Cricket was one of the most trivial and best things to have happened to India, even before its Independence. Bombay led this charge of the stick brigade, with its eclectic mix of geography, segregated cricketing system and club culture. Surely, the English dropped this yawning game inadvertently, and Bombay took it. Cricket was a game for purists back then. It stretched for what seemed like decades. The whites were an absolute necessity, as were the breaks. Bombay continued the tradition with great reverence.
As India became Free India, so did cricket. The West Indies emerged out of the shackles of ‘dormant’ racism, Sri Lanka took baby steps to cricket, as did others. Meanwhile, India milked their talents with such ubiquitous nonchalance, that it never formed a unique cricket culture of its own. Sure there was the spin quartet and their wizardry and the emergence of classical batting from Gavaskar, Vishwanath and the home bred rustic legends of Kapil Dev. But they were spaced out, sparse, given the size and scope of India.The 90’s brought the hope of developing one continuous ethos and fabric of Indian Cricket that was enjoyed by Australia and West Indies till then. Tendulkar had emerged on the scene as fresh air. But one could not help but, notice the air of nobility and Bombay classicism he embodied.In time it was proved, that while he did become India’s greatest icon of batsmanship, he couldn’t quite extend that to the other pivotal parts of cricket, like captaincy, man management. Indian Cricket suffered under tremendous pressure.It was a common sight back then, Tendulkar in trademark fashion, championing an aggressive onslaught at the start of numerous innings, only to be toppled by a loose underlying batting. It was concrete on clay.
These were the circumstances, when Rahul Dravid entered the Indian Cricket.His wasn’t a presence of grandeur or magnitude.He came on the scene as an average Joe. The Indian masses had mixed feelings about his closed stance and ‘devil always cares’ attitude to batsmanship. On some occasions the feelings were starkly negative. Rahul Dravid had committed a colossal blunder in the scheme of things in Indian Cricket.His was a new breed of cricket, forced upon the Indian cricket fan. Dravid was the first Indian cricketer since Kapil Dev, to have been developed as truly Indian.He wasn’t a yokel from the corner off the streets of rural India.Neither was he from the Bombay School of Classicism.He wasn’t trained in English Colleges and Counties either, like the Pataudi or Ranjit Singhji. He was free India’s first modern cricketer, who assimilated all the good things of India and England and weeded out the wrongs.In short, an English Duke having the finest cup of Darjeeling with scones and butter would have an uplifting time watching Dravid bat as will a ‘lungi’ clad Tamil, having his morning coffee.Hailing from a family of highly educated peers, the brain always ruled the brawn for Dravid.Bangalore, a town unheard of for cricketing laurels,but for its sound intellectualism, nurtured Dravid. Trained under the taskmaster who first noticed Dravid, Keki Tarapore, ingrained the spirit of hard orthodox batting into Dravid. And as what happens to rapidly cooled molten metal, these qualities and surrounding atmosphere made a permanent home in him.
Dravid never came off as the stuff of legends.Neither did his debut in ODI cricket.That started changing the moment he was put into the hot soup of test cricket.Sometimes, what a honeybee needs is to find the right flower.Dravid found his sweet honey in Test Cricket.A near hundred on Test debut in testing English conditions cemented his place in Tests.But it was a long way to go as far as ODI’s were concerned.The Indian selectors had over time defected two prodigal talents to accommodate Dravid.Manjrekar and Kambli. One whose talent never blossomed, and the latter whose talent burst off like a flaming volcano, only to become dormant forever.However, they were still better suited to ODI’s than Dravid back then.The Indian Cricket fan’s patience as always, ran thin.Yes, the Indians considered Tests to be the boring cricket at the turn of the century.Quite contrary to the times of post-Indian Independence era.While Dravid was being considered a boring batsman’s cherry topping, his presence in ODI’s was considered apocryphal all around.Suddenly every loss was blamed on the hapless back of Dravid.In times of adversity, even a fallen boxer looks for a punching bag to vent out his feelings on.Dravid became the punching bag.His slow and steady batting was considered the bane of the Indian batting.It took a full 3 years since hs debut, for Dravid to find his place in the sun.1999 proved to be his sun dance.It peaked with his over a run a ball colossal innings with Ganguly vs SriLanka in the World Cup.The fans were silenced. Dravid had arrived.
In the times, when the Indian dust bowls favored Indian batsman, Dravid was a rare stock who accumulated more runs on swinging, fast wickets of the foreign shores.He took it upon himself to be the backbone of the Indian batting while Tendulkar lit the stage with proverbial fireworks.His tumultuous relationship with the feisty Ganguly brought out the best in Dravid and India as a whole.On the insistence of Ganguly, and the dismay of Dravid, he donned the keeper’s gloves in many matches thus single-handedly milked young talents like Yuvraj and Kaif. Though surely not the best, he was the most modest of the Indian keepers and gave India a vital couple of years to nurture extra talent in the team.His heroics with Laxman, against Australia are surely the stuff of legends.Dravid terrorized bowlers all over the world.Not by his stance, but more by his grit.This purple patch did cease in the disastrous World Cup of 2007, when under his stewardship, India crashed to one of its worst Cup outings.This was a start of many innumerable instances, from where it went downhill for Dravid till his retirement.
Though, he went off the cricket scene in relative solitude, his story is one which makes a loud noise by its sheer silence.He was a fortress of solitude among a cacophony.Sometimes his style of play was called textbook.What with a knobby elbow facing the bowler and adept feet movements, neither being front footed or back, he was a spectacle of a cricketing monk.Silent and persistent.So much so that seldom has any bowler sledged him.Such was the air of dignity around him.
His story is not about an aggressive champion, or a fascinating underdog.One may waste numerous adjectives like strong,blaster, or boom boom to his contemporaries.Not for Dravid. Well Dravid was just, Dravid.