In the floodlit and dazzling world of Indian cricket, it’s always been the story of the best and the rest. And Rahul Dravid, that gentleman from Bangalore with the wonderful square cut, was mostly somewhere in between. Sure, he did get those runs ' and even kept wickets when you wanted him to. But he wasn’t quite Sachin Tendulkar when it came to sheer brilliance. And once in a while when he did walk out for the toss, he wasn’t quite Sourav Ganguly either when it came to aggression or instincts.
But what goes around, comes around too. After plodding on for years with nicknames like “slowcoach” hanging round his neck, Dravid’s finally in the driver’s seat now. And the Team India juggernaut seems to be rolling quite smoothly under him, notwithstanding an obstacle here and there.
For most of his fans, there is a sense of poetic justice involved in his being made captain of the Indian team, now playing in Sri Lanka. And there are many who hold that Dravid ' who just won the ICC’s Garfield Sobers player-of-the-year award for 2004 ' has finally got his due.
That Dravid ' who hit his first 100 when he was all of 10 in a school match ' is a committed and serious player is stating the obvious. His college-mates in Bangalore remember that he never fooled around at nets, not even when he was playing non-competitive cricket. And Vedam Jaishankar, author of Rahul Dravid: A Biography, talks about how he practised with wet tennis balls on the concrete steps of the KFCA stadium in Bangalore before a tour of Australia. He would make the bowlers bowl from as close as 18 yards. As the balls bounced high, he would keep swaying in and out of their way. “Be it cricket, hockey ' a sport he loves to play ' or studies, his dedication has been exemplary. He’s not the sort who ever takes any short cuts,” says Jaishankar.
And that’s not surprising, for cricket literally runs in Dravid’s veins. His father played for Gwalior and his uncle, who was in the army, wore the services cap. As a child, Dravid didn’t have to go far to look for inspiration ' Gundappa Viswanath was his next door neighbour. Growing up in such circles, you’d expect him to live and breathe cricket, but Dravid graduated with a commerce degree from St Joseph’s College.
Nicknamed Jammie because his father worked for Kissan Foods, Dravid has, clearly, kept his interests honed. The cricketer who loved Richard Bach as a child is fond of history and makes it a point to visit historical places when he travels. And the Kishore Kumar fan still dreams of a stint at the London School of Economics. Evidently, second best ' on the cricket field or outside ' doesn’t quite suit his taste.
For too long now, Dravid ' known in some circles as The Wall ' has been the best man and not the groom. And it’s a story that goes back a long way ' to the 32-year-old Capricornian’s Test debut at Lord’s in 1996. While he played a superb knock, missing his century by a heart-breaking five runs, it was Ganguly who stole the show with a lordly 131. The Maharaj had announced his arrival, while poor Dravid was still trying to get there.
And this pattern got repeated with disconcerting regularity throughout his career. At the historic Eden Test against Australia, Dravid did get a gritty century, but it was Laxman who grabbed the headlines with a majestic 281.
But in these intervening years Dravid seems to have finally found his niche, which is why, even though Sourav is back in the team, no one is taking Dravid’s captaincy lightly.
“I’ve been seeing him since his first Ranji season in 1994-95. He always seemed very resilient and cool in the middle, and it’s a quality he has preserved over the years,” says Sambaran Banerjee, who was one of the selectors during Dravid’s early years. “Whenever he walks out to bat, he always has plans A, B and C chalked out,” says Jaishankar.
The jury is still out on prime time discussing how his captaincy will change the Men in Blue. But be sure Dravid ' who, outside the game, has been known for one of the most famous cricketing quotes in recent years (“After God there is Sourav on the offside”) ' won’t throw in the towel easily. His image of a good boy, who is only seen scoring centuries and not heard, is already taking a back seat.
For Dravid ' who once said that the most embarrassing moment in his life was when he shed copious tears in the dressing room after a poor performance in a junior match ' has just started marching down the aisle. The best man is finally the groom, and right now, at least, there is confetti falling.