Though this article is about Rahul Dravid, as you go through it, you might find references and comparisons to other great Indian cricketers, most notably Sachin Tendulkar, because time and again we have seen that when some columnist talks about Dravid, he invariably makes a mention of Sachin; I am no different. The reverse, though, may not necessarily be true: you can find enough material written about Sachin without a mention of any other cricketer. So if you find me biased, please excuse me for that.
Not so long ago, a young Rahul Dravid made his tryst with destiny when he debuted at Lords’ in England (I say not so long ago because it seems like yesterday that I was at my grandmother’s home to spend my summer vacations and I saw him bat for the first time. Time really flies by!). Rahul Dravid struck an instant cord with me. What better place could destiny choose for the arrival of my God of cricket than the Mecca of cricket itself!
And now, 15 years later, he continues to do what he does best, that being guiding Team India to glorious Test victories on foreign soil pretty much single-handedly, and maintaining a low profile while he’s at it.
Dravid is probably the most under-rated cricketing great. He never minded living in the shadows of the great Sachin Tendulkar – the God of cricket, and the maverick Sourav Ganguly - the God of off-side as said by Dravid himself. His stint with getting overshadowed started way back on his debut itself, and ever since then, it’s been a trend.
Whenever Dravid excelled, someone overshadowed him, be it Sachin, Ganguly, Laxman, Sehwag or anybody else. And this has happened on more than one occasion. What people don’t realise is that on all such occasions, there were different people on one end, but there was one person consistently on the other. Silently going about his work, Dravid carved his own legend in the tales of Indian cricket.
When he first started out, Dravid was tagged as a Test specialist, and probably he was, because that was his natural style of playing. He wasn’t a gifted talent like Sachin but he adapted to the needs of the current style of cricket. He wasn’t born great but he became great.
Despite being dumped from the Indian ODI team unceremoniously after the seven-match ODI series against Aussies in 2007 for the sake of promoting the ‘Young Guns’, he went on to score 10,000+ runs in one-day cricket. But that still doesn’t deter people from saying that he is a Test player. As they say, first impression is the last impression.
We Indians by default are extremists and our minds are not flexible. We just don’t want to see how this man went against his natural play and adapted himself to the needs of ODI cricket and actually developed as a finisher while batting at No. 5 or 6 for India. He even donned the wicket-keeping gloves for the sake of the team.
While some people call the latter a compromise to salvage his place in the team, I choose to call it ‘sacrifice’ because it seems really out of place to say that a man who went on to score 10,000 runs and who was the vice-captain of the side was actually trying to salvage his place.
In Indian cricket, there are no points for adaptability. Once a Test player, always a Test player. Even the IPL team which was assimilated by him in the first season was termed as a Test team. But everybody forgot that the same team went on to play the finals in IPL-2.
None of that matters though. People still love to mock Rahul. The other day, when Rajasthan Royals trounced Mumbai Indians at their home ground by 10 wickets, at one point, Rahul was batting on 17 and Shane Watson on 71. A guy in my hostel common room made this interesting observation and the other guys felt it their national duty to laugh at it. I felt really annoyed and wanted to ask him, where the hell were you the day when Rajasthan Royals had 84 runs on the board against Chennai Super Kings and Dravid had scored 66 of those? Ironically, India’s second-fastest 50 in ODIs has been scored by Dravid.
But I guess his credentials in the faster format of the game will always remain doubtful. I will never be able to fully understand why. The stats tell me that he scores just two runs per 100 balls slower than the ODI specialist Sourav Ganguly. Even in IPL, he is the 13th highest run-getter, with a strike rate better than the likes of Jadques Kallis, Ganguly, Herschelle Gibbs, JP Duminy and Graeme Smith, and an average better than Adam Gilchrist, Yusuf Pathan, Yuvraj Singh, Robin Uthappa and many other so called specialists of the faster formats. He was the highest run-scorer for Rajasthan this season, for God’s sake.
I guess it’s just a taboo that Rahul has to live with forever. Not that he minds it, but I, being a staunch fan, do.
I wonder why he doesn’t deserve to be in the ODI team or why he didn’t deserve to touch the World Cup trophy or why he didn’t deserve to be retained by his IPL team or why he doesn’t deserve as much money at the auctions as the ‘Gods’ and the ‘Guns’ or why he doesn’t deserve the world’s attention or why the commentators, expert columnists, fans, media, and franchisees don’t go ga-ga over him. Why?
Maybe because he is not entertaining, because to be entertaining, you need to dance on the wicket (like Kevin Pietersen) or down the wicket. Maybe because he is not vocal and doesn’t express his emotions in public; he is not flashy, he doesn’t throw tantrums, he doesn’t give you a stare-down with the cameras taking close shots of his face, he doesn’t have hook-ups with Bollywood actresses (the only thing he hooks beautifully is a bouncer). Maybe because he doesn’t pull off his shirt; he is not surrounded by controversies. Maybe he committed a crime by playing in the era of the great Sachin, because if he played in any other era, say 10 years before Sachin or 10 years after Sachin, it would have been called “Dravid’s era”. Or maybe his biggest sin is that he manages all those runs in IPL and Tests with just 19 sixes in each format.
If only he had learnt to hit more sixes, if only he was as lucky as MS Dhoni, if only he had learnt not to be a gentleman both on and off the field, if only he was flamboyant enough to be in the news for the right or the wrong reasons, he would have been something else. Maybe then he would have been a hit amongst the media and the corporate franchisees.
But thank God he is not all of that because then he probably wouldn’t have been my God of cricket.