Dravid, the epitome of grit and grace
"Play the game in the spirit of the game," exhorted India's first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru while inaugurating the first Asian Games in Delhi in 1951.
Rahul Dravid retired from cricket in a graceful manner without much flourish or extravagance, having taken it to the highest level of his ability. Even his retirement function in Bangalore was deliberately underplayed - just the way he played his cricket - as the three gentlemen on stage at the Chinnaswamy Stadium started off right on the dot. An envelope of sadness hung around the gathering but it was tempered by grace and dignity, like the man himself.
Dravid's amazing career, with ups and downs and the way he tackled them, stands as a testimony for what he stood for. "When the going gets tough, the tough get going," is a common adage that describe some who are tough as nails. This was true of Dravid too, but he combined this with rare grace and Ã©lan to establish a benchmark of his own.
Early in his career, Dravid knew patience was the foundation on which he would build his innings. Grit and determination became part of his persona as technical skill and immediate needs of his team together helped him turn out classic after classic of an innings. That would be his hallmark all through.
His uncanny ability to shift gears was something Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel would be proud of. There were times Dravid's innings was with the flow, middling the bat and everything going like a song. If a wicket or two fell that brought Sachin Tendulkar or VVS Laxman on the scene, Dravid would change his game totally to anchor the innings for the sake of the team. The dance of a butterfly suddenly gave way to a snail's salsa. The shifting of gears would be evident. It is this selflessness - changing his own game for sake of a strokemaker, when he himself was no less - which stood him apart. Most times, he put team above everything else. That's how double and triple-centuries from his colleagues came about with Dravid ending with a mere 150-odd.
He has been called a 'wall' for his impenetrable defence. He was more than that. I think he was the crucial link in the chain that held the team together. That is why most bowlers kept chipping at him with the hope that at some stage the link would snap. With the link gone, they knew the end of the innings was just a few jabs away.
Bowlers learnt very early in Dravid's career that he was one batsman who would stand between them and victory. If they harboured any ambitions of victory over India, they have to get Dravid out first; otherwise the sniff of victory would remain a sniff. Steve Waugh learnt this the hard way when Dravid, with Laxman, snatched it from him at the end of the series when he had almost clasped the trophy.
Dravid brought to his cricket that rare steely determination to rough out any situation out in the middle and rarer grace and conduct that embellished the game even more. Taking upon himself things which he had never done before for the sake of the team was what cricket was all about for him.
Nothing came easy for Dravid. He had to continuously improvise his game for the sake of the team. He never complained about that. In fact he never complained all through his career. He reinvented himself; rather he re-jigged himself to suit the needs of his team.
He opened the innings many a time and saved the team from blushes facing some of the fastest bowlers of the time like Shoaib Akhtar and Allan Donald. A reluctant opener he was for sure, but once he took it, it was given the customary Dravid-like precision and perfection. In that process he challenged and goaded himself to achieve seemingly impossible things for the team and as an individual.
Likewise his ability to keep wickets was used to keep the balance in the team for crucial one-day matches. Here again, he donned the gloves without a murmur. He dived to stop Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra and stood up to Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh with gusto. Never was a word said against anything or anyone in public, for the cricket he had learnt and practiced would always be fair and could never be ungentlemanly.
If his batting had the rare technical edge to be called on of cricket's true greats, then Dravid raised it several notches with grace and charm coupled with impeccable behaviour throughout his career.
No wonder, Nehru's slogan had a living example in Rahul Dravid.
More about E R RamachandranE.R. Ramachandran, a corporate manager-turned-columnist has contributed to Hindustan times and Deccan Herald. He is a regular contributor to the Churumuri blog and writes a weekly column for Mysore Mail, a local Newspaper. Satire being his forte, he combines cricket and other sports with politics, in 'tongue in cheek' articles. He firmly believes that another 22-ball century can never happen again in any format of cricket like the one Don Bradman did in November 1931. And feels it is time for BCCI to do something to improve India's fielding and running between the wickets.
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