The ‘Gentle’ Wall

If you are a cricket fan – which yours truly is, unashamedly – reading ESPN cricinfo becomes a daily routine. But yours truly did not open it for an entire day, Friday (9th of March, 2012). The reason, I did not want to read that Rahul Dravid had retired, despite knowing it beforehand that he was scheduled to do that.

Life is such; sometimes we act as if we were an ostrich, the bird which hides its own head in the sand and thinks that it is safe, just because it cannot see danger coming. We pretend that not seeing things means nothing has happened (have you noticed people looking on the other side intentionally while crossing the road, just when you reach them while driving?).

Alas, the hopes were not to materialize. The man, who raised hope against all the odds on a cricket pitch, was not going to backtrack. Turning your face away was not going to help at all. He retired… wearing an India tie and blazer, he announced that we’d seen last of him in international competition.

Having stayed in Nepal entire life and never met the person, it would sound a little boisterous talking about Dravid’s capabilities, pointing out his weaknesses, strengths…

For yours truly, sports have always been about emotions. Take emotion out of sports and it becomes a tasteless statistic. And reading about Dravid’s retirement, one cannot help but agree with Editor of ESPNcricinfo, Sambit Bal, when he says, ‘It’s hard not to feel a bit emotional today.’

Brought me down to memory lane, about a dozen years back, when Yours Truly used to go through the rigors of attending classes to become a business professional. However, time spent in canteen and computer labs led to what he is today. Interestingly, I was talking cricket to a lady – a year junior in the same school – and I happened to ask, “Who is your favorite cricketer?” after being surprised to know that cricket was her favorite sport. And as usual, before even being asked I took the pleasure of announcing that Sachin Tendulkar was my favorite.

She said, “Would tell if you promise not to laugh.”

Of course, I wasn’t going to. Cricket can never be a stuff to laugh upon.

“Rahul Dravid,” she said. Those were the dying years of last Millenium. RD was merely a few years into international cricket. And of course, most girls were happy to drool over Shahid Afridi for his slam bang brand of cricket. Rahul Dravid was anything but flashy. When Tendulkar proudly declared on TV, “Boost is the secret of my energy”, RD was appearing in some ludicrously made adverts, playing Jammie. A total contrast to the character on the field.

On field, and every time he spoke in an interview, RD was serious, articulate in his talks as much as in his cover drives. You never saw him in an argument, even when fast bowlers tried to intimidate him, using unsavory expletives. Equally gentle with the ball, caressing the ball in his flicks, as if he were mindful that the ball might get hurt with a harder shot.

When I watched him first in international cricket, Singer Cup in Singapore (1996), I was a little apprehensive. I had already seen the fate of Mr Perfect, Sanjay Manjrekar, not being selectors’ favorite for being a classical. “Would he be kept in the team long?,” the Test match lover in me feared.

Circa 1997, Rahul Dravit hit a six towards long on, off Alan Donald, the white lightening. Alan Donald was by no means an off-spinner. He should be counted as the second most famous Donald in cricket, after Bradman. For the watchers, it was a simple waft of a bat and no brute force. The result was a furious Donald, hurling words at Dravid with a menace. The words did not sound like praises on TV. Dravid keenly listened to him for some 10 seconds and looked away. No love lost, not a hint of disdain in his face. He had a job to do… bat for his team.

‘The Wall’ could easily weather storm. It did not need to respond to the winds that may want to blow it off.

I have been a Sachin Tendulkar fan, probably because we grew together – he as a cricketer and me as the sport’s fan. But, if my life depended on one player’s batting, I’d want it to be Rahul Dravid – whether he’s in form or out of form – and not Sachin Tendulkar. For, he would defend his wicket to the best of his abilities, to the last of his trudging. Sachin plays for the people; the crowd; the common man… The applause gets his adrenaline going, makes him forever young. He would do his best to please them, entertain them and keep them interested in the game. Rahul has been a player for the team. Rest of the world could wait, for he was always ready to wait for the applause. For him even adrenaline was ready to wait, take a different channel rather than overflow as a rush of blood. Rage tampered, reins in hand, the head in command.

If you watch modern cricket, with the sledging visible on TV and cricketers’ entire life in the limelight, you think that they’re human after all. The slam bang approach to cricket is being aided by the version of cricket that needs ‘cheerleaders’ for its promotion. In such times, you might think why is cricket is still called a ‘Gentleman’s Game’. It is called so, because people like Rahul Dravid played the game, brought back sanity in it, made it look serene.

And the lady who thought I’d laugh knowing her favorite cricketer was RD, she was mistaken. I did not find it funny then, and now he himself – by his actions – has made sure that the world also doesn’t find it comical. He set an example and lived by it. He made us believe that the nice guys don’t always finish last.

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