Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rahul Dravid - A Thorough Professional and a Gentleman Cricketer

Rahul Dravid's retirement announcement was no surprise to me. Something about these Karnataka cricketers, especially this bunch of Srinath, Kumble, Dravid and their contemporaries makes you wonder where and whom they learnt their life lessons from. Their decisions to step down were perfectly timed - in fact Srinath was called out of his retirement to play the World Cup in South Africa which shows he quit before his time - and well on top of their game. I love the lot for their grace, their graciousness, their spirit and the maturity they brought to the game. All of them and many of their contemporaries are indeed role models for cricketers from the rest of the country to emulate in terms of behaviour on and off the field.

They also brought a great amount of professionalism to the sport. Always doing it for the team and never for themselves. An attitude that always comes through the television screen - you cannot hide it. The agendas, the games, the tricks are all too obvious, or for the slightly naive, one can just sense that something is just not right. But not with these gentlemen cricketers from Karnataka who were part of the renaissance of Indian cricket where we morphed from eternal whiners to world champions who gave it back by actions and sometimes by words. They have all safely taken India to the crest and now move on, having show the way.

Srinath was hostile and made batsmen hop and hustle without ever having resorted to bowling bouncers or using non-cricketing techniques like sledging about families. Kumble was a competitor who was as fierce as any West Indian fast bowler, one who had the heart of a lion. Then there is Rahul Dravid who brought a solidity that must have made bowlers all over sigh at the very sight. It is only when you bowl to these technically superior batsmen that you realise how they can frustrate you with their perfection. So much so that as a bowler you feel it is pointless to go back to the top of the run up to bowl at them sometimes. For years opposition skippers have said that the batsman they feared most in the famed Indian batting line up was Rahul Dravid and they say it because he is the kind who drains out hope from the opposition. As long as there is hope the opposition has life but when hope goes, there is nothing that one can clutch on to. Dravid was the kind who would suck out hope with the dead bat, the still calm and the patience of mountains. Nothing could shake him, make him play a shot that was not practiced.

I played with Srinath in Inter varsity games when he turned up for Mysore University as a speedy young lad with great inswingers that always got our dashing opener Masood out LBW in the first over. I never played against Kumble or Rahul though I followed Kumble as he scored a century for the Under 19 India and then made his Test debut as an unconventional leg spinner. Then I watched a one day match between Hyderabad and Karnataka in the Subbiah Pillai tournament when Hyderabad set Karnataka a stiff target at Gymkhana grounds Secunderabad. I watched the game from my scooter on the road as Karnataka lost all its top batsmen and was five or six wickets down and the rate had gone past 8 runs an over for the next 25 overs or so which pretty much ended all hope for Karnataka. Young Rahul Dravid was batting solidly at one end when I took off home. Next day I saw in the papers that Karnataka had won and Rahul had made 150 plus runs. Something about that knock made me think that this boy would soon play for Indian and he did.

More than the runs he scored for India it was the manner and circumstance in which he scored them that makes him special. He always stood up in adversity. He never changed or got influenced by the flamboyance that adorned the Indian batting - Tendulkar, Sehwag, Laxman, Ganguly. He kept going, absolutely sure of his role, his place, his technique, his training and gave the best he had. He was involved in innumerable big partnerships with all of the above and was always the reason for the partnership to flourish. To play second fiddle, to wear down bowlers who would then take a chance with the other batsmen, to bring a sense of balance was his forte. As a bowler I can well imagine how it must be to bowl at him for long periods where you are denied even a whiff of success at getting a wicket. Ball after ball is left, or played solidly back to you, all shots go off the meat of the bat, there is no element of risk. You inch closer and closer to the wicket as he leaves the balls outside the offstump that other batsmen flirt with. Just when you have moved in enough, you find the dead bat blocking you. If you err in length, the feet move perfectly and the ball is dispatched solidly to the fence. When you see other batsmen it is easy for bowlers to experiment to get a wicket because they are more likely to go after it. Dravid was indeed a master at the art of attrition.

In declaring well before a dithering Sachin got his double hundred, in quitting captaincy at the end of a successful tour, in always being comfortable holding up the fort while all else got the accolades, in many such circumstances Rahul has shown that he is for the team first and nothing can get in the way, even friendships or personal glory. It is this quality of his, and his rock solid professionalism that mark the man as a cricketer. When he had a lean season a few years ago and was dropped from the Indian side Rahul, the eternal student of the game, sought out the ageing Rehmat Baig, the coach at the ML Jaisimha Cricket Academy now but previously with the BCCI, and came down for a two day stint with this old and respected coach. Such humility is rare in Indian cricket. That was the time I first met him and found him to be one who carried no starry airs at all - IPL, Indian captaincy and all were fresh. We had a small chat while driving him to and from the hotel he was staying in, he spoke about the IPL business model, about his cricket and stuff frankly. A few months later I met him again at a memorial service and book launch for the late Rajan Bala at the CCI in Mumbai. The entire Indian team was practising outside and Rahul was the only one who came to attend the small function in memoriam of one of India's greatest sports journalists, a function that was presided over by Sanjay Manjrekar. Rahul in his typical style shunned all attempts to be seated on stage, listened intently to all that was said, released the book and went away well after the end of the program. It was also nice to see Harsha Bhogle walk in as well spontaneously and pay his respects by adding his presence to the gathering.

It is easy to see why Rahul is so popular. He has no agenda other than doing his job and doing it well - be it speaking at lectures, being the ambassador for the sport, or batting. He just does it well, takes it seriously and does it with the pride that is required of any work. He is easy to approach, unlike most celebrities who move under a cloak of self importance and insecurity (no wonder they need a lot of security). One would be surprised to see how easy the vibe is with Rahul - I have seen complete strangers ask all sorts of things from him in the few minutes that I spent with him and he answered them all patiently and politely.

If there is one thing we could learn from Rahul Dravid, it is that one must plan, prepare well to execute well. That one must constantly improve oneself to be at the top, however talented one may be. That one must know what one is, what one's strengths are and remain true to them despite all the noise, all the glamour and glitz. That one must be true to the medium that one can express oneself best, and always respect it, however high one may find oneself floating. That sacrifices are a must, that one must take the good with the bad, roll with the punches and come back to office the next day. He always worked on every aspect of the game, tirelessly and that is one thing that everyone of his colleagues say - he kept pushing the bar for himself.

It will be easy for Rahul to step into whatever life he chooses because he has always been comfortable in the shadows despite the enormity of the burden he bore - he always knew what he was worth, what value he brought. To be the man chosen by none other than Steve Waugh to write the famous Aussie's autobiography's Foreword is no joke - it shows the enormous respect he has among the greatest of the greats. Unlike most celebrities who miss the spotlight because they know themselves less, Rahul will move on gracefully. If anyone will feel the deep vacuum that starts expanding slowly and quietly, it is in the dressing room of the Indian cricket team which Rahul Dravid has left permanently. For giving much and for teaching much by merely being himself, the nation and all cricket lovers owe Rahul Dravid a heartfelt thanks and warm wishes that speed him on to whatever he desires to do. Well done Rahul Dravid and may you use your considerable intelligence and your many other facets to good use to the society at large.


Prasanna Kumar said...

Wonderful article Hari sir.

Thanks a lot.

Harimohan said...

Thanks Prasanna.