Rahul Dravid made old school fascinating.
Without him, Indian cricket would lose its last link to classical cricket.
Sachin Tendulkar goes back two decades but he is more of a modern-day cricketer in approach and attitude. Rahul clearly represented another age, another worldview and another mindset. If Sachin played the agent of change in Indian cricket by redefining the art of batting, Rahul emphatically asserted the value of the simple and the pure. He revived, for some reason, nostalgic memories of another era. With his farewell to cricket that connection with the past snaps.
Rahul was not made for the cricket consumer — the present day fan of the game; he was made for the genuine cricket lover, the connoisseur. As he walks into the sunset, be sure, not many would miss him. But for those madly in love with the brand of cricket he represented, his absence would be irreparable. At loss with the manic energy and mindlessness of new age made-for-the consumer cricket already, it is likely that some would stop watching cricket altogether. Life won’t be the same for them ever without the sobering, reassuring presence of Rahul.The cricket bat in his hands never turned into a magic wand, like it did in case of Sachin, Virender Sehwag – both exceptionally gifted players. The two make cricket unreal when they get going, too simple and too devoid of challenges. Rahul made cricket real — never a walk in the park. As he dug his heels in at the crease, blunting the deadliest attacks with loads of patience and wearing the opposition down in the protracted war of nerves, he made people realise it is a tough game. It required application, technique and grit, not flamboyance.
They don’t make players like him anymore. The game has taken several evolutionary leaps since he took guard for the nation 16 years ago. It has turned fast and furious. It has become a product of the market fine-tuned to cater to thrill lust of the consumer-fan. Players are more a product of statistics than quality. We are in an era where strike rate of the batters are more important than their ability to withstand quality bowling; where greatness is accumulated in denomination of sixes and fours, not in hard-run singles or twos. But he straddled different genres of the game with remarkable calm.
After the IPL-isation of cricket, he should have been redundant. It is also interesting that, the man cut out for Test cricket only, lasted this long in One-Day cricket. That he was around so long, playing old school cricket, grafting his runs and still walking with his head high, is amazing. There have been several calls for his scalp — with his style of cricket, he is always the soft target for critics. But he survived well, re-emphasising the point over and over that true value has no replacement and class can have no substitute.
“There can be one and only one Rahul Dravid,’’ said Sachin about Rahul. This is one great complementing another. Sachin should know. Both have shared the burden of the team for so long, both have been fellow travellers in Indian cricket’s roller-coaster journey close to two decades. There has to be something special about the man.
He faced 31,189 balls in his career, the highest by any cricketer. The import of it would be difficult to grasp for many of the recent-day followers of the game. It speaks of character. It takes incredible courage — and skill, of course – to stand there and brave it out. In his 94 Tests abroad he averaged 53.03. No small feat this. His contribution in winning causes is close to 60 percent. These are the numbers that matter in the team game, not the fancy ones like strike rate, which his detractors often used to nail him. Rahul was the ultimate team man — low key, reticent, the perennial bridesmaid, but still the perfect team man.
When he bowed out, it was with great dignity and poise, like his batting itself. His retirement was bereft of drama — he did not wait for that ritual final lap around the ground in front of an applauding crowd and mushy farewell speeches. It helped that he was a cerebral cricketer, unlike most sportsmen in the country.
Was he the greatest in the country? With Sachin Tendulkar not in the picture, he would have invited direct comparison with Sunil Gavaskar and come up a few notches higher than the Little Master. But comparing different eras is a stupid exercise. Rahul himself would have hated it. Now, he would be happy to be what he is, Rahul Dravid.
For us, he would always be the man who made old school cricket fascinating. After him cricket would survive but it would that touch of rare class.