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Rahul Dravid: He wrote the book on Achieving Greatness

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"Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them."

It takes a pretty special kind of cricketer to have a tribute story open with a quote from William Shakespeare. And Rahul Dravid was a very special kind of cricketer. Dravid was neither born great, nor did he have greatness thrush upon him. But no one will deny the fact that the exceptionally likeable right-hander from Karnataka achieved greatness - hell he scrapped so hard for so long that he jolly well earned it.

rahul_dravidFew people would remember Dravid's international debut in the once popular Singer Cup in Singapore in April 1996. He came into bat at no.4 with India in trouble at 58/2 and lasted just 4 deliveries before falling caught behind to Muttiah Muralitharan. A couple of days later he squared off against Pakistan and was run out for 4, in another, blink and you'll miss it effort. His next two innings came at Sharjah where he contributed 3 and 11, with the latter of those seeing him come in to bat at no.8 clearly showing the lack of faith the team management had in young Rahul. He was subsequently dropped from the playing eleven for the rest of that series and didn't play again till an ODI in England in May. Dravid made an unbeaten 22 from 15 balls, and perhaps just as crucially took a couple of catches, something that would be his hallmark for years to come. India lost that match, but had discovered that the kid had potential.

Dravid's test debut is well known to all Indian fans, his future skipper and often roommate Sourav Ganguly made a hundred, he fell agonizingly short by 5 runs. It was the first of many times in a 16 year career that his performances would be overshadowed, but for a true fan of the game, his effort would be etched in memory for a long time to come. It would take Rahul a while to adapt his game to home series, where he often struggled to rotate the strike, but it was on foreign tours that India realized that they had finally found a player who could be relied on to perform under all conditions. His maiden test ton came in one of those tough away games in Johannesburg, and he capped a near perfect performance with a man of the match award. India were sadly denied a rare away win, a mixture of rain, bad light and Daryll Cullinan standing in India's way. Dravid took the catch of Lance Klusener as South Africa slid to 222/8 but Allan Donald braved 16 deliveries for no score before the Indians were forced off with 4 overs still left to play. It was a bitter-sweet moment for Rahul, but there would be glory days to come.

Dravid's international career lasted in excess of 500 games across both formats and he earned everyone of those 24,177 runs he scored. And while it may be inopportune to catalogue each of those, his patience merits perhaps atleast highlighting those forever etched in memory. His record partnership with VVS Laxman on sacred ground in Eden Gradens, Kolkata will live on forever, as will his 270 at Rawalpindi where he led India to their first series win against Pakistan. His ability to tackle the moving ball better than any other Indian batsman, ever, in England and New Zealand is more than evident from the record books. However, it his performance in Adelaide in the Australian summer of 2003 which will remain arguably his greatest possible effort. His 233 in the first innings is memorable only because of what followed, as it was his battling 72 in the second innings to lead India to a famous win that will forever be played on TV screens whenever India heads down under. His back-foot cut shot through the offside to the boundary off Stuart MacGill followed by his kiss on the emblem on his cap are legendary television moments that still make one get goosebumps.

As Dravid admitted in his press conference today, in a long career there are bound to be some regrets. While he would not elucidate, his fans would be disappointed that in an era where India won two World Cups - T20 and 50-over - Rahul did not feature in either squad despite having given so much to the game. India's success came too late in his limited overs career, and it is unfortunate that for a man who played in 344 ODIs, scoring almost 11,000 runs, he did not win more accolades for his ability in the shorter format. Dravid did everything one could ask of him to succeed in one day internationals, hell he even kept wickets! It is ironic though that while he retired today from international and domestic first class cricket, it is Twenty20 cricket and the IPL where he will make his final bow.

Dravid the cricketer grew up before our eyes over the last decade and a half, and it is often difficult to separate the player from the man. His personality is linked to his art - determined, focussed, ambitious, studious, conscientious, proud yet humble and oh so honest. In an age where opposition is often treated as the enemy it was almost impossible for anyone to dislike Rahul, he was far too admired and respected for that to happen. He earned his place in the Indian dressing room and he valued it way too much to take it for granted. He chased perfection and got ever so close to achieving it. Videos of his batting can be used to coach cricket, and videos of his behaviour can be used to teach life.

Here's to a man who proved that nice guys finish first!

Also Read: Rahul's retirement speech

File Photograph Copyright: BCB