ‘not out’ against his name gives visions of lasting a full day on a pitch that behaves like it has had too much to drink. It was in the Adelaide test in 2003 when he didn’t have to watch the winning runs being scored from someone else’s bat on a foundation laid by him.
If Kolkata 2001 embodies one of test cricket’s showcase innings courtesy Laxman, Dravid’s 183 in the same innings goes unheralded. In the recently concluded series, which was arguably an embodiment of test cricket at its worse, his 3 centuries reaffirmed a resolve to transcend circumstance.
Captaincy is a double edged sword and his short but turbulent reign gave India series wins in England and West Indies. No mean feat, but his captaincy will always find itself ensconced in our memories for the world cup that never was. In hindsight, he was leading a team torn apart by a megalomaniac coach, who was recently (and fittingly) shown the door by his own countrymen.
It wasn’t as if his game was reserved for the graces of test match cricket and not the vicissitudes of the shorter format. Maybe his 334 one day international (ODI) appearances are to be considered an aberration, his 10000 runs in ODI’s not to be taken seriously, just figures he conjured up while the selectors were furiously searching for an ODI specialist.
A side that strode to England hoping that the scoreboard would favour pedigree and not preparation learned their lesson. When it was felt that he no longer added value to the ODI team, he was unceremoniously shown the door. What was the need to recall him then? Why didn’t they turn to any of the fly-by-night whiz kids, in whose names paeans of praise were being sung after they found fame in a haze of cheerleaders and oversized paycheques? Where did all the faces and voices, drunk on the success of a world cup win in home conditions go when the ball started swinging and the pitches didn’t lend themselves to unrealistic scores? Nobody daresay but they unhesitatingly found the right person to go to.
Rahul Dravid’s chequered career, ironically, is replete with the many barriers he had to surmount. From being boxed into the role of being a test specialist to being the highest scorer in the 1999 world cup, to accumulating a near insurmountable mountain of runs in the shorter format. From being an unassuming affable chap to assuming one of Indian cricket’s most thankless jobs. From donning the batting gloves to donning the keeper’s gloves, sitting on his hunches for 50 overs to allow the team to field an extra batsman. From considering retirement to being recalled to save a team’s inevitable slide, all for a format he was so unceremoniously shown the door from. From seeing off the new ball to seeing a tail ender through, just as the vestiges of sunlight was making its way for twilight to set in.
And through all of this, he unassumingly surmounted the greatest wall of all – the one that separates players from legends.
PS: This piece was written after India’s tour to England in 2011