Holding the ball in his hand like dynamite, Shoaib Akhtar starts his run-up, 40 mts away the crease. He runs as if he’s being chased by a hurricane; blowing away all the little species of insect-life that unfortunately thrives en route to his crease. Finally, the ball is delivered with hostile velocity, having absolute disregard for the batsman facing him.
‘Tuk’ responds the batsman, leaning on to a bulwark defensive stroke that halts the scorching ball and rolls it a foot or two away from him. Now imagine the frustration that Akhtar will undergo when all that effort is responded with a ridiculous defensive stroke that stops the ball; like a speeding Ferrari being hit abruptly by a wall.
From the menacingly fast Akhtars to meanly cunning Muralitharans, almost every bowler of our time had vainly tried to breach Rahul Sharad Dravid, the wall of Indian cricket. The steadfast defensive technique of Dravid made him the thorn in the flesh of opponents all over the world. He is the only batsman in the world to have scored centuries in all ten test playing nations. Not even his wildly celebrated fellow-cricketer from Mumbai has been able to do that.
Yet to most spectators, Rahul Dravid was, er, boring. He was incapable of quick-scoring. He was the anti-thesis of his illustrious team-mate Virender Sehwag, who didn’t know what defense meant. They loved seeing Viru hit the bowlers out of the park but seeing Rahul Dravid play was like watching ‘Art’ movies—not entertaining at all. After all, a sportsman is supposed to entertain people, right?
But then, Rahul Dravid was more than just an entertainer. He was a self-less crusader who put the team above himself, throughout his career. When the team was in a bothersome situation, he was the one who took upon the unassuming role of repairing the innings. He had no qualms in playing the role of a side-kick when any of his team-mates flourished at the other end. The 80 century stands with 18 different partners testifies Dravid’s ability to construct substantial partnerships.
In the 2003 World Cup, when the side lacked a proper wicket-keeping batsman, he put his hand up to wear the keeping gloves, so that the team could play an extra batsman or a bowler. That proved to be a great deal of help for the team, as they finished runners up in the tournament.
When the side needed a skipper, following Ganguly’s resignation in 2005, he was given the job of leading a resurgent yet unsettled Indian team. Dravid led the team with character (if not charisma) that helped the team script a historical test series win at The Old Blighty. That win proved that Team India was not just ‘rulers at home’ but can be invaders as well.
Recently, when the team was getting harassed by England in England, Dravid fought a lone battle, digging out three brilliant centuries against a top-notch bowling attack that spewed venom under excellent seaming conditions. He opened the innings (the role he never likes to do) when the regular openers were out of action (and also so that the batting position of Tendulkar wasn’t disturbed.)
The other quality that has to be revered in Rahul Dravid is that he is one of the finest gentlemen of the Gentleman’s game. Very rarely has he lost his temper on and off the field. He had carried himself gracefully throughout his career shying away from the controversy hawking media. He rarely speaks but when he does, he sounds sensible. He became the first non-Australian cricketer to speak at the Bradman oration at Canberra where his wisdom about the game was rendered through his speech.
Despite all the heroics, we haven’t really ‘celebrated’ Rahul Dravid as we should have. Have we? Most often, he was always Edwin Aldrin sans the ‘Buzz’ with Neil Armstrong being his ‘wildly celebrated fellow cricketer from Mumbai’, who always came first in everything. Even when he was hitting century after century at England; we focused upon the other one’s elusive century. The fault is neither of the two and none of them have any complain about it. But then, the world always reveres No. 1 and not 2 or 3. Only the topper is celebrated, the rest are… well, they are just the ‘rest’. We don’t really care about them, do we?
But Rahul Dravid is not just another brick in the wall, he was, indeed the wall of Indian cricket who selflessly dedicated himself for the team and for the game in the larger sense. The writer feels he was deprived of his due respect throughout his playing days and now that he is called it a day (in his own quiet manner), he rightfully deserves to be honoured by all of us for all the great things that he had accomplished. The wall has gone once and for all.
PS: And all of you who blame that he doesn’t know how to attack, Google up for ‘fastest fifties in an ODI’, you will be surprised.