By – Preetish Sahoo, NLSIU, Bangalore.
A couple of days ago the BCCI sent a media release which stated that Rahul Dravid would be holding a press conference at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore on Friday, 9th March 2012. In what was turning out to be a fairly routine week in the world of cricket, notwithstanding the keenly contested first test between New Zealand and South Africa, where the two sides were going neck and neck, this development got more than a few heads rolling. The rumour mills went abuzz with speculation that Dravid would call it quits on his international cricket career. Cricket columnists started penning tributes to India’s Mr. Dependable, the kind of lengthy, glowing tributes that are reserved only for cricketers who come once in a generation. Connoisseurs of the gentleman’s game the world over, who had earlier witnessed Dravid’s remarkably luminous and insightful Bradman Oration, were looking forward to his impending address with bated breath. The question that was on everyone’s lips was whether this was indeed the end of the line for Dravid after sixteen years of cricket at the top level. The writing was on the wall for The Wall.
The moment arrived and with trademark grace and poise Dravid announced what most people were expecting him to announce. A journey that started with a courageous knock of 95 against England at the most hallowed of cricket grounds, Lord’s, ended, quite fittingly one would imagine, at his own backyard, the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. Although, Dravid denies having had any ‘Eureka’ moments while contemplating his cricketing future, for a batsman who placed the utmost significance on timing, ending it this way probably just felt right. Many a pundit, including Sourav Ganguly, have opined that Dravid should have hung up his boots after the England series and signed off on a high, where he stood out with some stupendous knocks, while the others failed miserably. What they fail to consider, however, is the fact that given Dravid’s stellar record in Australia and the relative inexperience of the pretenders to his throne, his omission would have done more harm than good to India’s chances Down Under.
Some have also suggested that Dravid should have played a farewell series at home before bidding his beloved game goodbye. Dravid’s response to this was, well, typical Dravid – “I would have loved it but I didn’t want to block a youngster’s place for that. That wouldn’t have been me.” What a man! Even in retirement Dravid has put the interests of Team India before his own. It speaks volumes about his mettle and strength of character. Dravid belongs to that rarefied stratosphere of sports persons whose accomplishments on the field have been matched, if not overshadowed, by exemplary conduct off the field. As much as one may admire Dravid’s penchant for perfect timing and his predilection towards technical proficiency, it is this emphasis on playing the gentleman’s game in the right spirit that really forms the core of his cricketing beliefs. This was evident during the press conference when Dravid, in a deeply contemplative mood, said: “My approach to cricket has been simple: it was about giving everything to the team, playing with dignity and upholding the spirit of the game”.
Dravid has always been a cricketer who shied away from the limelight and liked to go about his task quietly, always operating under the shadows of the Tendulkars, the Laxmans and the Gangulys. In fact, at a time when flamboyance in cricketing strokes became the norm, when power hitting became the modus operandi for batsmen across countries, Dravid stood out because of his reliance on a sound defence as the most integral part of his batting technique. While Dravid’s batting might not have been the most aesthetically appealing (my mom would often ask me to switch off the TV and study during India matches whenever Dravid came out to the middle to bat, because he was ‘boring’!), it certainly has been the most reliable for the better part of the last decade. Dravid’s role as the sheet anchor in the middle order was crucial to the plethora of test wins that India witnessed in the Ganguly era. When the more illustrious and bigger stars in the Indian cricket team’s famed batting line up came crashing down to earth, it was Dravid who, time and again, held his own against opponents, meek and hostile alike. Be it Kolkata or Headingly or Adelaide or Rawalpandi or Jamaica, it was Dravid who donned the fire-fighter’s hat in some of India’s most celebrated test victories in the last decade and for this he will forever hold a spot inside every true Indian cricket fan’s soul. Goodbye, Rahul Dravid.