"Silently going about, doing his business."
- A gazillion people, on Rahul Dravid.
Fifteen years ago at Lord's, in walked a skinny top order batsman, who was in the team for another batsman missing out on the test... And on his debut, teased the English bowlers with cream and venom alike, and made a respectable 95 runs. Not putting his name on the honour's board didn't hurt as much as not going on forever did.
Introducing Rahul Sharad Dravid. The man who planted the trees on the top order to hold the loose soil tight. The man who took the scoring brunt off the shoulders of Azhar and Sachin, sharing loads with the colleague Sourav and his dearest buddy, VVS...thereby starting a new era of Indian batting order. One that would last for a decade, stripping opposition of pride and fame, creating pride and fame for their own team, and continually raising standards to reach the pinnacle they just did.
Came in as a top order stabilizer, became a top order mobilizer with continuous commendable performances in ODIs. Instantly, he had a fan club (not the easiest thing to do when you have Sachin polarizing the nation, and Sourav rising up too), and had tons of girls drooling over him. Then there was Jam Jam Jammie.
Nothing deterred his concentration. We've seen Waughs and Sachins and Laras. But none of them have the concentration level of Rahul Dravid. With no imposition to go for the high-flying shots that define the younger generation, Dravid trusted his 6th, 7th and 8th sense - concentration. Armed with the defense of highest quality, he ground the bowlers, brought them to his mercy and then punished them with his artillery of stroke-play.
Want an example to prove his concentration?
That, in an age where NZ would have the most hostile pitches for subcontinental batsmen, ball zipping around and all that. That total spoke volumes of his talent.
A dozen years later, he has 5 double tons for India, only bettered by Sachin and the only Indian with triple ton (two of them) - Sehwag. No other contemporary or past batsmen have as many. And his double tons came at the Oval, Pindi, Ahmedabad, Delhi and Adelaide. But for Ahmedabad, every other test had an ordeal to surpass.
The sweetest of them all? Adelaide. That innings was one that laid India on the path to overseas success. An innings that instilled fear in opponents' spine, even if at home. A feel of "nothing is over until it is over" and other cliched lines.
Not to forget that 190 and a 191 at Nagpur vs NZ. If Dravid sets his eye in, he will not let go of the grip.
And no, he is not a test-only batsman. He has been a prolific limited over batsman. More than 10000 runs, having been asked to bat at multiple positions in the batting line up, tossed around like a volleyball. One thing that did not change was the consistency in delivery.
People don't generally associate Dravid with speed. But, one cannot forget his whirlwind fifty against NZ, that till date stands to be the 2nd fastest Indian fifty in ODI, albeit shared by a few others (Sehwag, Yuvraj, Kapil Dev). Dravid was pushed down the order so faster scorers can accelerate. But it was Dravid who actually did the acceleration that night. Cover drives were given a harder push, a little more lift. As simple as that, came the sixes.
We remember Sachin's 186 and Ganguly's 183 as examples of Indian ODI's greatest innings. But at the other end of those innings, was Rahul Dravid. He had 153 and 145, better than run-a-ball, and is the sole cricketer features in two triple century partnerships. Not Sachin, not Ganguly. Dravid.
Greg Chappell came in, tossed the team around like a Chinese tossing vegetables on a pan. Dravid, slotted to play at no.3 or 4 would have to make space for Irfan Pathan or Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the floaters. Chappell displaces Ganguly from the scene and thrusts the captaincy onto Rahul Dravid. Dravid has since managed the team to overseas success, even though he wasn't enjoying captaincy.
When Mongia's jaws were rearranged by Jumbo, fellow Bangalorean, Rahul Dravid stepped up and took the gloves. Saba Karim's offer to fly in as India's cover-up was put on hold, as Dravid was made to take up this additional job for the rest of the tournament, a world cup tournament that.
His 145 vs Sri Lanka at Taunton was then the 2nd highest score by a wicket-keeper batsman, the highest in that category a world cup. Only Gilchrist's 2007 final has bettered that in a world cup.
He was made to continue as the keeper for 70 odd games, to accommodate another batsman in the line up. He had to squat 50 times in the subcontinent, and then come on to balance the top order.
He had to take the brunt of captaincy during a torrid time in Indian cricket.
When the team was without openers, Dravid was pushed to open the innings. It was not his favourite spot, but he took the shot for the team.
Why, you put up posters and placards with his face sitting besides the name he doesn’t like, “The Wall”, but continues to live with it.
In an age where people miss every second game for some injury or the other, Rahul went on to play record number of tests in a row until he missed a test. And that record has only been eclipsed by the flawless health of Gilchrist.
He had to give up his ODI place to "young blood" who would go on to earn money by wearing colourful jerseys in petty leagues doing what could only be best described as "dancing to rap music". His WC 2007 memories not helping, he reserved himself to test cricket, though available for the shorter form too. But for Kohli, India hasn't seen a batsman who can be half as close to Dravid's stature, to be able to manage that spot at the top order with as much calmness as he did. Gambhir and Ganguly are not natural no.3, but they were made to fall back to no.3 at times from their natural opening slot, which by default pushed Dravid back.
And today, when the panic button sounds alarms, the team falls back to the game's biggest servant to save them from further blushes in this English tour. Indian ODI may not be moving forward, but it had to return to the man who has helped the team in the exact same situation time and again in history. Once again, something unforeseen strikes Rahul Dravid.
Has anyone, anyone, ever had a cup of coffee with him and asked “Forget our needs, what would you like to have? What do you want to see? Where do you want to play? Are you comfortable? Do you need rest?” Dravid is the precious Kohinoor we couldn’t live without, which shone the room of Indian cricket with grace and brought delight. A man who took the services from the likes of Jadeja and Siddhu and the likes, looking to hand over the keys to Kohli and Pujara and the likes, Indian cricket hasn’t been half as kind as it could’ve been to Rahul.
He smoothened the middle order, he opened the innings on demand, he cut through arrays of records, he sliced open racks of bowling attacks, he screwed and bolted the Indian batting order, he anchored many an ends in his career, and clipped away needless gossips from the team... With a smile.
India’s Swiss Knife. Rahul Sharad Dravid.