It’s been a privilege, Mr Dravid…
What is it about sportsmen?
What is it about them that so enthralls us, like fixes of a drug we are addicted to, makes them idols, casts them as ‘heroes’ in our perceptions of life?
Why is it that they become parts of our lives, chapters of our own stories? Why is it that their feats become so important to us, immediately summoned from memory? Why is it that their achievements becoming statistics that we know to the decimal point, spilling from our mouths, as if numbers could personify what they mean to us?
I actually don’t remember when I first watched him play. From the time I have understood, played and loved the game, I have watched him bat.
That’s a long time.
The solidity of that forward defense, the exquisite cover drive, the straightening of his head when he took guard, that slight tilt of his helmet to let out the sweat borne from hours of concentration, I have watched all of it.
I have watched him 15 years. And watching him go isn’t easy.
Much has been written about the man. But I think one word describes him best – immaculate. He was a gentleman, a man of principle, someone who thought ideals were important, a cricketer who loved books.
Many overlook how tough he was. The second highest run scorer in the history of test match cricket was a fierce warrior, a fighter, who won battles with patience and wars with concentration. He single handedly took apart the tag the Indian team had of being lousy tourists. He did things for the team no one else would have even attempted. He kept wickets when the team wanted. He opened the batting when everyone around him failed. It tells you something that Harsha titled his tribute to him ‘The Wolf who lived for the Pack’.
He sometimes gave you glimpses of the storm that raged within. Have you ever watched him bat when he was out of form, when he was going through a rough patch? For me, that was when I saw test match batting at its very best. He would groan, he would grind his teeth, he would look like a person who was battling demons. The mere act of watching it was torturously intense and would leave me spent. But he would fight on. He would grind it out. And almost all the time, he would win. I always wondered how he did it, day in and day out, how strong someone would have to be to play like that.
He was the anchor for a dazzling team, a collection of champions, and he was arguably the greatest of them. His retirement signifies a changing of the guard unlike any Indian Cricket will ever see, an era which later generations will only be able to gape at and never hope to comprehend. We were lucky, weren’t we?
He gave the greatest singular gift to a proud nation – memories. Memories, which will become stories me and many others of my generation will tell later. We will talk of a sportsman who achieved much more than his talent was capable of producing, through sheer hard work and dedication, old world values, you see. We will talk of how he would wear down the best bowlers in the world, bit by bit, ball by ball, session by session, until he could stroke that one ball through the covers.
It still is difficult to get my head around. Will he not be there? Won’t that reassuring, confident walk of his calm nerves next time India lose the first wicket somewhere abroad? Won’t our beloved Wall walk out, all steel and resolve, take guard and bat the rest of the day? Where will we go to find someone half as good?
There will never be another like him.
India’s new no. 3, I really hope you know what you are inheriting, whose shoes you will be filling. The world will judge you against the greatest one-down the world has ever seen, or probably hope to see.
You will be judged against Rahul Sharad Dravid. I hope you know how big an honor it is that your name will be spoken in the same sentence as his.