Of all the cricketers that have inspired me in various ways, Rahul Dravid has to be the one that serves as the perfect one, even more so than Sachin Tendulkar. While Tendulkar lifted the spirits of an entire nation and an entire generation with his sheer brilliance, Dravid’s evolution is what makes him even more inspirational. I say that because not every one of us may be as naturally gifted in our respective fields the way Tendulkar seemed right through his career (though this is certainly not meant to take anything away from Tendulkar’s famed work ethic and dedication to his cricket). And a closer look at Dravid’s evolution as a cricketer should give several reasons to believe in one self and optimize one’s potential.
By the time he called time on his glorious career, Dravid did not score one run less than what he could have. Not one run. In amassing almost 25,000 runs at the international level, he stretched himself well beyond what may have been his comfort zone at the start of his career. In fact, he kept expanding his zone of comfort to the point that there seemed no room for further expansion that when it was time for him to call it quits, he could step back and marvel at the ‘wall’ (as he was called affectionately for the stability of his batting and the near impenetrability of his defense) of fame that he had created painstakingly.
When Dravid began his career, his batting was one of the most pleasing sights in cricket but that was when you were watching him in Tests. In one-dayers, barring a few glimpses like his valiant century in a losing cause against Pakistan in Chennai in ‘97 (a game that I had the misfortune [since India lost badly] of watching live!), he found the going tough because he just could not go beyond his classicism and correctness. It made for painful watching all the more so because he was a sheer pleasure to watch in Tests. But in the early 2000s, he worked on his game so seriously that in both formats he started to flourish and became the anchor for the batting side. It was not just his well-developed technique but also his wonderful attitude that served him well. Starting with his unforgettable 180 in the Kolkata Test of 2001, he went from strength to strength, continually crafting magical innings in the most testing of situations.
Having grown up watching cricket in the 90s where the Indian team lacked severely in temperament, it was a welcome change to watch Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and of course, Tendulkar all combine to form a batting line up that supplemented their ability with oodles of positive attitude and a never-say-die spirit. It was extremely gratifying for loyal fans of the Indian cricket like me to watch players like Dravid and Laxman fight as true team players, excelling individually but never losing sight of the team’s goals. And Dravid demonstrated his commitment to his team in myriad ways. A case in point is him taking the initiative to keep wickets – again to the best of his abilities - despite the physical strain, just to create an extra batsman or bowler slot for the team. It was also amazing how he would always create new personal goals that would benefit the team. This was never more evident than in his efforts to improve his slip fielding. The fact that he holds the record for maximum number of catches in Test cricket is not only a testament to his longevity (having played 164 Tests) but also his amazing consistency in the field despite the heavy workload he shouldered as a batsman.
As a captain, Dravid had mixed success, enjoying hard-fought victories such as the Test series in England in 2007 but also experiencing tremendous pressure following India’s ignominious early exit from the 2007 World Cup. Even though he had the benefit of a much stronger team than Tendulkar, he still chose to quit as a captain to focus on his batting and fielding. In hindsight, it was not a bad decision since his successor Anil Kumble was a stronger leader even if it was for a brief period. And, of course, MS Dhoni was able to take the team to stratospheric heights especially in one-dayers. All the while, Dravid, despite combating age and dimming reflexes, could recover from slumps and contribute quite handsomely, as was evident in his three centuries - all in losing causes - in the 2011 series in England.
The other facet of Dravid that I really admired was his dignified behavior on and off the field. He was always a picture of class, dignity and centeredness (with very few exceptions) despite having gone through innumerable highs and lows as an individual and as a team. My friend once told me about how in the early 2000s, one of his friends had created a website for Dravid. And Dravid, after having seen the website and been impressed by the content, invited this person to dinner as a token of appreciation. It was just an example of how grounded and humble he was a person.
As we look back at the two greats Dravid and Tendulkar, the latter’s career was akin to an emerging skyscraper gifted to him by God with a solid foundation and a dozen floors on top of which Tendulkar kept adding floors at amazing speed and with grace and stability. By the time Tendulkar finished work on his skyscraper, he had exceeded the heights that were far beyond anyone’s imagination and the skyscraper was so tall that he had to sprain his neck to look down at the next tallest skyscraper. But Dravid, on the other hand, was the man entrusted with building a protective fort, with God having given him just a factory full of bricks and the gift of patience and perseverance. He quickly cemented his reputation by closing every crack through the most disciplined of methods and by the time he completed his fort, there was not one visible crack. He just had to stop further work because he had exhausted every muscle in his body. If we take a leaf out of his book (should I say, a brick out of his wall?!) we working professionals must work hard, smart and push ourselves towards self-created goals that by the time we retire, we can have a satisfied sigh. Being a huge fan and admirer of Dravid, even if I can’t create a fort, I will certainly go beyond building castles in the air!