Rahul Dravid (R) © Getty Images
Rahul Dravid (R) © Getty Images

Ganguly, mujhe cricket mein batting zyada acha lagta hai. (Ganguly, I like batting better in cricket.)”

I hope you ignored Dravid’s poor Hindi dialect when you imagined it. But, what if Rahul Dravid had rejected wicketkeeping duties and focussed only on his batting?

India would not have had the luxury to play an extra seamer in 2003 World Cup. If Dravid would not have realised his potential at No. 3, India’s tail-enders would have batted more frequently on the opening day of overseas Tests. If Dravid would not have been an experimental captain, Irfan Pathan’s ODI batting strike rate would not have hovered around 80. That and more, come to think of it.

Dravid’s contribution towards Indian cricket is unrivalled. While the sport blossomed after Sir Don Bradman, Allan Border, Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar’s entries, Dravid’s all-round skills deserve a separate chapter in cricketing history.

While connoisseurs of the game have repeatedly tried to decipher Dravid’s greatness, I make an honest attempt on the eve of his 45th birthday.

Dravid batted like there was no tomorrow

Dravid, in early 2000s, had quoted, “Playing in the same team as Sachin is a huge honour. His balance of mind, shrewd judgment, modesty and, above all, his technical brilliance make him my all-time hero. You can’t get a more complete cricketer than Sachin. He has everything that a cricketer needs to have”.

Realising he was some distance away from the big league, Dravid created his own niche. He, thus, put a price on his scalp irrespective of the format.

Dravid batted like there was no tomorrow. Type ‘Dravid ton versus New Zealand 1999’ on Youtube search bar. The innings is a lesson for every budding cricketer to master proper cricketing shots. Dravid’s body balance while playing the cut, exquisite flicks and cover drives defined his 190 at Hamilton. To narrow down the point further, he accumulated 65.26 per cent runs in boundaries. Do you remember that Dravid slammed twin-centuries in the Test?

Dravid’s 148 against South Africa at Johannesburg in 1997 was an ideal example of his mindset. In his initial days, Dravid exhibited what it is to score in tough, seamer-friendly conditions. He kept the ball down the ground, but didn’t fail to keep the scoreboard ticking. The pulls and cuts should be on repeat for the current Indian batsmen in the African nation.

Dravid earned a mention in Lord’s Hall of Fame after his century in 2011. His ability to drive the fuller deliveries (English pacers’ common weapon to invite the edges) and steer them past the fence stood out. While guiding it past slip fielders, he managed to play with soft hands and negate the bounce by withdrawing his bottom hand. He was an artist.

Two of Dravid’s many hallmark innings are 233 against Australia and 270 against Pakistan in their own dens. Add the master-class 180: he played the second fiddle to perfection in one of the gruelling Test versus Australia, in 2001.

After all, he is human

Despite all this, Dravid’s shortcomings were evident. While the right-hander mastered the art of batting for hours and countering swing, he was found wanting against any movement off the deck. Dravid wasn’t at his best against lateral movement, and got his stumps rattled frequently.

Author’s take confession

A friend asked, “Being a Dravid fan, why don’t you write on him?” I replied, “Being a writer, I shouldn’t say this but I am afraid to fall short of words. I don’t have adequate vocabulary to describe his personality, address all his achievements (which he claimed while removing flaws), and describe a human being who remained the the wolf who lived for the pack till last his match.”

Whatever cricket I’ve played, I have tried to emulate Dravid. His trigger movement was neat. His elbows pointed towards somewhere between mid-off and covers. While opening the face of the bat, Dravid’s right-hand palm directed exactly towards cover region. No matter how much I respect and adore him, I admit he irked me with his perfectionist attitude.

Averaging a mere 20 as an opener, I finally gave up. There is only one Rahul Dravid and will remain so. His greatness can be decoded from the fact that he constantly reinvented himself in his 16-year career. He was not a regular in limited-overs before 1999 World Cup but ended as the highest run-scorer in the tournament. Termed as a defensive player, Dravid stroked at 71.24 in ODIs, in an era when T20 was in cricket’s womb.

Leader of the pack, man of the hour

After the infamous Ganguly-Chappell saga, Dravid was appointed the captain of Team India. He has time and again been judged for India’s disastrous 2007 World Cup campaign. However, the critics forget that he led India to Test series victory in West Indies and England. Dravid’s credentials remained par excellent. Contrary to his on-field nature, he  was an in-your-face skipper. Dravid never bogged down from experiments. Most of them bore effective results. Pathan’s promotion to No. 3, maintaining close-in fielders in important phases of a Test, and giving full license to Dinesh Karthik, S Sreesanth, Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni built the fulcrum for India’s future.

One for the younger lot…

When a cricketer retires, the headline usually goes: he/she hung his/her. It wasn’t the same for Dravid. The former Indian skipper took up India A and U-19 coaching job in June 2015. Since then, India have emerged victorious in triangular series and then the younger lot finished second in 2016 World Cup. The important feature is that they are in the shadow of a calming influence: Dravid.

The common aspect of Dravid’s coaching has been his timing of rotating players. He firmly believes that making youngsters sit out for longer periods can distract and hamper their confidence. He has not let that happen. Also, owing to his down-to-earth attitude, his communication skills have been topnotch.

The players who nurtured under Dravid are Rishabh Pant, Washington Sundar, Khaleel Ahmed, Unmukt Chand, Ishan Kishan, Shreyas Iyer, Sarfaraz Khan, Avesh Khan among others. 

One of his most famous ploys was: to motivate U-19 team during World Cup, Dravid asked the team management to make their montages. While Pant saw his monster sixes, Avesh witnessed the wickets he snared. A squad that might not have done anything remarkable recognised their ability. They ended as runners-up.

Today, Hardik Pandya is compared to the great Kapil Dev. Pandya underlined Dravid’s role in his career. The all-rounder told DNA, “For me, everything changed after my tour of Australia with the India A team. It is a tour that transformed me as a cricketer. I can’t but thank Dravid enough for his contribution. I understood that there is a mental aspect about the game that needs to be worked upon. He (Dravid) made me mentally stronger.”

Dravid, a phenomenon? One in a million? There, I fail again.

One can apply any formula and analyse for days, but Dravid remains a difficult code to decrypt.

Dravid seems forever indebted towards the sport which gave him everything.