So on Friday, March 9, 2012, Rahul Dravid will call it a day to end an illustrious career at the very top level. I can safely say that I haven’t watched the first ball or the last ball (If he is not going to play a farewell series) of this journey, but many in between and that’s a given thing considering he is the batsman who has faced most balls in the history of Test cricket. I know I am nobody to analyze his career or even pay tributes to him but i think the time is right for me to just go down in memory lane as somebody who had cricket in all my life as as a constant companion.
When Dravid started out, Indian cricket was still coming to terms with that dark day at the Eden Gardens. So that Lord’s debut by the Prince and his deputy (I think you know who’s who here) must have been a refreshing sight for the cricket fans. 95 on debut and If my memory serves me right a series of well crafted half centuries followed. I don’t know whether they used that word ‘nervous 90’s’ back then but I was made to believe that Rahul Dravid had some serious mental blocks getting to that magical 3 figure mark. Thank god, there was no one to cheekily suggest to him to hit a six when on 94.
Then came the hundred and it was against a very decent bowling unit (mind you, a lot existed back then) at the Johannesburg. I was not into the finer nuances of the game then (only 9 years old!) but one striking feature was his pulling and I can infer now that he had a better than most horizontal bat shots in his array. In the One day series that followed, Rahul showed us that he can take on the best in the business and talk the talk if necessary during that match up with Allan Donald.
By the second season of his international career, He was given a label. No, “The Wall” came much later in the script. Informally he was given the tag of the ultimate defensive batsman who is there to help you save matches and occasionally help you get enough sleep without any pills. Some of his one day international knocks in fact did cry out some “Need for Speed” but he did play some good knocks even then like this one in that Saeed Anwar match.
If ever there was a ‘turning the corner’ moment in his carer, for me it has to be the 1999 World Cup in England. The love affair with the English pastures just got better.Two back to back centuries in the league stages, although both were to be second fiddles were an eye opener for all those who criticized his limited over skills. In that Innings at Taunton, Dravid was the aggressor initially by all accounts and I still remember those back to back boundaries of Pramodya Wickramasinghe. There are not many batsmen who managed to hit Murali Inside out against the turn over cover for six. He did that day. 445 runs and the top scorer of the event. Not bad for a player who couldn’t get the ball off the square.
What followed was an era in Indian cricket that I doubt will ever be matched in terms of the quality of batsmanship Apart from that horror trip down under 1999-00, the new millennium gave Indian batting a new dimension. The 2001 home series against the Aussies proved to be the catalyst. The mighty Aussies were made to fight for every inch and in the end they were humbled. I don’t have to say anything more about the Kolkata chapter, all were already said. Recently when he made a hundred at the Eden against the West Indies, he spoke fondly about the atmosphere of the place back in the 90’s and he lamented the lack spectators these days. This is Rahul Dravid, the man who has his heart in the right place and cricket in the right place inside that heart.
He was virtually getting a hundred or more every series and his numbers in both the formats were shooting up. Then India went to England ready for a fight. As the tour went on the Indian middle order was getting stronger and that showed in the results. Who can forget that massive gamble by Sourav on a green top at Leeds and the hundreds by our big 3. When India won the math, I was expecting Sachin to collect the Man of the Match as he was the top scorer, but it was given to Rahul considering the way he handled the hostile conditions on day 1. At that time many Indians including me would have cringed but it did teach me that this Test cricket is more than what you see from the outside.
Then came Adelaide, then Rawalpindi and others. Truly he had become “The Wall”. At that stage of his career there was a fluidity to his batting as he could play risk free cricket and still score quickly enough to set up wins for India. In fact he brought up his hundred at Adelaide thorough a six of Gillespie. He was no more the man who plays the support cast he was the main man, the one wicket the opposition always craved for. Tennis elbow and all sorts of other ailments to the master supported that belief. Naturally, he was given the Captaincy when Sourav broke up with Greg Chappel. Some very impressive results were achieved at home. India won for the first time in 35 years in West Indies. But the enduring image of Dravid’s captaincy period was unfortunately another one from the Caribbean in that WC debacle of 2007,after India were knocked out by the Srilankans.
2007 was the year of changes in Indian cricket. MS Dhoni took charge and from then on Dravid was being looked upon as a test match specialist. To be fair, his performances were not of the high standard that he had set during the hey days. Although the 2011 English summer indicated of a return to vintage times, Some nasty Aussie quicks were smart enough to find even the smallest of cracks in the wall and repeatedly expose them. Yes that’s it. Dravid realized that it’s time to move on. He now knows that won’t be able to add any more fairy tale to the history books of Indian cricket. From a cricket fanatics perspective, I would like to believe that Dravid played his last Innings not on the pitch at the Adelaide Oval, but at the Bradman Oration where he as everyone expected gave the finest of speeches and showed us what cricket meant to him. The romance that he has with the game is something special. I won’t say cricket will be poorer without him, because you can never take cricket away from Rahul Dravid.