It takes a Rahul Dravid to do it; no, not winning the World Cup – that’s relatively easy. It takes a Rahul Dravid to hold a room full of excited adults and bubbly World Cup winners spellbound. His sideburns have greyed, a thin wrinkle cuts through the right side of his face in perfect symmetry as he speaks, his voice is weighed down by its own gravitas, his words are eagerly lapped up. And did I mention his smile? Well, it reduced the wizened lady next to me to a gawky, starry-eyed teenager.
It is tough being Dravid. It’s tougher to be in his company.
Because he can show you a mirror without so much as using words to get his point across. Here’s how. He is the seniormost member of the squad that has just landed with a World Cup but he chooses not to lead the triumphant squad. He greets Saba Karim, his former India colleague, with a warm hug and disappears somewhere in the sea of blue unless he is called upon for a group photograph. That’s after the first round of photos are done away with.
He doesn’t sit in front, deciding instead to stand in the back row, his favoured zone. He doesn’t touch the trophy. There’s a discernable layer of lipid around his once wafer-thin waist, but it does little to diminish his grace that has clearly grown with his advancing years. The popped-out veins on the forearms and at the base of biceps suggest he still sometimes lifts weights.
He is articulate, lithe in manner and thoughts, and easy on ears to the extent that you don’t want him to stop. He candidly admits he can’t keep pace with the Facebook-Instagram generation of cricketers. He endears.
Like I said, it’s tougher being in Dravid’s company.
On an evening meant to celebrate the success of the team he coached, Dravid tossed off congratulations like dust off his shoulders. When asked to reflect on his satisfaction, he passed all credit to his wards with the alacrity of a No 10 on a football field.
“I think the real satisfaction, in my opinion, is the whole process that was followed over the past 14-16 months. Just the whole preparation and planning that has gone into, not necessarily this World Cup, but in developing these Under-19 players over the past 14-16 months. I would say we put in place some good processes,” he said.
“The work done by the support staff, the quality of people that we had in our support staff was absolutely brilliant. That was again something that gave me a lot of satisfaction. We put together a really good team with these boys. The selectors, the NCA, I think all of this was a great teamwork. The work behind the scenes, the BCCI setting up games, setting up series. I think when you have a dominant win like this, you get a Cup like this, it’s a very good reflection of a lot of stuff that happens and I think that gives me a lot of satisfaction.”
Not surprisingly, he is the darling of the teenaged lot. They shouted behind him hysterically when he was being interviewed after winning the World Cup. They sat in rapt attention and perceptible admiration as he put across his thoughts with trademark perspicuity. But above all else, they perhaps got their first share of celebrity.
There was some coyness, of course. But that was taken over by the eagerness to be seen and heard. Shubman Gill, the Man of the Tournament and man of the moment, fronted up to beaming cameras and jutting microphones with his hands behind his back like a schoolboy, but his thoughts came out with the maturity of a professor.
There was humility too – that unheralded trait in modern-day cricketers – as he started each sentence with a Punjabi-infused Sirji, never mind if it was a lady posing questions.
A quiet young boy who likes to let his bat do the talking, Gill scored a memorable century against Pakistan in the semi-final, and let out an uncharacteristic, expletive-laden war cry. Here’s the reason.
“When I went to bat against Pakistan, some Pakistan players were sledging, which I had expected. I knew itna chalega. As we started losing wickets, they began to sledge more. I think it was all those emotions that came out,” he said.
The camaraderie that comes with staying together as a close-knit unit for a year-and-a-half was visible, and Gill admitted there were a few choked voices when the group realised it was the time to part.
"After our final, we had to go to the Auckland airport. Before leaving, we had one last team meeting. Everyone got a bit emotional that day; who knows if we will ever play together, if we will ever get together… everyone was a bit emotional then," he said.
Far from such poignancy, Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi, two teenagers who had the world hopping and ducking with their blistering pace, were causing a mini-stampede among journalists; players that young and possessing that pace are sure to do that.
“I didn’t know I could bowl that fast,” Nagarkoti admitted, sheepishly.
“My speeds had never been measured before, maybe once in England. That’s when I came to know I could ball that fast.”
Aggression has different connotations for different people. Matthew Hayden once famously reckoned aggression is what one sees in Rahul Dravid’s eyes. Dravid’s fast-bowling wards think it’s also what comes out of one’s mouth.
“Yeah, we did some sledging. We sledged the Australians and the Pakistanis,” Nagarkoti said.
“It’s important to be aggressive, to show others that you mean business. You can’t just go back to your run-up after being hit for four,” Ishan Porel, who took four wickets in the semi-final and two in the final, said.
The challenge for this World Cup-winning lot, however, starts now, and Dravid was realistic in his expectations.
“During the World Cup, they showed re-runs of the earlier finals. They showed the re-run of the 2012 final. The result of the final will tell you that India beat Australia. Six years down the line, only one of those boys has played a couple of one-day games for India. Four-five of the Australians have gone on to play for Australia. More of their guys have played first-class cricket,” he said.
“Hard work begins for them and for us as well, how do we treat these boys over the next few years. A lot of them may not play for India, which can happen. But at least if they can go on to become good first-class cricketers, it will be great.”
For a man who represented India in three World Cups without lifting one, a World Cup winner’s medal does provide catharsis; the proverbial circle completing itself. Turns out Dravid wears that disappointment with remarkable equanimity.
“Not lifting the World Cup is not a pain for me anymore. I have long retired. I don’t carry around a pain or something. My cricket career is over. I have been around a long time and I have had disappointments in my career, not lifting the World Cup was not the only one. I have had many successes as well, and I have no regrets. This is a completely different thing. I am happy for these boys. I am very realistic about the impact we, as a support staff, have had on them. The credit is entirely to these players.”
One can’t possibly disagree.