This tribute dates back a few months ago when Rahul Dravid announced his retirement from Test Cricket after the Australian tour. It is never too late to pay tribute to a legend who served the nation for 16 years.
Rahul Dravid, we all know, is regarded by most Indian Cricket- crazy fans, as always second to Sachin Tendulkar, in this era throwing up players who have attained larger than life status due to their maverick performances over the years as well as partly due to the pseudo-religion status acquired by Cricket in the country.
But, there are different shades to this ‘gentlemen’ which I admire, than the ones reflected by his performances or his image in the media.
Rahul Dravid comes across to me as an ideal Beta male who, throughout his career, basked under the shadow of greats like Sachin and Ganguly. He was always on the other side of Paparazzi and the media hype surrounding Indian cricketers, working his way towards glory and success, rather than becoming an overnight star. Success for him had a different meaning, it meant mastering the game, and he knew it was to come only through immense patience, grit and hours of tireless efforts on the pitch. It did not matter to him if his 50s and 70s were overshadowed by 100s and 150s of others; he always thrived on playing the sheet-anchor role in any partnership, and ensured that his partner had a comfortable ride. This was the reason why those 50s and 70s never stopped coming, even during India’s defeats, when the 100s and 150s dried up. He was not always a match-winner but he had almost always laid the cornerstone for India’s historic victories both home as well as abroad.
Yet another aspect of his personality has been his commitment to the team. We all know that this classy No-3 batsman batted at all positions in the middle-order, even at the dreaded No.7 spot. He kept wickets when India needed a Wicket-Keeper batsman in 2003 World Cup and did a commendable job. He opened when there was a vacant slot in the test team and averaged better than our regular opener that season! He took upon the task of captaincy when the team had been divided due to Ganguly-Chappell spat and even now, remains among the only few Indian cricketers who even Chappell himself can’t help admiring. His leadership was criticised heavily after the 2007 World Cup debacle, but he ensured that India got through the turbulent phase after Ganguly-Chappell spat and achieved Test series wins against England and West Indies after two decades, shedding its ‘underachievers’ tag away from home. He was never an aggressive captain and always played by the rules, but he was always seen backing his players to punch above their weights. The likes of Gambhir, Dhoni and Raina made it to the big stage during his reign and went on to cement their places in the national side and become national heroes.
Moreover, Rahul Dravid mastered certain abstract abilities such as focus, composure and determination, which are vital for any player. These mental attributes, play a key role in the game these days, due to excessive fan following and media hype surrounding the game. His ability to remain calm on the field, even during the most volatile situations, was what separated him from the rest of the lot; he preferred to channelize his aggression into performances, rather than getting carried away. Also, the sportsmanship and the ethics of the game, something which has seen a decline in recent years, meant a lot to him and were reflected in his on-field gestures to everyone ranging from the umpires to the opposition players. He was generous in victories and gracious in defeats and remains one of the only few Indian cricketers of the recent times respected by even the most ruthless opposition players. He has had a non-controversial cricket career, and had hardly been involved in a confrontation with any opposition player. He upheld the integrity that comes with donning an India cap and representing a country at the highest level for 16 years and it was for players like him that make Cricket the gentlemen’s game, that it is known to be.
As he hung his boots, he will be remembered as a dependable No. 3 batsman, a dedicated team player and a respectful opposition. He is irreplaceable and it will be hard to nurture a youngster to fill the void, and I believe there is no better person than Dravid himself for such a job. In the future, he can serve as an ideal mentor for youngsters, not only making them technically proficient but also helping them develop nerves of steel and control aggression at crucial moments.
For a cricket fan, having spent 16 years, worshipping Rahul Dravid, and watching him step up to the occasion every time the team needed him, the game won’t be the same again.