He got nothing without labour. Sweat, strive, struggle were an inseparable part of his cricket chores. The Test spot, batting slot, recognition, all had to be earned. This after being the most reliable, consistent and accomplished member of the team. “Talent without hard work does not carry you far. I combined both,” he had said once.
For a snapshot of Rahul Dravid's career, click here.
For Rahul Dravid, cricket was a way of life, a reflection of his grooming. It was quite evident in his retirement too. Dravid drew a list of ‘friends' and broke the news two days ahead of the moment in Bangalore, at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, where he spent more time than at home during his formative phase of the game.
“I have decided to retire. I thought I should tell you before you hear it from elsewhere.” This was Dravid, ever the team man, remembering his ‘friends and colleagues' in his most poignant cricket decision.
His batting was trademark, a throwback to the good old days of textbook cricket. He epitomised it perfectly. His gait to the crease was hurried but not his cricket. It remained confident. Success never could have inflated his ego because he kept setting new benchmarks.
Last season, in Jaipur, he just would not step out of the ‘nets' as he dealt with a batting issue for an Indian Premier League match. He was a perfectionist, whatever the grade of cricket.
Dravid also remained a traditionalist. His whites were spotless, his shots straight from the book — from the drive, cover and square, to the cut and the glance. Only his cap wore a different look, tattered but precious, preserved for years. “Wouldn't trade this for anything in life,” said Dravid, who was conventional in his methods and ever non-controversial.
He loved history. “It interests me a lot. I know a fair bit about the history of the game. I follow it with great interest. I've read quite a few books about it. History is important. You must know where you are coming from if you want to know where you are going,” he had said in an interview to Sportstar.
At Trent Bridge, after a training session, I just happened to mention a book shop, adjacent to the ground, selling second-hand stuff, especially for Neville Cardus selections. The ‘nets' over, the team returned to the hotel and our man coolly ambled across to the shop. There was no Cardus left for us. Dravid, a voracious reader, had neatly picked them all from the shelves. Cardus, the finest writer of cricket, would surely have loved this impeccable cricketer.
Dravid had his unflinching way of tackling the most difficult attacks. Traditional coaching had prepared him for the battles, with sound technique playing a dominant role. Dravid brought a distinct splendour to his style through relentless pursuit. He was an introvert off the field but so very expressive at the crease. Dravid played his cricket with dignity.
He was a connoisseur's delight. His footwork was assured and unrivalled, shoulder, elbow and head, all in flawless position. Old-timers tell us he was quite like the three Vijays — Merchant, Hazare and Manjrekar — technically accomplished and blessed with tremendous character and temperament. He was a picture of what some former greats professed — correct batsmanship. Modern cricket did not see a better batsman who knew which ball to leave.
In these times of demonstrative cricket, Dravid might appear an anachronism. A silent achiever and performer, this introvert never got his due.
He was extraordinary when it came to scoring runs when others could not, especially when the pitches were challenging and the bowlers menacing. Eager to face the ball, the safety of the team was secured with Dravid in the ranks, always fighting from the vanguard.
“I enjoy the challenge of playing overseas. As I grew up, people told me that doing well abroad was important. I took that as a challenge,” Dravid told this correspondent after the win at Adelaide in 2003 when he and V.V.S. Laxman created a symphony at the crease.
Statistics reinforce and reflect Dravid's classy batsmanship. Of an aggregate of 13288 runs in Tests, he compiled 7690 overseas at an average of 53.03. He hit 21 Test centuries overseas and 15 at home; 10889 runs in ODIs with 12 centuries. A tally of 406 international catches made him a splendid fielder too. His longevity is glorified by the 31,258 deliveries he has faced, the highest by any batsman ever in Test cricket.
It was ironic that some people called him a Wall. He disliked that reference. “I am not a Wall,” he would say but he did not mind the nickname Jam. He was not a stone-waller. He was a distinguished architect at work.
He was also a great student of the game. He could discuss, for hours, the finer points of cricket with some of the finest players of all times. He was always excited at meeting old cricketers, eager to learn from them, gather anecdotes from their playing days.
One remembers vividly the 1996 tour to England when he made a memorable debut at Lord's. His 95 was a precursor to all the grand deeds that marked his career.
It's a pity that the articulate Dravid, 39, chose an event off the field to call it a day. Why not a Test match at home this winter? “I would have loved it but I didn't want to block a youngster's place for that. That wouldn't have been me,” was his honest response.
It wouldn't have been Dravid for sure. But he certainly deserved a grand farewell with the cricket fraternity according him a standing ovation in a packed stadium.
Thanks Jam. You made our cricket all the more sweet. It would be a pleasure to hear you from the commentator's box now!