It has been 11 years since Rahul Dravid spent a summer in Kent playing county cricket but fans here still talk of the senior Indian batsman as one of their own and a benchmark for consummate professionalism.
Dravid’s figures - 1221 runs from 16 matches at 55.50 with two centuries - aren’t too phenomenal.
But those few months are still spoken of with awe and admiration for the much-liked batsman. It is still impossible to initiate a discussion on Dravid the person before locals have spoken about his cricket and cricketing manners.
Martin McCague, the fast bowler of the club who played Tests for England in the 90s, is absolutely beholden to the Indian star.
“Everyone talks about how he stamped his authority against Shane Warne at Portsmouth that season when the Wizard of Oz tried everything to plot his downfall. Dravid had a 70-odd in the first innings and absolutely brilliant century in the second.
“Then there was that innings against Andy Caddick on a diabolical pitch where the ball was spitting fire. He made 90 but it was a sensational knock. Dravid tended to keep low on the ball and since he also tried to play with soft hands, it was inevitable. He was rapped and hit quite often on his fingers,” remembers McCague.
Outside cricket, Dravid did everything which a professional is expected to do in county circuit.
“I remember he always made himself available for team meal dinners. He could have excused himself at times if he wanted to but he never did so,” adds McCague.
Bipin Patel is a local cameraman who followed Dravid closely that summer.
Over a period of time, it became more than an acquaintance between the two and Patel once called him over for dinner at his place in Maidstone, a neighbouring town to Canterbury.
“I offered to pick him up but he insisted he would come over by himself. He wasn’t behind the appointed hour. Rahul was still a bachelor those days and I remember his parents later came over to look after their boy in England,” said Patel.
Patel remembers Dravid as a person who liked dressing casually yet impeccably at all times.
“He preferred check shirts over others, those days,” adds Patel.
McCague also finds one of his stand-out memories about Dravid as someone with not a hair out of place at all times.
“You wouldn’t find him in shorts or such things. His cricketing gear was immaculate. His cricketing attire was always pristine white.”
Patel’s two daughters, Riti and Himaya, are now budding cricketers but were teenagers when Dravid dropped by their place for dinner.
“I remember his thumb was broken those days. He was very pleasant and never spoke like a star. Even in private, family settings there was no mention of his favourite actors or movies,” said Riti.
“I recall him mentioning that he missed home-cooked food a lot,” avers Himaya.
Dravid, over the years, has developed a habit to read a lot but McCague doesn’t recall him with books a lot those days.
“He liked sitting by the window and looking outside in the dressing room. He always seemed to be thinking one thing or the other.”
Graham Cowdrey, son of the legendary Colin, played 179 first class games but had retired by the time Dravid came over to Kent. The two became close friends.
McCague also remembers Dravid as someone who was intense but never too preoccupied.
“He always had time for others. If youngsters came over, Rahul was willing to speak to them, share his experiences and offer advice if required. He never kept himself aloof or showed any chip on his shoulder. Alongwith Aravinda de Silva, Rahul was easily the two most popular cricketing imports of the last generation to Kent.”
The affection for Dravid was visible at St. Lawrence ground where he was honoured and felicitated on the pitch during Indians vs Kent match on Friday by the county officials as one of their own lads who now straddles the stage of international cricket like a giant.
Now a veteran of 157 Tests, game’s fourth biggest century maker, the second highest scorer ever in Test cricket, Dravid seems in as prime a force now as he was a decade ago.