For a country which is not good or not even average in any popular sports that world play & recognize a colonial game like cricket which has very limited acceptance & limited reach bound to become a national obsession .
Ever since ( say from early 1980s ) Indian football has become a laughing stock to the world & hockey a game where India was undisputed emperor for many years has started declining cricket was the only game where we could see our team are winning games & lifting trophies.Never mind it’s very small participation across the geography compare to soccer which has more members in it’s global governing body FIFA than United nation.
With India’s amazing success run started from an unexpected world cup win in 1983 to another world cup like winning in Benson & Hedges cup in 1985 ( not to forget in 1984 Asia cup win ) cricket overshadowed all other games in India in terms of reach, popularity & money.
A sport like cricket makes hero & it unmakes as well. In this subcontinent a great former cricketer who has given you a world cup can become a national political leader with a dream to become prime minister of a failed nation – it is real & possible.You can even elected to parliament by contesting general election never mind if you has a black history of betraying country on the field.You only need to be a man from minority community & you need a political party called Indian National Congress.He can mint money from commercial endorsement even after 16 years of his forced retirement from the game.. A popular cricketer in this subcontinent can do anything.
Like many of his predecessor Rahul Dravid could do all of these & indeed he did many of these.
One of most common face in commercial endorsement that runs from Pepsico to Bank of Baroda to Samsung Electronics to Vodafone Rahul did the same what any celebrity will do to ensure a secure future.Above all he did something exceptional.Not once but time and again the prabasi marathi boy from Bangalore surprised us.He surprised us from the day he walked to bat at Lord’s in 1996.His rise was broadly overshadowed by another titan making debut in the same test.By scoring a century in his debut & that is also at a ground like Lords Sourav Ganguly imprinted such a foot print which was too big for Rahul.Still with his extra ordinary 90 plus Rahul cemented his position there for next 16 years. In their second test Sourav again scored a century & Rahul again stopped at 80 plus.Both came back home as newly crowned hero however lime light was more on Ganguly than Dravid for obvious reasons.16 years from 1996 when finally Rahul hanged his boot he was having double number of centuries over Ganguly who by that time had become a good quiz master in local channel.
I have no audacious aim to explain how big Rahul was as a cricketer. That is a job already done well by national or international media ( both print & electronics).In India many newspapers came up with special editorial to bow before the icon at the time of his sayonara song.Noone needs any new statistical data to evaluate Rahul among the all time great cricketers.This is perhaps a job cricket pundits will love to do even hundred years from now.
Rahul first made his mark as an educated & cultured human being when he first spotted reading books whenever is not playing cricket or not sleeping.It was a habit no Indian cricketer shown in last 20 years specially who are from north India.Some of them are so ignorant about so many things that can make a comedy movie.One such event I read during the era when Pataudi was captain of Indian team.Once when the team was in Calcutta & their bus was passing Victoria Memorial Hall Nawab Pataudi pointed that building to one of his team mate & told it is his father-in-law’s palace.The team mate took no time to believe it & worse to that he expressed his desire to go inside of this palace.Impish Nawab promptly invited him in evening for drink & told him to wait at the main gate on time.To our fun & shame the team mate was there on time only to find that it is a museum and not a private palace.I am sure many such stories will be found in the kitty of Boria Majumdar and other serious scholar of cricket.
With this jaw falling story only a few example will help to understand why Rahul stands tall like a wall among others.
In 2001 or 2002 when Indian team was touring Pakistan almost all players made themselves busy in Lahore.They were mostly visiting friends,discos and food street. Rahul took his time off and visited a place which was beyond any one’s imagination.He gone to visit the archaeological ruins of Taxasila university one of the prime temple of education in ancient India.The name of Taxasila was taken with equal dignity along with Nalanda and Vikramshila.Knowing this from his school days Rahul Dravid the superstar of Indian cricket paid a visit to the place and observed everythnig with an eye of a curious tourist.This is something that was found as a rare quality for a man who knows the art of batting better than most of the people of his time.
Rahul shown his steel once again in Calcutta.No – I am not talking about his historic partnership with Laxman against Australia in 2001.It was in 2005 end when captain Rahul came to play in Calcutta with his team minus Sourav Ganguly.It was the era when Sourav was thrown out of the team and cap of captain was shifted to Rahul.So called sports intellectual spectators of Calcutta at Eden Gardens did everything obnoxious that was possible. Abusive words, vulgar implications and catcall were raining on Indian team.Their only ” crime” was they are playing without Sourav Ganguly – a “crime” which is just unpardonable for them.Standing in that tumult Rahul was calm & cold.Even Greg Chapel lost his cool and encountered the violent mob with a vulgar gesture but Rahul Dravid was just like Rahul Dravid.Considering his long frienedship and his modesty Rahul did not react in front of media.He only expressed his frustration by saying that it is difficult for him to locate the venue whether it is in India or in Pakistan.
My personal experience of seeing a giant named Rahul was not in cricket stadium but in a debate in Calcutta that took place in early 2011.Organised by Calcutta based English daily The Telegraph the debate was participated by a bunch of highly respected scholars and orators like historian Ram Chandra Guha, minister Salman Khurshid, former sud editor of India Today Swapan Dasgupta, Suhel Seth and many more.Only two names in that list made us doubtful as per their oratory ability and intellects were Miss Mamata Banerjee then union railway minister and Rahul Dravid former captain of Indian cricket team.While Miss Mamata Banerjee did justice to our doubt as she went on speaking meaningless and irrelevant things in high vocal cord and in a language( Bengali for sure ) which none of the other panelist except Swapan Dasgupta and Suhel Seth could understand, Rahul proved us wrong.Not only wrong but more. His soft yet strong voice delivered such a rich presentation that was really a music for ears.No dramatisation yet thrilling was his words that explained the utility of independent management of sports rather than being controlled by Government.India was about to start their world cup campaign with out him.Rahul had no regret that he was out of a team that ironically played last world cup under his captaincy.I have seen playing Rahul in Eden.I have seen his classic cover drive or leg cut both as an Indian batsman and a batsman playing for Bangalore Royal Challangers but that day in Netaji Indoor Stadium watching him as a participant of a serious debate I rediscover a new legend in him.
One story that I came to know from Raju Mukherjee’s article where Raju has recalled Rahul’s rich collection of books and it’s use.Raju once collected 2 rare books on cricket and had a plan to make Rahul surprise by gifting those to him.To his sweet shock it was found that those books are already in his collection.I know one person who as a manager of a MNC electronics company had the oprtunity to travel abroad with Rahul. In those days Rahul was brand ambassador of that company.The man is of an opinion that Rahul’s gentle gesture and modest yet down to earth approach is only comparable with saint.
The way Rahul managed and ended his career is something educational for every celebrity.In his sunset he was not fade but brighter than ever.
Goodbye Rahul – many cricketer will score 100000 runs in impending days, many of them will score more than 36 centuries or many of them will break your record of maximum catch but a titan like you will seldom come.
You walked towards your sunset in most graceful way.
Hail the titan.