The Grandmaster of Indian cricket

He may have been constantly overshadowed by the aura of Sachin Tendulkar and the artistry of V. V. S. Laxman but that does not have any effect on the absolutely selfless, faithful and loyal servant of Indian cricket that Rahul Dravid is.

In one of the editions of the Buchi Babu tournament two decades ago, the Tamil Nadu state side made light work of the India U-19 team and were pressing for an innings win. The pitch was a rank turner, and with the overs restricted to 40 in the second innings, the TN team was looking forward to having a free day. But one young man, however, made sure that he defied the bullying of my colleagues and the spinner-friendly conditions to remain unbeaten. He also ensured that we came back to bowl 10 overs on the final day.

It would have been acceptable by all standards for a young team to try and hasten the finish, but the captain of the side would have nothing of it. At the end of the game, I asked the scorer the name of the defiant young lad. R. S. Dravid was the answer, and I made it a point to remember the name as he showed extraordinary temperament and technique to keep quality spinners like Sunil Subramaniam and Venkatramana at bay on a helpful track.

As expected the young lad progressed along and not surprisingly was picked for the South Zone side a couple of seasons later. We played the last of the round robin games in Rourkela and the young Dravid was visibly disappointed that he did not get many runs. But his bigger issue was that he had not contributed to the side. Being the captain, I said that there will be no stopping him once he gets his first hundred in the Duleep Trophy.

Dravid did go on to crack one in the following season (probably 1994-95) and eventually he realised his ambition (which bordered on obsession) at Lord's where he announced his arrival in a grand manner. Many summers have gone by since but the defiance that he displayed as a young lad has not wilted, while his technique has only got better and the over-anxiety has been tempered to serenity, making him the most sought after scalp by bowlers across the world. Besides, his youthful looks have remained intact and remarkably, his fitness levels have risen to greater heights. This is due to his unrelenting pursuit of excellence and his uncompromising attitude. In as much as the bowlers in international cricket feel uncomfortable with his presence at the crease, the net bowlers and the staff operating the bowling machine at the KSCA/NCA nets dread his presence in Bangalore.

How else will the bowlers and the helpers feel when someone walks in with his kit at 9 am and continues to bat till 6 pm? The hours have extended with each passing year and such is the dedication of the man even after carving a niche for himself in the annals of the game. I for one feel that the sobriquet, “The Wall”, for his stubbornness at the crease is perhaps not appropriate. The title “Grandmaster” may be apt as his knocks, more often than not, serve as a lesson for youngsters in terms of technique, judgment, temperament and courage. I am aware that the title of Grandmaster is associated with chess, but as a cricketer, Dravid has displayed the qualities of all the pieces that make up a set of chessmen.

As a captain (king) he tried his best for the team but somehow did not relish the burden of the crown on his head; as a minister he has been of immense help to his captains and youngsters in providing counsel; he has fought for his country right through his career like a knight; he possesses the equanimity of a bishop and plays straight on and off the field in the manner of a rook. But for all his achievements and the accolades, Dravid still remains a footsoldier at heart and relishes stonewalling the opponents. He may have been constantly overshadowed by the aura of Tendulkar and the artistry of Laxman but that does not have any effect on the absolutely selfless and loyal servant of Indian cricket that Dravid is.

He may not have problems about not being given his due but he can be a serious problem when he has a bat in his hands and especially if his team is in a tight situation. The English bowlers will be hoping to create a crack in “The Wall” but until now Dravid has thwarted them with aplomb and that too under very difficult conditions for batting. Dravid's masterly knocks have saved the blushes for Team India and he needs to carry on especially with the others yet to come to terms with the conditions.

The erstwhile bowling coach of England, Allan Donald, once greeted Dravid as “Morning Geoffrey” which was in a way a tribute to his patience and technique even though the purpose was to instigate him. It may not be the right comparison but I am sure that even Geoffrey Boycott will agree that Dravid will be the choice of many if they were to nominate someone to bat for their lives.