When your thoughts drift off and settle around your idol, someone you hero-worship, they often elicit an image in your mind. It might that of a unique moment, which came but once in a lifetime. Or it might be a quotidian one. No matter which one it is, in your mind, that becomes your idol’s defining image.
For me, it was the image of Rahul Dravid getting ready to face the next delivery – eyes locked in like an eagle’s, sweat dripping from his helmet. For, this was the quintessential Rahul Dravid, ready for yet another battle, ready to conquer not just his opposition but also his inner demons.
As a child, like many others, it was Sachin Tendulkar’s genius that dazzled me. Dravid was left in the shadows. To a child’s uncomplicated mind, Sachin’s free-flowing attack was more attractive than Dravid's impregnable defence.
But as I began my march into adulthood, the man in the shadows emerged into the spotlight, slowly but surely.
It is only when you have experienced life and its intricacies, oddities, and struggles that you truly begin to appreciate the phenomenon that is Rahul Dravid. The mental fortitude, the intensity, the stomach for a fight with your back against the wall – these qualities leave a mark on you more than mere brilliance in shot-making.
Warrior or Artist?
The words "warrior" and "artist" often describe contrasting personalities. Rafael Nadal is a warrior while Roger Federer is an artist. It’s the same with Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. But can a person be both?
Dravid embodied qualities of both. He was a warrior par excellence, always up for a fight. Tough situations always brought out the best in him.
The 180 at Kolkata came in the face of dire circumstances, when even the biggest Indian fan would have found it hard to believe that India would win the Test.
If you want a more visual reminder of Dravid’s competitive spirit, watch this video where Dravid walks up to Shoaib Akhtar and stares him down.
As much as Dravid loved a fight though, his batsmanship was pure artistry. The stylish backlift, the textbook technique, the elegant shot-making; they were all hallmarks of his finesse – like the brushstrokes of an artist busy painting his masterpiece.
And the masterpiece painted by this artist was no ordinary one. It embodied life.
To me, Rahul Dravid’s entire approach to the game of Cricket was an education in life.
Let’s start with perspective. Chaos is second nature to life. All too often, we find ourselves caught up in the minor hassles, losing focus of the big picture. And if things are going well, we stop heeding the little things.
Dravid, despite his stardom, never took his position in the Indian cricket team for granted. He considered his position in the team a great honor and responsibility. In the podcast ‘Learning with the Greats’, he mentioned:
“I always tell people that what inspired me to always do my best was - you know, a few days before a game, there would be these net bowlers who would come in to help the national team out. They would be so passionate and they would come and talk to you and ask you how they could become an international player. But looking at some of them, you would know that there was no way they would have a career in international cricket. But that just didn’t stop them from working hard. That made me reflect that I was lucky to be given a gift, given something that they weren’t. And they were sacrificing their lives to get something they wouldn’t get. So, you at least owe it to them, to make the best of what you’ve got.”
How’s that for perspective!
Even Dravid’s definition of ‘talent’ was contrary to the general opinion. When we think of talent, we think of abilities that dazzle us. The fluidity of Lionel Messi, the athleticism of Le Bron James, the grace of Roger Federer. Here’s what Rahul Dravid said about talent:
“I think we judge talent wrong. What do we see as talent? We judge talent by people's ability to strike a cricket ball. The sweetness, the timing. That's the only thing we see as talent. Things like determination, courage, discipline, temperament, these are also talent.”
I could go on and on about such nuggets of wisdom. If you follow his life closely, Dravid’s entire life is peppered with such insightful gems.
"The Wall" for a reason
The way Dravid built his innings was akin to philosophy itself. For him, it was always about the next ball.
Made a mistake? Learn from it and let it go. Victory is close? Dispel the thought. Defeat looks imminent? No matter, just focus on giving your best to the next delivery and let the result take care of itself.
It was this mindfulness approach that Dravid brought to his batsmanship and we would do well to apply it to our lives.
Dravid was also a master of leaving good deliveries. If you saw a Brett Lee or a Shoaib Akhtar charging in and bowling an express delivery only for it to be left alone, you must’ve chuckled! Dravid was acutely aware of his off-stump and knew which deliveries were to be engaged with and which weren’t.
This is akin to us choosing our battles in life. If we’re self-aware, we know our strengths and limitations and know which battles are worthy of being pursed and which ones are to be left alone, saving valuable energy in the process.
Indeed, Rahul Dravid’s approach to the game of cricket embodied life.
There’s no doubt that Rahul Dravid has cemented his place as one of the greatest cricketers India has produced. But as if that wasn’t enough, even post-retirement, Dravid continues to build on his legacy.
Sure, he rested for some time. But before long, the itch to contribute to the game was back again. Dravid could have settled in for the life of a commentator, brilliant with words as he is. But he wanted to make an impact, as if he already hadn’t made enough. He chose to coach. The Indian team would have been the obvious choice. But no.
He knew that it was the journey from domestic to international cricket that was a defining period of a player’s life. This is where he could make an impact on not just the Indian team but also at the grassroots level. So, he chose to get involved with the India A, India Under-19 teams and become the Director of Cricket Operations at National Cricket Academy.
Needless to say, Dravid has done a stupendous job so far. Was there any doubt he wouldn’t?
Just like it was when he was playing, Dravid still prefers to contribute from behind the scenes. Limelight doesn’t inspire him, giving his best and making an impact does. He is the perfect example of someone who played the game for the genuine love of it.
Cricket and the world at large have undergone a sea change since Dravid last stepped on the field in 2011. But the fact that we still pine for a player and a gentleman like him says something about the class of the man, someone whose appeal is sure to transcend generations.
Happy Birthday Rahul Dravid!