Indian cricket March 9, 2012

Meeting Rahul Dravid: The soul of a champion

This man simply did not have the airs of a sporting superstar, someone who was rich and famous, and hobnobbed with other cricketing superstars

In January 2011, I travelled to Bangalore to meet Rahul Dravid and interview him for the book I was then writing. I intended to write on the changing face of modern cricket, on its response to the introduction of the franchise into a nation-based game, on the challenges Test cricket faced, and on the effects of media and technology on the game. When I thought of which Indian cricketers I would most like to talk to, Dravid's name suggested itself as an obvious choice.

Shortly after I received word that I should go ahead and contact Rahul, I called and spoke briefly with him on the phone. He was unfailingly courteous and helpful, providing detailed directions to his house, even solicitously inquiring whether I knew my way about Bangalore (I didn't, but assured him that I would be just fine).

I arrived at his residence on time, was shown in, and soon our conversation started. Dravid was dressed casually and conducted himself with a polite, relaxed informality that put me instantly at ease, and prompted me to ask all the questions I wanted to. Mrs. Dravid joined us for a few minutes, brought us tea, asked me a few questions about my background, and then left to take care of their boys.

As I talked to Dravid, a slight sense of unreality pervaded the proceedings. This man simply did not have the airs of a sporting superstar, someone who was rich and famous, and hobnobbed with other cricketing superstars (though he did sometimes casually refer to them by first name). I could have been talking to someone that was a keen fan of cricket, rather than a Test great and a former India captain. At times, I had to keep reminding myself that this was Rahul Dravid. Of course, the quality, sharpness, and sometimes bluntness of his observations on cricket, the level of cricketing knowledge on display, and the insights that only someone on the inside of the game could have, reminded me that I was talking to a person located at a very particular focal point of international cricket.

And then, it happened. The money moment, so to speak.

As we talked about the transition from first-class cricket to Test cricket, from Test cricket to one-day games and Twenty20, Dravid said, "My attitude towards batting was simple: the bowler had to earn my wicket. I told myself that I had to bat at least 30 overs in a Test. If I didn't do that, I had failed. I would do it one way or the other."

As he said this, suddenly, his expression changed. The smiling, casual, relaxed demeanour that he had assumed till that point in the conversation was gone. His face hardened, the lines on his visage tautened. I stared at him, a lump now present in my throat, as I felt a slight chill run up my spine.

At that moment, I realised I was in the presence of 10,000 Test runs, of umpteen thousands of deliveries faced, resisted, and scored off; I was in the presence of a man who had faced, among others - Ambrose, Bishop, McGrath, Walsh, Akram, Steyn, Donald, Waqar - bowlers who, quite frankly, would induce me in trouser-soiling, spit-drying fear. At that moment, the friendly mask slipped, just for a second, and I saw the steel and the grit that had made so many of India's greatest Test wins possible.

And then, we were back to being chatty about modern cricket, the big paychecks in the IPL, and the new aspirations of young Indian cricketers.

Our conversation lasted for some four hours. At the end of it, Dravid drove me to the entrance of the residential estate where his house was located so that I could hail a cab. He wished me luck with my writing, and was then gone.

While I remain grateful that he took the time to speak so frankly and voluminously to an utter stranger, I remain even more appreciative that he let me see, just for a brief moment, right into the heart of a true champion. It is the closest I have ever come to knowing what goes into the making of a great cricketer.

Good luck with the future, Rahul. You were a champion and one of the all-time greats.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here