Rahul Dravid: The Man Who Would Never Be King


Rahul Dravid: The Man Who Would Never Be King

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

The inimitable, irreplaceable Rahul Dravid celebrates his birthday today, capping off another year of excellence. In 2018, he made history as the fifth Indian to be included in the ICC Hall of Fame. With the Wall earning his rightful place in the Hall, it’s a good time to remember the exploits that got him there in the first place. In light of how much praise Dravid has been receiving, with the HOF nod and his stellar coaching performance for the India U-19 team, it’s funny to me how I don’t clearly remember Rahul Dravid’s final match for India. It’s odd, given how he’s scored more runs for the team than any batsman except Sachin. We remember the final games of his peers, Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, in vivid detail. Ganguly, with his signature Dada swag, autographed the camera on his way out, and Sachin’s last match came against the backdrop of a tearful Wankhede stadium audience bidding farewell to their God. Compared to these flamboyant farewells, Rahul Dravid’s exit from the game was muted. It was announced after he had already played his final Test match, in the confines of a press room at Chinnaswamy Stadium.

But then, fanfare and theatricality have never been part of the Rahul Dravid experience. What’s remarkable about The Wall is that he managed to carve out a legendary reputation for himself even though he doesn’t possess the attention-grabbing qualities we normally associate with successful people. Dravid didn’t claim to be the best technician, or the most dependable batsman in the team, or an able captain. He simply was himself, and the rest of the nation unanimously decided the rest for him.

It is well known that what Rahul Dravid brought to the pitch was an unassuming grace, a quiet serenity. This is an aura he projects even when he’s not playing on the field. Most other players have a distinct schism between their on- and off-field personas. As a player, Virender Sehwag was a bully, while on Twitter he’s the cheeky class clown. Virat Kohli has lover-boy charm off the field, but on the field his vocabulary seems to be limited to MCs and BCs. The entire Australian team has a reputation for being competitive cut-throats during play and raging party animals at night. It’s only Rahul Dravid, who, like a monk, always appeared calm and composed whether he was facing a Brett Lee bouncer or a mob of journalists.

It took me a while to warm up to Dravid, perhaps because of these traits. I started watching cricket during a period when the Indian batting line-up was ridiculously stacked. Stuffed into the line-up in between the firework show that was the Sehwag-Sachin opening partnership, and the southpaw aggression of Sourav Ganguly, was Dravid. As a result, the hard-working, detail-oriented Dravid often seemed to get lost in the shuffle. His contributions were to be appreciated later, when you looked at the scorecard and realised he anchored the innings long after all the other touted batsmen had gone back to the pavilion. It took the passage of time and increased maturity on my part before I noticed how important he was to the team despite his low profile.

So maybe it’s ok that we don’t remember Rahul Dravid’s retirement match. He was never interested in the hero moment.

Humility is a trait that seems to have gone extinct in the current incarnation of Team India. Granted, they seem like they’re winning a lot more these days, but nobody praises humility in unsuccessful people. It’s only when you’re the best in the world at what you do, yet remain humble, like Dravid, that people take notice. When they aren’t on the pitch, today’s players seem more interested in getting into Twitter beefs à la Gautam Gambhir, #BreakTheBeard challenges, and having Anil Kumble removed from his post as coach. While it might be entertaining to watch, and the results mostly positive, someone who remembers the epic Dravid-Laxman stand at Eden Gardens, where they killed the Australians with poise and class, cannot help but have wistful memories of the days where our heroes were gentlemen.

Maybe that’s what the Indian U-19 squad will learn in the capable hands of Rahul Dravid. He’s like the Luke Skywalker of the gentleman’s game, stepping away from the thick of the action so that he can better train the next generation of cricket Jedis. In Star Wars, the Jedi fight the Sith, who are fundamentally the same as them, except that they value pride, anger, and hate as motivating forces. As Rahul Dravid grooms the next generation of cricket superstars, we can only hope that they pick up some of his famous stoicism, equanimity, and dignity.

The U-19 squad has already proved they have the skills to become world beaters. Shubhman Gill showed his class in the destruction of Pakistan in the semi-final of the last U-19 World Cup, and this is over and above his dominant showing in the rest of the tournament. The U-19 team’s captain, Prithvi Shaw, has been in the limelight for his prodigy-level skills since his schoolboy days playing for Mumbai’s Rizvi Springfield. Many other players from this squad also fetched astronomical prices at the IPL auction, which is a telling sign about the kind of faith administrators have in their futures. With this kind of adulation swirling around the U-19 team, concerns about it all going to their head would not be amiss. It falls to Rahul Dravid, their coach and mentor, to show them his Jedi ways. His job is to impart his signature poise and reserve to an effervescent group of excitable and talented youngsters.

So maybe it’s ok that we don’t remember Rahul Dravid’s retirement match. He was never interested in the hero moment. The HOF accolade is just another feather in his ludicrously feathered hat, which he wears with a quiet dignity. If Indian cricket was a fancy omelette stuffed with mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, Parma ham, and cheese, Rahul Dravid would choose to be the salt. Not a headliner, not a special ingredient, but still the most essential item to bring everything together. Not everyone realises its importance until they forget it, and then they remember that it’s the single most important part of the recipe. That’s the contradiction that humble geniuses like Dravid must work around – not being remembered at all… until one day, they’re suddenly unforgettable.