His cricket lies in his mind. Not for him the luxury of expansive stroke-play. That is not his style. He must build; and build brick by brick. And Rahul Dravid has loved his role, and lived it well, every inch, every moment, from the time he stepped on to the hallowed turf of Lord's 15 seasons ago.
When he returned to Lord's this time, Dravid was prepared and he fulfilled a long-cherished dream of scoring a century — which he missed by five runs on his debut here — on the hallowed turf. It could not have been more perfect a setting. The 100th Test between India and England and who better than this most tenacious batsman in modern cricket!
Dravid is a living example of grit. Nothing and none can make him flinch. We saw it recently at the Sabina Park. On a dicey pitch, he was most at ease, teaching the young brigade lessons in correct batsmanship. The diligence that Dravid brings to his batting confirms his quest to be a perfectionist. He is an absolutely uncompromising figure at the crease and carries no scars of failures. He learns and grows from them.
During the last Indian Premier League, he turned up for a session which had been declared “optional.” He spent a good two hours at the nets, dripping in sweat in searing heat, changing his shirt twice, and leaving only when he was convinced he had his timing and placement of some shots in place.
It is this hard work off the field that keeps the sagacious Dravid going. What if he has not got due recognition for his work? He never craved for recognition. He always played to make a statement with his bat and he would rejoice only if the team benefited. He has so beautifully combined skills and imagination to create a process that he has come to patent.
He has had to live under the shadow of Sachin Tendulkar. Why can't you bat like him, he was asked? “I can't. I know my limitations.” Why can't you dominate like Sourav Ganguly or Virender Sehwag? “If I try I will get out early.”
He was so pragmatic; and humble. But then Dravid is the man the opposition has hunted on a priority. He can protect the course of the innings, mentor his partners and shepherd them to safety. It is his domain.
For courage and discipline, few can match his character. He may lack the flair of a Viv Richards or Ian Chappell at number three, but Dravid brings the consistency of a Rohan Kanhai or Ricky Ponting at that position, and also, the dependability of a Don Bradman, who was masterly when the opposition was at its best.
There are some striking qualities about the man that makes him the most lovable in the team. He can keep wickets, at times as good as the regular, take stunning catches at slip and gracefully accede to all batting flexibilities that the captain imposes.
Three centuries as an opener, 27 at number 3, two at number 4 and one each at number 5 and 6 are proof of Dravid's versatility. Only twice has India lost a Test in which Dravid has scored a century. His tally stood at 33 before this Trent Bridge contest.
He personifies calmness and often makes the menacing bowling look timid with his serene approach. His batting is a reflection of his personality — unpretentious, loyal to the cause and stern without hurting the opponent. He is obsessed when it comes to achieving excellence. His assured footwork, calculated stroke-play, near-flawless reading of the game and the situation make Dravid a classical batsman. Only, he remains unsung for his colossal contribution to Indian cricket.
For someone who drew inspiration from APJ Abdul Kalam's superb autobiography, ‘Wings Of Fire', Dravid, 38, comes across as a man of intense emotions, one who commands universal respect in cricket. “It's been a privilege to have played with him,” was Tendulkar's comment once.
Their admiration is mutual indeed. Dravid respects the game's traditions and brings dignity to his profession in times of crass commercialization. His mannerisms and conduct are a pleasant throwback to the days when cricket was played by gentlemen. Dravid symbolizes that culture, a true Cricket Ratna.