The 15-year wait for five elusive runs: When Rahul Dravid, for once, thought for himself
Chris Lynn and Rahul Dravid are two diverse cricketers when you compare them as batsmen. One well-built, can hit a long ball, other not so muscular but who can play innings which would define matches in its own way.
However, there is one thing that connects both, they both value their performances in one format of the game- Lynn in T20 cricket, Dravid in Test cricket.
22 years ago, Dravid played his first Test for India. The lover of the format that he was and continues to be, there could not have been a better place to start off. At Lord's, a ground which emphasizes on the values that red-ball cricket provides, just like he does.
For him, it was as if everything had come together. Right from the opening game, the tone was set for what he was to do a lot during his career- save India from trouble. There he was, with Sourav Ganguly, trying to get India back on track.
And then, on 95, it was over. A faint tickle had ended a debut innings, which would have fulfilled a lifelong dream and a mere five runs had separated him from achieving it. When next was he going to get a chance? Neither did he know nor did we.
For the next 15 years, he played at various other sporting venues in the world, faced up to the best fast bowlers, encountered several dicey wickets and overcame them, scored a lot of hundreds that helped India win matches.
Barring perhaps the hundred at Kolkata against Australia in 2001, there was one constant in every other Dravid hundred- a lack of emotion. As if he wasn't happy yet with his efforts. As if he had done nothing significant yet and sure enough, he converted quite a few of those centuries into bigger scores
In 2011, when he embarked on his fourth tour of England, he did a few things that batsman of his caliber needn't had to. Not one to exemplify the happenings behind the scene, Dravid came to Lord's and occupied the spot which Tillakaratne Dilshan had, a month ago.
The reason? Walking out to bat after having sat there, the Sri Lankan right-hander had gone on to score a monumental 193 against England in the early part of the summer.
Now you would think that he did not have to go and sit in a place where someone else had scored a hundred to get one for himself. Dravid was too good a player to do that.
But it was perhaps indicative of the fact that despite having scored a hundred everywhere around the world, somewhere at the back of his mind, not getting the five runs in 1996 remained. That arguably India's most selfless cricketer also had one last wish in the game which he hoped he could fulfil.
Not getting a hundred at Lord's would not have made him any less the player that he already was. But perhaps, once, just once in his career, Dravid thought about himself. He maybe told himself that this was his last chance and if it meant he had to occupy a specific place, so be it.
After watching the opposition rack up the runs, he walked out at 3. All equipment in place. Through the same gates that first saw a 23-year-old, come out with butterflies in his stomach and 15 years on, was to witness a much-wiser player take guard, one who had gone on to maximise the potential that he possessed.
Nothing had changed since that day. India had their backs to the wall and he needed to stand up again. Wickets fell around him. His trusted partners in many a great partnership- Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman- fell, but he hung around.
There was no sign of desperation, no sign of urgency. It was as if after getting to the middle, he had forgotten all about his preparation and realised that if it was meant to happen, it would. The English bowlers probed away and unlike that day in 1996, he left a lot more in 2011, the shouldering of arms rising as he inched closer.
At 94 not out, he knew he was close, but also knew he had fallen at this stage before. At any other ground perhaps he might not have had any jitters, but at Lord's, he had a moment to erase from his mind.
For once, he might have hoped he received some help from somewhere. He did, though a back-of-a-length ball from Chris Tremlett, which in Mike Atherton's voice for Sky, " he fairly drilled it to the boundary".
95 was in the past, but the memory remained. Of falling short. Of not converting an opportunity. Of not fulfilling a dream.
The following ball, Tremlett once again obliged, this time with a ball on his pads, the kind Dravid would put away in his sleep.
He sensed the moment, flicked it past mid-on and got back to two, but before getting to the crease, celebrated with a raise of his bat with his right arm and then from down-to-up punched the air coupled with a screech unlike ever seen before, even surprising the guys watching it live.
He took his helmet off and perhaps with that, also took off years and years of pain, which was stuck in his mind.
The wait for those five elusive runs had finally ended, 15 years later.
Here are the highlights from that innings: