After Dravid, Indian cricket won't be the same again
There are some who leave an indelible impression – on the sport as well as the minds of fans — which cannot be erased. And Dravid was one such, says Ayaz Memon.
by Ayaz Memon
There was a sense of inevitability when I saw a missed call and an sms from Rahul Dravid late Wednesday night. We’ve known each other since he made his international debut in 1996, but have hardly been 'telephone buddies’ so to speak. The timing of the call also betrayed some urgency.
I texted Dravid back asking if he was okay to take a call now or the following morning. He called almost immediately. "I am retiring from international cricket on Friday. Thought I would share this with some people who have been on this journey with me for a long while before the official announcement is made," he said. "But you don’t announce it before I do!" he joked.
It was touching. Not many players are given to such sensibilities. Professional relationships, especially between the media and a star cricketer in India, are often under duress because of the peculiar demands made on the respective stakeholders. As a rule, Dravid had kept his distance from the media, but clearly he is not bereft of sentiment.
I asked him if he had a buy-in from his family – parents, wife etc – in the decision. He replied that the decision had been reached only after he had spoken to all those who mattered. "Will you miss the game very much?" I asked him. "It’s been a part of me for as long as I can remember so one has to readjust. But life must move on," he said.
There are compelling statistical reasons of course to remember Dravid by. His Test tally of 13288 runs makes him second best in the history of the game so far, behind only Sachin Tendulkar with whom he’s played for so many years, and batted through so many innings together. He’s also got a record 210 Test catches, almost 10889 runs in ODIs, 23794 first class runs etc.
Ever since he scored 95 on debut in 1996, Dravid marked himself out as an exceptional batsman. There were a few early hiccups -- more with adjusting to the demands of the limited overs format – but once he had settled in, as it were, in international cricket, there was no looking back. The runs came consistently, and everywhere, with the serenity of a river that runs deep and long and never dries up.
Impeccable technique, unwavering concentration and an unflappable temperament made him arguably the most difficult batsman to dismiss for any bowler from any country for more than a decade. Geoff Boycott, master of orthodox technique, highlighted Dravid’s decisive footwork – back or forward – and great sense of balance as the reasons for his success last year in England. "He’s got an uncluttered mind and clear movements," said Boycott. "I haven’t seen too many batsmen who can manage their innings better in different conditions.
It’s this lack of precise footwork and a skew in body balance – caused by slowing reflexes -- which probably led to Dravid’s poor run in Australia in the recent series when he got bowled so often. But for the most part of his career, such vulnerability was unthinkable. He may have lacked the panache of a Ponting, the ebullience of a Lara and the sublime genius of a Tendulkar, but he perhaps more than any other batsman of this era, was a better 'manager' of his innings.
Dravid also put a greater premium on his wicket than any of his more considered peers.He earned the sobriquet `The Wall’ early in his career for his stringent approach which not only held the Indian batting together but also allowed strokemakers like Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman and (later) Sehwag to give full rein to their talent.
He provided the team both reliability and solidity though he was often upstaged by his teammates for attractiveness: in the several memorable partnerships with Laxman against Australia for instance, or making 148 in daunting circumstances against England at Leeds in 2002 only to see Tendulkar make 193 in relatively easier conditions.
Dravid, however, was not bothered about winning the oohs and aahs of spectators, soldiering on with redoubled resolve, batting with a passion that consumed all his attention and energies to become a player of exceptional ability and achievement. For several phases in his career – notably between circa 20000 and 2005 -- he was India’s best performing batsman (especially when playing overseas) and arguably perhaps the best in the world.
But for the dismal series recently, his overseas record, in fact, is quite stupendous.In 2002, he scored 600+ in England, in 2003-4 he was again in excess of 600 runs against Australia, in Pakistan in 2004 he made more than 400 in three Tests and last year in England of course, he made 461 in four Test with three hundreds to stand out brilliantly like a diamond in coal.
But to assess Dravid only through runs and catches is to try and comprehend a book opus only through its contents page, not actually read it. Read it chapter by chapter and the book actually reveals itself as a magnum opus; of a player and person of rare dignity, commitment, hardiness and achievement.
Not to mention performances, which always seemed to improve under pressure, and a vision and love for the game that goes beyond the pure statistical or material as his wonderful Bradman Oration Lecture at the start of the Australia tour revealed.
His singular contribution to Indian cricket is not merely what the scorebooks say, but what they don’t: of the selflessness which made him agree to keep wickets in ODIs when the team needed better balance, of opening the innings in Tests when there was a crisis, of steering clear of power-play (and other things that prima donnas do) to keep the sanctity of the dressing room even when things were not rolling kindly for him. Why, he gave up the captaincy immediately after winning a test series in England in 2007.
By common reckoning among peers, former players and experts, Dravid is amongst the great batsmen of all time, worthy of being considered along with Hobbs, Hutton, the three Ws, Kanhai, May, Cowdrey, Merchant, Hazare, Gavaskar, Miandad -- to name a handful from the distant past.
In the current era, debate about who is the best batsman has largely centred around Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting but I think this debate is incomplete if Dravid (Kallis and Sangakara too) are not included.
And so life moves on, though for those who follow Indian cricket passionately, it won’t be the same again after Dravid’s gone. I don’t mean to sound mushy: every player must retire at some stage, and as good, if not better players come along in time. But there are some who leave an indelible impression – on the sport as well as the minds of fans -- which cannot be erased.
They stay long enough, and do so many wonderful things that they come to occupy considerable mind-space, in fact become part of your own identity. Rahul Dravid was one such.
Well played sir!
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