Graceful batsman, gracious man

Is he the nicest cricketer I have ever known? He probably is because I remember he gave me a cap, writes columnist R Mohan.

By R. Mohan

Back in 1996, on a very hot day at the Wanderers in Johannesburg when the sun can burn you in double quick time at that altitude, I told Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, who were padding up behind the Indian nets, that whoever gave me a cap would get a century in the Test match the next day. Dravid leapt with alacrity and on rummaging in his kit bag returned with a county cap, saying “Not for a hundred but I know it’s really hot out here.”

His concern for a fellow human being was touching. It so turned out that my prophecy also proved accurate as Dravid went on to make 148 (& 81), the first of his 36 hundreds on the appointed day. Nice to have been a minor player in history in the making as the batsman went on to conquer the world not only with his batting but also with his intellectual ability, his humility and his exceptionally good behavior over an entire career stretching 16 long years in the hyper competitive world of international cricket.

To have built a record like that he had to be a really nice guy. Without hesitation I can say, and without any exaggeration whatever, that Dravid was the most upright cricketer I was privileged to know in a couple of decades of active reporting. Those on the inside fence have told me some horror stories in what goes on nowadays around the cricketers. But I can swear, even on an affidavit if necessary, that never could even a whisper about his activities on and off the field have been raised against this perfectly behaved cricketer and man.

Significantly, when we trace the real rise of India as a Test power in the most modern era we know that the seeds were sown by Ganguly who swept away the cobwebs of regionalism. India’s truly national captain was most fortunate in one respect – he had a deputy who was not of those scheming, politically tuned vice-captains who have burnt themselves out on a short fuse of naked ambition and created such fissures in the team that Kingfisher’s problems in the air and on the ground seem like child’s play.

To not make a great leader is a common enough failing in cricket and so we refuse to hold that against Dravid. He may have been so enamoured of Greg Chappell’s line of thinking that he may have inadvertently helped ruin India’s World Cup campaign in 2007. He stayed on only to prove a point on the successful England campaign that year before throwing in the towel. Captaincy is too tricky for it to be a pursuit of excellence. It’s far more to do with people management in which Dravid was, perhaps, not sharp enough. He does not have a degree in people that Brearley was fabled to have.

When he stood up to talk in team meetings youngsters listened because they could not fail to learn from someone who said it so lucidly. Unfailingly courteous and always politically correct in his pronouncements in public, Dravid seems a man cut out for higher things than stints in the commentary box, which is where retired cricketers head to, or even posts in the administration. Players need to dread the day he becomes an ICC match referee because he cannot but pull them up for misbehavior.

As a batsman he served best the cause of Indian batting where it used to be the weakest – overseas. Based as his batting was on technique of a higher caliber, he could show the way to making runs consistently abroad. If India’s image changed at all from that of poor travelers, Dravid was the engine room of such change. This is why he rates so high among the pantheon of Indian batsmen.

Since the subject is batting, here is a suggestion as to the immediate assignment that may be most suited to Dravid – Team India batting coach! Who is better qualified to teach the young ones the technique and speak about the dedication required for the hard yards required to become a batting demigod?

It is a matter of pride that I have the bat he used to make a fine 53 in a tri-series final in South Africa in 1997. I had actually paid to buy it at a charity auction and having heard about it Dravid came up to me saying, “You only had to ask me. I would have given you anything you wanted from my kit.” And then it struck him that the cause was bigger and he smiled the smile of understanding. I will keep the cap and the bat with pride because they once belonged to such a gracious person.

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