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Over the last three seasons, ever since Rahul Dravid made his way to Rajasthan Royals, the Bangalore crowd has had its loyalty tested once every IPL. Last year was particularly poignant. Royal Challengers Bangalore took on Royals a month after Dravid had retired from international cricket and he was given a rousing reception when he came on to the ground. This time, the scene was no different.
Amid a sea of red flags, fans supporting the home side drowned out Dravid's voice at the toss. The entire stadium chanted his name in unison, cheering when his name was flashed on the giant screen as the teams were shown.
They cheered when he walked out to bat and egged him on through his slow start, temporarily switching their loyalties to applaud the five fours he hit. A 10-year-old seated behind me anxiously wondered why Stuart Binny would not give Dravid more of the strike.
In the lead-up to the match against Royal Challengers, Dravid's leadership was gathering plenty of praise. It was innovative, fresh and aggressive, and he had led Royals, a side lacking in big names, to the top of the points table. There were some interesting moves - from playing five seamers on a home track against Kolkata Knight Riders, to demoting himself down the order in favour of Dishant Yagnik and good use of a talented but low-profile bowling attack.
With that context, it was hard not to look back at the first season of the IPL in 2008, when he led Royal Challengers. The side finished seventh and his captaincy was roundly criticised by everyone from the team owners to the ordinary fan. Few remember, though, that he was the only Royal Challengers batsman to score more than 300 runs in the season. The next year, Dravid was replaced at the helm by Kevin Pietersen and then Anil Kumble.
He hasn't been at his most prolific at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. In the 16 international matches that he has played, across all formats, Dravid has scored 529 runs at an average of 26.45. His record in the IPL hasn't been too great either. Before the match, he had 248 runs in 15 matches.
In the end, Dravid managed just 35 and fell trying to get his team's innings going. After he holed out to long-on, he did not walk out to glum silence or nostalgia-tinged applause. It was a full-throated roar by the entire stadium at the fall of the opposition's captain. The fans, having cheered Dravid's innings lustily, got back to enjoying a Royal Challengers victory that put the home team on top of the table.
Rachna Shetty is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Rachna Shetty
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