I was studying in 2nd grade, all of seven years of age, when I first saw him play. I barely knew the rules of the game, yet there was something intriguing about him that made me watch the game. I hold a distinct image of him receiving a man of the match award. There was something about the way he spoke at that presentation ceremony which made him my favourite at that instant itself. I discreetly started collecting pictures of him, more often than not; it was the same picture from several magazines and newspapers. All I wanted was to collect a lot of photos of him, and just look at him play. There was no me going weak in the knees looking at him, the stunning personality that he had, but it was just the sight of him that had a mollifying effect on me.
As I entered my teens, I was just another fan of him, took pride in his achievements, followed him but I wasn’t a diehard fan. It reduced to just reading the news that lauded his accomplishments. But the real fan in me awakened around the time I was fifteen years of age. It was a delight being his fan. It was like being part of some cult. The photograph collection expanded, friends started gifting me his posters, I started reading a lot about him. I self gifted myself both his biographies. I followed that series when Team India visited Pakistan around 2004 closely since it was immediately after the board exams, and he having made lot of contributions meant more photos into my collection. By now, I’m sure you know he’s a cricketer.
He is this reticent sportsperson who lets his performance speak for him, has never had any qualms taking up any role as long as it is in the best interests of his team. He’s the one who by his sharp reflexes has taken catches both at the back and in the slips as well. He can be at the crease all day which talks volumes about his endurance. Yes, it is Rahul Dravid: My hero.
Being his fan hasn’t been just about seeing his game, praising his performance and moving on. It has been much more than that. His traits are those which if you pick even one and blindly emulate will only take you nowhere but up. We’ve all heard him being called ‘Mr. Dependable’, ‘The Wall’ and I believe he has earned that. He’s got a metal exterior and interior as well. He has overcome physical as well as barriers of the mind to be what he is today.
In his biography, I read that he used to read books like ‘tough times never last, tough people do’ and ‘the power of positive thinking’ when he was in school, and I got these books immediately. After reading these books I understood that he started laying the foundation of a strong mind way before we (an average teen) start thinking of taking up reading anything other than the course curriculum.
It seemed like he played effortlessly, but he put in lots of efforts when we couldn’t see him. It’s this discipline that helped him play 93 tests in a row which is a record! You know what’s best about his records, is that he never aimed to get them, they just happened with consistent and concrete effort. He attained records only to downplay them, humbly.
What Rahul Dravid means to me is inexplicable in words. When the television set was tuned to a cricket match and we would be batting, I would sit through his innings. If we would be bowling I would wait each time to catch a glimpse of him in the slips. I admire him to bits and I have never admired someone so much ever in my life yet. There have been times when I’m in a situation and I think to myself ‘What would he have done?’
Things I have learnt from him are the essence of being consistent, letting actions speak, not letting out any thoughts however embroiled they maybe. I’ve also learned how to be calm in testing situations, concentrate on what can be done in a particular situation and not give up till the end in trying to make it right, having an intense internal dialogue to have things going in the right direction.
I have never seen him play live. My only attempt to watch him was when he came to play here in Mumbai (November, last year), but that chance never turned into a seat in the stands because of an exodus of people who had come to see another cricketer. I cried outside the stadium, much to the amusement of my friend and little of myself too. I was probably just 200 metres away from him, yet so far. Another friend who came along did raise a thought which I had laughed off. He’d said what if this is his last series. Then in the middle of our mid-term examinations came speculation of his retirement which put my emotions on some level I myself couldn’t understand. I wasn’t upset, I wasn’t happy either. I had a framed photograph of him which I placed on my table for a week from that day on. As I was writing my exam, somewhere in Bengaluru, Rahul Dravid announced retirement from international cricket. End of a standing ovation worthy era.
Coming to terms is realising that there would be no one to spot in the slips. There would be no instances of seeing his name in the match summary having made not the highest but a considerable contribution to the team total. For me, Cricket started and ended with Rahul Dravid.
Rahul Dravid holds an irreplaceable place in my life. There is no single day when I don’t think about him. Maybe there never will be.