When I heard that Rahul Dravid was retiring, I tried to compile a write up about his greatest innings as a tribute to him. It was not an easy job, how can one possible pick one innings in a 17 year old career in which he scored roughly twenty five thousand international runs. Which was Rahul Dravid’s greatest innings? It could be the 148 that he scored in Headingly, on a damp pitch where all experts had predicted a two and half day test match and a resounding defeat for India. Dravid’s 148 then ensured that India’s first innings itself last for two and a half days. It could be the two eighties that he scored on an absolute minefield at Sabina Park, ensuring that India won its first test series in the Caribbean in thirty three years. It could be his iconic 233 at the Adielede Oval or his monumental 270 at Rawalpindi, both innings playing a significant role in historic overseas test victories. It could be his hundred earlier in the year at Trent Bridge or his debut hundred in South Africa. It could be the epic 180 at Kolkatta. And I am even getting into one day cricket……..
But to write about just one innings would be a great disservice to India’s finest test batsman and perhaps Indian cricket’s finest ambassadors. Dravid will be remembered as a classical test match player but he should also be remembered as a consummate team player, someone who moved around in the batting order to suit the team's requirements, kept wickets and did everything possibly that one could do on a cricket field.
But for me Rahul Dravid will always be unique because he played the game of cricket the way it should be played. He was the model professional. No flashy statements to the press, no big money signings, no flashy accessories on the cricket pitch. No press statements complaining when the team declared on him when he was on 92 at Sydney. No complaints when he was moved up and down the order and no complaints when he was dropped from the one day team three games after he scored 92 in 67 balls in Bristol in 2007. When selectors called him to play the champions tropy in 2009 Dravid played with a smile and when they dropped after him the tournament, he left with a smile. He was the ultimate cricketer.
His finest and one of India’s finest has to be his 148 at Headingly in 2002. That innings typified Rahul Dravid the batsman. On a very very difficult wicket, where the ball was seaming around and bouncing unevenly, he started scratchily. Along with Sanjay Bangar, he ensured that there were no early inroads. Post tea the shots started flowing. There were some stunning cover drives and trademark flicks and when Alex Tudor pitched short he was shown the pull shot as well. Dravid got out just after lunch on the second day, India made 650 and won by an innings.
But Rahul Dravid’s moment, according to me, came on a hot sunny afternoon on the second day at Multan in April 2004. Dravid was leading in that test match due to Ganguly’s back injury .India were in a strong position thanks to Sehwag’s triple hundred and had crossed six fifty with declaration eminent . A delayed declaration had cost India a test and a series victory in Australia three months back and Dravid would have realized that on a flat wicket, time was of essence to allow his bowlers to take twenty wicket. Unfortunately for Dravid, India’s great batsman and icon was approaching a double hundred. When the icon was on 194, Dravid got up from his seat and nonchalantly waved to the players. India had declared.
With that one wave of his hand Rahul Dravid showed us what he was all about. Personal milestones never mattered to him, unlike a lot of other greats, a team victory did. Unfortunately the icon went and expressed his disappointment to the press thereby indicating that personal milestones mattered a lot to him. Pathetically an entire nation cast him as a villain, with media houses debating various conspiracy theories. However there was no explanation from the captain, no press interviews, no statements pointing out that three months ago when Ganguly declared at Sydney he was not out on 92. He carried on with his job and on the fifth day led India to its first test victory in Pakistan.
Rahul Dravid played the game the way it was supposed to be played. And that is why there will always be only one Rahul Dravid.
Indian cricket will never be the same again.