Failure is not a word you would associate with Rahul Dravid. The stylish batsman, who racked up 13,288 runs in Tests besides a 10,889 runs in ODIs, is indisputably a legend, who is now starting to leave his mark as a coach too.
Yet, when he took the stage at the GoSports Foundation Athletes Conclave 2017 at Bengaluru on Friday, failure was precisely the adjective he chose to describe himself to a roomful of athletes, many of them Olympians and Paralympians.
"Back in my time, a half century was considered a good score. Across formats, I batted 604 times for India. I didn't cross 50 runs 410 times out of those innings.
"I failed a lot more times than I succeeded. I'm more a failure than a success, So, I'm quite qualified to talk about failure," Dravid announced, forcing athletes to do a double-take.
Modesty, forever Dravid's trademark off the field, was not in short supply through the day at the event. Dravid said a biopic on his life would be "boring because in the first half of the movie, I will be on zero. And it's only in the second half, that I will get off the mark."
It was only a few hours ago that India's only individual gold medallist at the Olympics, Abhinav Bindra, had chosen to describe himself as a "lallu (ordinary) athlete" to an audience which had the likes of double Paralympic gold medallist Devendra Jhajharia, gymnast Dipa Karmakar, shuttler B Sai Praneeth among other athletes sponsored by the foundation.
Just like Bindra was trying to tell the room that an Olympic gold is attainable, Dravid was exhorting the athletes to embrace failure.
"Let's look at the best batsman of my generation: Sachin Tendulkar. He scored hundred 100s. But he didn't cross the 50-run milestone in 517 out of the 781 times he batted. So he too was more of a failure than a success, if that's even possible," the 44-year-old said.
Throughout his session — first the 15-minute speech he delivered extempore and then, a conversation with Managing Trustee of GoSports Foundation, Nandan Kamath — Dravid was keen to emphasise on why failing was necessary to grow as an athlete.
"One of the things that I picked up from the great players who I have played with, and the athletes I know, is their attitude towards failure. They know how to fail well. What's critical for me is that you can fail. You can take it badly, but you can also take it well. Taking it well is really important.
"A lot of times when we fail, we tend to brush things under the carpet, you can blame someone or always look to find an excuse. There's always something that was wrong that caused you to fail.
"But such attitude costs you an opportunity to fail well and understand what your weaknesses are. It robs you the chance to understand at that stage what are the skills that you have and what's lacking," he added.
Dravid peppered his talk with examples from his career, bringing up the famous Test of 2001 against Australia in Kolkata where he and VVS Laxman did the unthinkable. India had dug themselves into a deep hole on that occasion, staring at certain defeat as a first innings collapse left them at 232 for four after following on.
Dravid pointed out that when he walked in to bat that day, he had been demoted to sixth position in the batting line-up after a series of woeful performances. Australia's Steve Waugh even sledged him saying, "Today you're batting at No 6, if you fail, you could be No 12."
Dravid said that at that moment he didn't even have the mental capacity to think about the future or the past. So he told himself to take it one ball at a time and see how many such "one balls" he could play out.
"When the play got to to lunch, even I was surprised that I had reached there without losing my wicket," Dravid said.
Dravid said the most important thing for an athlete is to not blame others for their failure.
"If you go on an overseas tour and if you fail or have a bad tour, one way to react to that would be to say 'the conditions were not right' or 'I didn't get enough practice' or 'umpires gave me a bad decision' and think when we play in India, I will make up my average.
"The other way would be to say it was a good opportunity which taught me a lot about myself and what I need to do to improve. That's the thing about all great athletes that I know, they always know how to fail well. They were able to use failure as a stepping stone by being honest with themselves and recognising what needs to be done. They use failure as a benchmark.
"Unless you're one of the privileged few, you're always going to fail more than you succeed. As sportsmen, we all feel that and feel the pain of it," he said.
But the biggest takeaway from all failure, Dravid asserted, was to "fail better."
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