RAHUL DRAVID – THE WAY I SEE HIM
It may sound ignorant and uninitiated of me, but my earliest recollection of Rahul “The Wall” Dravid is not his brilliant test debut in 1996 or his first ODI century against Pakistan in 1997, a match most cricket fans remember for Saeed Anwar’s record breaking 194. Maybe because I was too young back then to read newspapers or watch cricket news on TV, my only source of information were the boys in my colony, the kind who played cricket every free hour of the day with their bats decorated with Sachin, Azhar and Ganguly stickers. I remember first coming across the name of Rahul Dravid in 1999, when one guy proudly proclaimed that from now on he will be called Rahul Dravid as he is the best Indian batsman. Then came the World Cup in England, and I, like all Indians would never forget that name again.
India did not make it past the Super Six stage in the 1999 WC, but despite this Dravid emerged as the highest run-scorer of the tournament with 461 runs at an average of 65.85. he became the only Indian to score two back-to-back centuries in a World Cup, But it were his innings against Sri Lanka that created a lasting impact in my mind. He scored a solid 145 runs and was involved in a then world record partnership for any wicket with Sourav Ganguly adding a whopping 318 runs. He also top scored in the crucial India vs Pakistan match with 61. The year 1999 was the defining year of his career, statistically it was his best year where he scored 1761 runs in 43 ODIs at an average of 46.34 along with 6 of his 12 ODI centuries. It was in 1999 that Rahul Dravid finally stamped his class over ODI cricket, when after years he finally secured a permanent place in the Indian team.
Today as Rahul Dravid gets ready to say farewell to the limited over game, it almost seems ridiculous to think that critics termed him unfit to play it. Dravid is the 7th highest run-scorer in ODIs and one of only eight batsmen to have scored 10,000 plus runs in ODIs with 12 centuries and 82 half –centuries, an average of average of 39 and a strike rate of 71. Then the detractors came out with the theory that keeping wickets will adversely affect his batting. But why listen to them when the numbers speak for themselves, 2300 runs at an average of 44.23 as wicket-keeper batsman. Dravid is the only player to be part of not one, but two 300 plus runs partnership with Ganguly and Dravid scoring 145 and 153 respectively. And for those who think he was a slow player, do you know that he has scored the second-fastest fifty by an Indian? I vividly remember that innings, 50 off 22 balls vs New Zealand at Nagpur. He was adjudged Man of the Match and was gifted a LCD TV which he shyly admitted was going to his in-laws place. It was one of my favourite Dravid moments.
Speaking of Dravid moments, I have a special list, and surprisingly none of them are centuries. Remember the Karachi ODI in 2004? India and Pakistan had resumes cricket ties after years and that Samsung Cup series was one of the most keenly awaited series. In the first ODI, India just about managed to win by 5 runs, Dravid scored a valuable 99 runs, sadly getting bowled when he was on the figure. It was one of the best I have seen in ODIs. The next one came in the same series, in the fourth ODI. India needed to win that match in order to keep the series alive and chasing we were 5 wickets down. That is when Dravid stepped up and along with Mohd Kaif stitched up a partnership which bailed India out of trouble and we went on to win the series 3-2. The list goes on and on, the number of times he has contributed to post a respectable target, the number of times he has stepped up in a chase, the number of times India have won a match mainly because of him. I remember an old saying, something that all the men in my colony used to famously say, “Till Dravid is on the crease playing, India are still in the hunt.”
Dravid has been dropped from the Indian ODI team thrice, but the last one in 2007 seemed like the final nail. He himself had given up on donning the Indian blues again. But a poor run in England led the selectors to panic and he was picked up for the England series. But this time he has decided to go out in his own terms, he has announced his retirement from limited over cricket. As he comes out on the field for one last time in the blue jersey, all I hope is for him to go out on a winning note. It will be India’s last match on this disastrous England tour and the least we can do is finish it on a high. Here is wishing The Wall god luck on his final ODI and Team India even more luck to win this last match.