June 24, 2011

Dravid's flame still burns

Rahul Dravid's passion for and approach to cricket haven't changed in the last decade and a half. He is still intense, patient, and willing to work hard to prepare for each game

It is already 15 years since a simple, elegant, studious and very likeable young man walked out to bat for India at Lord's. That was an appropriate setting. Rahul Dravid is neatly turned out, plays the game correctly, likes the traditions associated with the game and is respectful of them. It is not difficult to see why the English would like him. In 1996, though, he was significantly more humble and courteous than those I seemed to run into at the ground.

Not much has changed since then. He is still as intense as ever, still unlikely to sport the ponytail he rejected in one of his earliest commercials, still deeply enamoured by the idea of playing for India, still very out of place in the Kingfisher jingle. That intensity is worth studying, though, for Dravid knows no other way of playing the game. Like a good student would, he assimilates data, works out what he is going to do, and focuses as intently as anyone who has played the game. Patience has been a childhood friend, and it has allowed him to retain the intensity. Impatience is the hallmark of youth, and while Dravid has been young in years, he has always sported a maturity that belies them.

There have been times when some of us feared that intensity; when we wondered if the fire within would singe him, and whether he just needed to get his mind off the game and relax a bit. We feared every ball would become a battle to be fought, a storm to be withstood. But as he often told me in those days, it was the same method that had brought him so many runs. It was the person he was; the challenge he relished that defined the way he played the game. He knew, as he repeatedly said, that he wasn't a Sehwag, that he had to bat longer to score the same number of runs; that therefore, he needed to focus strongly and prepare well for a game. It was a debate he was willing to get into but it was a solution he had to find himself. As it turns out, the way he knew best has so far brought him 12,215 runs in Test cricket, and that number tends to seal most debates.

We need to let that number roll off our tongues a bit more often because it is a colossal figure. It is not a number you dream of achieving, because it is too distant. It is a product of extraordinary ability and dedication. In 1994 his father would call to request, for class runs in the family, if he could get a video of his son playing in domestic cricket. Dravid's father can be very proud of the way his son has graced the game and scored runs.

There are other reasons too; reasons apart from the tenacity, the fire, the cover drive and the catches at slip. In the 16 years that I have had the pleasure of knowing him, I have rarely encountered ego or anger. Maybe the dressing room, a place I stay away from, has seen the odd outburst, but ego and anger are like cholesterol and sugar in the blood; eventually they will get you.

In a way it is good that Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar have had an extended run, for there must be a gradual handing over of the baton. Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Suresh Raina or Rohit Sharma must know what it takes to seek greatness, and maybe then achieve it. They will have to fight their own battles but a live example would help. That is why I am particularly delighted that Dravid plays in the Ranji Trophy whenever he can. He has often spoken of hanging on to every word that people like Gundappa Viswanath spoke to youngsters in Karnataka. And now that the time has come to carry forward that tradition, he is doing his bit. Cricket could do with more Johnny Appleseeds.

I don't know how much longer he will play for India, for by the time he plays at Lord's next, he will be closer to 39 than 38. But what I do know is that whenever an all-time Indian XI gets picked, Nos. 1, 3 and 4 will be written simultaneously.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here