My memory of the summer of 1996; when India toured England for a 3 test-series was of a complete black-out! Not of the Indian team by England; but of the live telecast of the entire test series by the local cable operators due a rift with the broadcasters. So when Rahul Dravid made a fantastic 95 at Lords on debut; all I could do is read about it the newspapers the next day.
The first time, I remember watching Rahul Dravid bat was in September 1996 when India and Pakistan started playing the annual 5 match ODI series in Toronto, Canada. Cable television was still a no-no at home considering the fact that we were still studying and so I and my brother decided to spend a few days at my grand-mother’s place (which had cable television). We convinced our mother that while we would be primarily studying and watching a few overs only during our ‘study breaks’. The moment we watched him bat; I remember my brother telling me “Boss, he is something special” and I had to agree. It wasn’t as if Dravid had scored a scintillating 100 or a stylish half century. Coming in at 14/2 he scored a composed 46 of 93 balls and stitched together a match-winning partnership of 74 runs with Azharuddin which earned him his first Man of the Match award in international cricket. It was the manner in which he played Wasim and Waqar, still in their prime that convinced us that we were watching someone very special.
What followed after that is there for everyone to see, discuss and analyze; the 147 at Johannesburg, the magic at Eden Gardens, the match-winning double hundreds at Adelaide and Rawalpindi, the 100 at Leeds and the phenomenal half centuries in both innings on a difficult surface in Jamaica to help India win the series.
Along with Brian Lara, Dravid became someone whose career I followed very closely. Every time he failed, I felt hurt. If critics wrote something about them; I wanted him to fight back. There was something about him that I connected to. Maybe because he still played in the ‘classical way’, something that was rare; maybe it was the manner in which he played the game and conducted itself.
After his batting peak in the 2001-2006 period, where he was undoubtedly the best batsman in the world, I saw his average dip from around 59 to the around 53; in the next few years. He continued to play match-winning and match-saving innings for India, but not with the same consistency. I remember breathing a sigh of relief when he scored a couple of 100’s against New Zealand in 2010 in India’s home-series; I thought he had re-discovered his touch; but then after a poor tour of South Africa, I thought to myself; “Maybe he should call it a day”. But I’m glad he didn’t.
The champion was destined to leave on a high – he was destined to score a hundred at Lord’s something he fell short off by 5 runs on his debut and a year in which he went to become the highest scorer in test cricket! It had to end when he was at the top.
Maybe it was all scripted that way; a champion career that began at Lord’s – the home of cricket, had to end at Adelaide the home of the great Don Bradman**.
** Adelaide Oval has the Sir Donald Bradman Stand and the Donald Bradman museum is also situated in this picturesque city of Australia