People call Rahul Dravid, “The Wall”. He was extremely difficult to dislodge, technically correct, and yet, elegant to the eye. He could be as attractive a batsman as any when in full flow, and was just the perfect foil to the flamboyance of Tendulkar, Ganguly, and the wristy artistry of VVS Laxman. Yet, his most commendable virtue was his work ethic.
Rahul Dravid always played to the demands of his team. In 1996, on his debut at Lord’s he batted with the tail, farmed the strike, and in the process got so preoccupied with keeping both ends safe, forgot that he was 5 runs short of a Lord’s debut hundred, and got out on 95. No, he didn’t crib. He never cribs. For him, the team is the foremost. He is the go-to man of the team. The readers would observe that I am writing about Rahul Dravid in present tense. That is because he is the same even when coaching the U-19 and the India -A sides. Nothing deters him from serving the team. And he doesn’t say no to any task the captain assigns to him.
Bat the day out? – Sure Skipper, and I wouldn’t mind the spectators’ flak too.
Accelerate? – I’d do my best.
Keep wickets? – Yes, Captain!
Open the batting? – You can depend on me, Captain.
Captain the side? – Sure, I’d give my best.
And, whatever his record might suggest, he gave his best, sold his wicket dearly and placed the team before the individual, always.
For someone who just watches cricket as a hobby, Rahul Dravid’s batting won’t be attractive. But, the connoisseurs would drool over him for making a 30, in about 2 hours, on a sticky wicket. He can do that and despite the wicket, appear impenetrable. Not many can.
By the England tour of 2007, Dravid had shed his “Blocker” tag with some astonishingly quick innings in the 2003 world cup, and was a complete batsman, who could block when required, and attack when the situation demanded so. Mind you, he debuted in T20I in his last playing season, and his first scoring stroke was a six over long-on. The side was well stacked with talent and experience too.
The openers Jaffer and Dinesh Kartik were in good form, Dravid himself was in excellent nick. Saurav Ganguly and the “GOD” and the Very Very Special Laxman were in the side. The young wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni looked like he belonged to the international arena. Anil Kumble was amongst the best spinners in the world, with quality seamers in Zaheer Khan, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, and RP Singh.
In the Lord’s series opener, England won the toss and elected to bat. Strauss scored 96, Vaughan scored 79, while Cook and Peterson made useful 30s to take the England total to 298. All the bowlers picked up wickets, a good sign for the first test of the series. Indian reply was lukewarm. They made only 201 – Jaffer made 58, Sachin and Sourav made 30 odd each, and the captain himself made only 2. England made 282 in their second innings, with Kevin Pieterson making 134. RP Singh bagged a fifer and Zaheer Khan bagged 4. India were set 380 to win in 5 sessions. India started briskly, and the opening pair added 38 in 10 overs, and lost Jaffer. The captain followed Jaffer quickly and the score read 55/2.
Sachin Tendulkar scratched around for his 16 runs and fell with the score at 84. Ganguly and Karthik then stitched up a partnership to steady the rocking boat, and India ended the day at 137/3, with 7 wickets in hand and 243 more needed to win. But on the fifth morning, both, Ganguly (40) and Karthik (60) fell in quick succession, and Indian hopes of winning were dashed. Laxman and Dhoni hung around for 30 odd overs, but India still was staring at a customary Lord’s defeat. With 231 on the board, Laxman fell for 39.
After that, Dhoni was at one end and wickets kept falling at the other end, and India slipped to 282/9, one wicket away from defeat. It was nearly curtains for India, when the rain gods intervened, and no further play in the match was possible. The match was drawn. Dhoni had played an uncharacteristic innings of 79 in 159 balls and remained unbeaten. This show of his maturity might well have earned him India’s T20 captaincy for the inaugural T20I world cup in South Africa, which India went on to win.
After the narrow escape at Lord’s, the Indian side went to Nottingham in a more alert frame of mind. Dravid won the toss and sent England in to bat in an overcast morning. England were bundled out for 198. Only Alistair Cook made a substantial score of 43. Zaheer Khan bagged 4 wickets, Kumble 3, and Shreesanth, Ganguly and RP Singh took one wicket each. The Indian reply was a lot more purposeful.
All the top order batsmen- Karthik (77) Jaffer (62), Dravid (37), Tendulkar (91) , Ganguly (79), Laxman (54) – pulled their weight on, and India took a handsome lead of 283 over the hosts. England fared much better in their second innings. They made 355, Strauss (55), Vaughan (124) and Collingwood (63) being the main contributors. Zaheer Khan claimed a fifer, and Anil Kumble took 3. India required 73 to win, the openers scored 22 each, Tendulkar could manage only a solitary run, and it fell on the duo of their captain and the former captain to guide them across the line, which they did. India was 1-0 up in the series.
The last test was at the Oval, which has been a happy hunting ground for Indians. Oval didn’t disappoint the Indian batting line up. Once again, the entire top order Karthik (77), Jaffer (35), Dravid (55), Tendulkar (82), Laxman (51), Ganguly (37) and Dhoni (92), played their part, but none made a century. The solitary test century for India on the tour came from…. Anil Kumble. He scored a chanceless 110 and went One -up against Shane Warne in the leg-spinners’ competition going on then, though in an unlikely area outside both of their core competence. Jumbo now had a test century, and Warnie’s top test score was (and is) 99. India were all out for 664.
England replied with 345. Cook, Bell and Collingwood scored half centuries. India batted again, scored 180/6 (Ganguly 57, Laxman-46, Dhoni-36) and set England 500 to win in 110 overs. England batted out these overs, none other than Pieterson (101) and Bell (67 off 62) making a dash at the win, Prior and Sidebottom stonewalled for an hour, to ensure that they do not lose a wicket, and the match petered to a draw. India had won a series in England after 21 years, and the captain, though not at his best with the bat had inculcated a sense of purpose in the team, which saw the players sticking to their tasks, and putting clinical performances to achieve their series victory.
The same year, Dravid (and India) had a disastrous world cup in the West Indies and he stepped down from the captaincy. But the team man he is, he kept giving his best for the Indian team, and played some of his best cricket in those years. After retirement, being offered to coach the India seniors’ team, he politely declined the offer and asked to be the coach of the U-19 and the India-A team, to “build a strong feeder system to the Indian team” and the results are evident.
Yet, he has a rare dignity and sense of occasion about everything. Quiet, Methodical, and confident approach to his work ensures success, but when the success comes, he chooses to savoir it in the confines of the four walls, and not giving bragging interviews or indulging in wild celebrations. Among the subsequent India captains, despite the difference in their personalities, one admirable common attribute is evident – Work Ethic. When you are fortunate enough to rub shoulders with Rahul Sharad Dravid, you are bound to have an impeccable Work ethic.
That’s the Legacy of Rahul Dravid, which the Indian team should be indebted to.
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