Rahul Dravid © Getty Images
Rahul Dravid is fondly known among his fans as “The wall”  © Getty Images

In a land where cricketers are God-like figures, there is something more human about Rahul Dravid. A Sachin Tendulkar may have symbolised the Indian dream, or MS Dhoni the fantasies of the smaller cities, but Dravid has this aura that attracts you, making you want to be like him. Nishad Pai Vaidya writes about the Dravid phenomenon on the occasion if the great batsman’s 41st birthday.

When you start off as a cricket journalist, you are often in awe of the heroes you watch on the field of play. Meeting them or talking to them for the very first time is an event — a milestone to be remembered for life. However, over time, you lose those starry eyes and meeting some of the legends is a given. Respect takes precedence over fanfare and craze that you grow up with. You learn to talk to them as individuals and not cricketers; going about your job in a professional way. Yet, there are a few who remain those amazing figures, who continue to inspire awe as individuals and as cricketers. Rahul Dravid is one man who continues to invoke those emotions within you, even though talking to cricketers is now a part of the job.

Meeting Dravid for the first time was a challenge for me when I started off as a few years ago. At a book launch in Mumbai, he had dressed in a maroon shirt and was mingling with numerous people approaching him for a chat. He never once said no to an autograph seeker or someone wanting a picture. My cameraman, who has met many celebrities over the years, said, “Sir, here is my phone, can you take a picture of me with Dravid.” I mustered some courage and walked up to Dravid and said, “Sir, it is good to see you here and an honour to watch you play.” I introduced myself and told him that I had just started my career. He smiled through our brief chat and concluded by saying, “Thanks. I hope it goes well for you.”

Even such a small encounter leaves a huge impression on you. Having watched him play and conduct himself ever so gracefully over the years, you picture him as the gentleman. When you meet him, you get a sense of his humility. Then, as you meet him at numerous events or talk to him at press conferences, he has that respectful tone in his voice despite all his glittering achievements. There are no airs about him. The next time I saw him was when during a domestic game in Bangalore. He came quietly, smiled and chatted with a few people and left without a fuss.

In a land where cricketers are elevated to God-like figures, Dravid is one with whom you connect the most. If Sachin Tendulkar symbolised the Indian dream, or MS Dhoni reflected the spirit the young Indians coming from smaller cities, Dravid was the epitome of the fighting middle-class. His efforts were often workmanlike, even in greatness; they were often overshadowed by a more esteemed colleague. But, there was that grit and the hunger for excellence. If Tendulkar was a fairytale Indians dreamed of, Dravid was the inspiration that a man with simple values can pursue excellence and achieve it. His wife wrote about his middle-class upbringings and values in an article for ESPNcricinfo a few years ago and through his career, he exuded those with grace.

Tendulkar too has conducted himself with grace, is a well-respected figure who speaks with humility. But, he has surpassed our realms to become this gigantic doyen; you wish you could be like him. Dravid too achieved greatness, but there is something more human about him due to his simplicity — looking at him, you feel you can be like him. You are in awe of him not because he was a great batsman alone, but because of the person he is. He is your superstar next door.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_45)