He was hailed as the man of all seasons, was opposition’s nemesis for the years, he was the real backbone of strong Indian batting line-up, the ultimate go-to man on the overseas tours, the lord of solid partnerships and undeniably ‘The Wall’ of Team India- but never has Rahul Dravid looked so off-colour and unfit in the Indian dressing room.
The gentleman warrior from Bangalore who has been Indian mainstay and the hero of many memorable victories across the globe, today, has started looking fragile and old.
The reflexes have weakened, the foot movement has died out, the mental toughness has declined and age-old predicament of playing away from the body has resurfaced. Not that Dravid is the first cricketer to experience these symptoms- but the champion Dravid has been through his life- it is difficult for even the best of his supporters to see him struggling the way like he’s been doing in recent times.
Dravid has been an artist throughout his life, a man who never believed in hitting the ball too hard or dictate the bowler’s mind, has always made a far more valuable mark on the game with golden timing, supreme placement and a wide array of copy-book strokes that any cricket coach would be proud of.
Think about Dravid’s glorious career and what you remember is his innings of determination like the way he played at Lords on his debut in 1996, his innings of resolution that he played in Hamilton on New Zealand tour of 1999, his innings of purpose at Eden Gardens in the historic follow-on Test against Australia in 2001, his innings of will-power against Australia at Adelaide in 2003-04 and his innings of leadership at Kingston when he almost single-handedly won India a rare Test series in West Indies in 2006.
Now, remember his recent innings against Sri Lanka and New Zealand at home where though he managed to get some runs in pieces but every run that came off his bat looked agonising and hard-earned. The batting has become dreary, playing aggression has got numb, the stay at crease has become a misery, running between the wickets is showing withdrawal symptoms and the whole batting package that used to reflect ‘class’ has now for sure lost its shine.
The reason why this contrast becomes more dark and stark is that all these ‘old Dravid’ knocks have come up against the full potent bowling attacks and under more tricky and bowling-friendly conditions as compared to the recent dull innings which have come up against an average Kiwi bowling attack or tailor-made batting tracks in sub-continent.
What Dravid has achieved as a cricketer in his career is beyond any question. With over 10,000 runs in both forms of the game, a world record of highest number of Test catches, Indian record of most number of Test fifties and double centuries and a decent captaincy record to his name- Rahul Dravid has earned what many cricketers around the world dream of achieving in their career.
But just like it happens with every sportsman, age is slowly getting the better of Dravid. Many a time cricketers in fag end of their career are asked about their retirement plans and only a few among the lot are able to answer the question honestly. What stops these great players for assessing them truthfully is their ‘ego’- the ego that has always given them the belief that they can defy all the odds, the ego that has helped them to come-over their temporary loss of form and the ego that made them great exponents of the game.
Dravid’s decision of not retiring from any form of cricket is a classic example of that. The ego that made this cricketer the best of the world is now stopping him to think that he is unsuitable to play the limited version of cricket and his game in the longer version too is on a decline.
Steve Waugh once said that the timing of retirement should be at a time when people ask you ‘Why?’ and not when the same people start asking ‘Why not?’ and it is now up to Dravid what he thinks will sooth his ears more when he decides to call it a day.
Players in the sub-continent are often accused of delaying their retirement decision and as a result, all the respect that a player earns in his career, gets faded by wrong timing of hanging up the boots. It is painful to remember the likes of Javed Miandad batting like his shadow in 1996 World Cup or Sanath Jayasuriya struggling to put his bat on ball in recent years; and this is one list Dravid’s fans do not want him to associate with.
Dravid must also remember that such short-lived is public memory in India that even legendary Kapil Dev was booed and hooted during the end of his career. Kapil, though unlike Dravid, had a personal milestone in sight and he did retire just after breaking Richard Hadlee’s world record of highest number of dismissals.
Today, young guns like Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli are ready to fill Dravid’s shoes. Agreed, they might not be of the same calibre of Dravid but with seniors like Tendulkar, Laxman and Sehwag in team- Team India can afford to give them ample time to blossom. The 3-match Test series in South Africa is the last Test series that India will play in next six months and Dravid must be ready with his future plans if he wishes to see an honoured farewell.
The writing on the wall is pretty much clear, will ‘The Wall’ read it before it’s too late?