This week marks the end of an illustrious career of a man who has shown us how you can reach great heights with focus and determination, will power & grit, passion and humbleness. Rahul Sharad Dravid, the greatest ambassador for the game of cricket and perhaps the best cricketer the world has seen. If ever the history books were willing to lend a page to jot down the achievements of someone it would be for Dravid. LEGEND in a true sense.
It was in 1996/97 period I was getting attracted to cricket. Watch every match. Be it any team. Early 1997, It was in Johannesburg, still fresh in my memory, someone new in the Indian team using a WILLS(the sponsor label in the bat, i used to love them labels) willow. This man was leaving so many balls around the off stump, he played the cut shot very well and that shot to the 3rd man earned him most off his runs. He laboured his way to a century and carried on for just over 9 hours to lose his wicket at 148. Rahul Dravid had already made his mark. That was one of the few innings that i remember from what I had seen in my past. There was something about this man and it showed. Slowly and steadily Rahul became the backbone of the Indian Cricket Test team.
The next innings i could remember of Dravid was the 107 he had made against Pakistan at Chennai. The same match where Saeed Anwar got his then World Record score of 194. Indians were falling like nine pins before Dravid choose to put some dignity on that scorecard. But still, I was one of those fans who believed Rahul Dravid could not play ODI cricket. He just wasn’t suited for the game I felt. There was a tipping point when in an ODI match, he made 20 odd runs off 70 deliveries. The shouts grew louder, and the result was imminent. RD was dropped from the Indian Cricket ODI team. He was still going great guns in Test cricket though.
Then came the PURPLE PATCH. Dravid as recalled to the WC ODI team after a string of decent performances and what followed that is History. Dravid partnered Ganguly in the massacre of the Lankans at Taunton. Although his innings of 145 was overshadowed by Sourav’s 183, Dravid made the tournament his own by making another century and had the honour of being the top scorer of the tournament. Some achievement from a guy who was labelled unfit for ODI cricket. Later that year he again partnered Sachin on their way to the Highest partnership for any wicket. Again his 150 odd contribution was overshadowed by Sachin’s 186*. He became a regular and made a stupendous contribution to Indian cricket ever since. In 2003 WC, Dravid agreed to take the responsibility of Wicket Keeping which would enable India to play an extra batsman. Even with the heavy workload, he was one of the major contributors to India’s road to the Final in that WC.
Rahul made test cricket his own. He was the epitome of patience and was the most prized wicket for any bowler. He did not certainly have a natural ability to create stokes, but then his technique and temperament for this level were something unparalleled for. He put a price tag on his wicket, the team played around him. And the fans began to affectionately call him “THE WALL”. Century after century followed. ICC honoured him with the Cricketer of the Year and Test player of the Year 2004. Record after record tumbled as Dravid made a name for himself in the cricketing arena. He was well respected by his teammates, but what mattered most was the respect of your opposition and Dravid had that.
2009, saw the end to his illustrious ODI career. For a man who was labelled in his early years as unfit to play ODI cricket, over 10000 runs in the format and the batting mainstay at No.3 were a slap in the face of his doubters. However. he continued to be the nemesis of all bowlers in the test arena.
Dravid’s biggest feather in the cap would be his tours to England. His trips to England have been very productive, but he will be remembered for a long time for what he had proved in 2011 for a long time. 3 centuries in 4 tests. Carried the bat, came out to bat again in 10 mins due to a follow on after a long virgil and was the one and only shining light in the whole England Test Series.
And now he has walked away into the serene and sedate sidelines, much like himself. He chose to do it with minimum fuss too. Off the playing field. India will forever miss the services of a man whom I personally rate more than even Sachin Tendulkar.
Sir, Rahul Sharad Dravid. Thank you for your services and contributions. We will miss you.