2018 U-19 World Cup: The incomprehensible union of Rahul Dravid and his wards
The beautiful bond between Dravid and the U-19 Indian team culminated with a fairy-tale.
As the horizon changed its hues from the bright blue tinge to a pinkish orange shade, signalling the passage of the day towards a cooler evening, the nerves around had quickened. As the sun was bidding adieu, leaving the spot for the much-welcomed white crescent, waves of excitement swivelled. Hopeful waves. Jittery waves. Waves that numbed the flesh and warmed the soul, but ones that could not really be explained.
There was happiness, undoubtedly. There were emotions of extreme jubilation and exhilaration as well. Feelings of an impending world championship crown. Smiles. Broad, never-ending smiles.
Each delivery and each run was making the wait even more difficult. Almost assured of that triumph, the task of patiently sitting on that chair seemed an arduous one indeed. Even getting back up on those two feet seemed equally tough, if not tougher. It was as if those two limbs were unfairly expected to carry all the zillion emotions that were running forth through the veins and the arteries. Impatient. Ecstatic. Nostalgic.
Each and every memory came gushing forth. The early mornings when they would have to sleepily catch a train to go to that dreaded camp. The late evenings, when they had to carry a larger-than-size kit and sweat it out despite the exhaustion of the school hours that refused to leave their side. The harsh afternoons, when the sun would be pelting down and they were almost forced to fire up the skills to make a mark in the academy. They hated it then. They almost cursed their coaches for pushing them further and further and further till every sign of stamina evaporated. Just when they were relieved, the thought of the very same routine the following day scarred them.
But today, standing with their heads raised high, a sense of achievement swishing by, they are proud. As Harvik Desai and Manjot Karla are taking the team closer and closer to the grand prize, they yearn to jazz in unlimited joy. The cameras capture the fist-pumps and the loud-hearted shrieks. It zooms onto that visible wide-toothed grin and that never-ending beam. It is the happiest day. The happiest in a long, long time. Maybe the happiest that they will ever face in their careers.
The journey from being a bunch of hooligans into a potent and organised unit came with its share of trauma and drama. Under the watchful eyes of a task-master, one who knew the nuances of the sport better than most, the flaws were identified and corrected; the follies chastised and punished. You were sent packing away to places that offered no phone signals. You were thrust into environments and situations which would rarely enhance your growth as a cricketer.
What purpose would it serve? How impactful would sessions on team-bonding be, when you would never be playing with the team again?
But you could hardly offer resistance to a legend, who had sacrificed monetary benefits to single-handedly take on the responsibility of guiding you in the most crucial phase of your career. Most yearn for a technically pristine figure in their junior years as a cricketer; one who would take them under his wings and groom him ahead for the harsh years ahead. Years that can either end in abject disappointment or ecstasy. Years that can see an immature end to the professional career or that could flourish even further. You rarely know which path to take but you know that with him around, whichever path you take is the right way ahead.
As the group of young players converged together, readying themselves for rounds of hurrahs, the silent servant of Indian cricket, Rahul Dravid remained cocooned in the comforts of the dressing room. Away from all limelight. As the runs to chase were reducing in number, the excitement within him was increasing as well. As the boundaries were smashed away, the sighs of relief were following as well. Seated on that chair, hidden behind all the euphoria of those boys, he intently observed the engirdled happiness on his ward’s faces.
He too remembered the very first day that he had met them. The first occasion when each of them had impressed him- either with their solid batting technique or the bowling accuracy. He remembered the day when he took on the job that would entail days of struggle and impatience. He knew that he would have to take on players from a generation who thrived on rebels and revolts. An age where stubbornness and arrogance prevailed. Where maturity was hard to be found. Where cell-phones occupied a larger part of their lives than the willow or the cherry did.
He was scared. Even afraid. Though he had a reputation, he knew that it mattered for little if he was unable to bring them to be his own. He knew that this tournament was only the first step towards a glorious uncertainty, but the foundation had to be brimming with experience.
But would they listen to everything he said and not get caught up in the inexperience of their young minds? Will he be able to earn their respect? Will the age-gap really harm his efforts?
But as Prithvi Shaw’s squad leapt forward upon the young batsmen who had taken India home, he strangely found himself doing a silent dance as well. A dance that he had never indulged in before. A few days ago, he had witnessed the young colts do something similar in one of their off-days and maybe he picked it up from them.
And as his troops went on to lift the trophy with a grand sense of maturity, displayed in their words and in their restraint madness, one knew that the touch of Dravid had swept over them. As they gushed forth when the veteran was giving a solemn interview, he accorded a laugh, a smile and was back to praising a set of young individuals, who had combined perfectly with him to hand India a great victory.
As Dravid now gets ready to accept a fresher squad of players and as the victorious team set foot towards greener pastures, both do remain filled with a weird fear once again, but they know that the lessons carried from this engagement shall hold them forever in good stead.