How do you talk of something that you’ve been following since you learnt to follow, when that thing ends? A journey that started 18 years ago, when I learnt to understand test cricket and root for my own players, the morning Indian Express giving news of the cricketer helping propel Karnataka up the Ranji scales. The man the whole family knew would break into the cricket team.
Those moments of disappointment when his name wasn’t there on the list for the 1996 World Cup. Just a name. No face to it. The World Cup ended in agony, but the tour after that brought him along into the team. I rooted for him, every one of his dismissals looking like conspiracies in a larger, sinister game. Was he dropped? I don’t remember. But there he was in the squad to England. There were conspiracies again, that Vishwanath being the selector was favouring Karnataka players. Who cared? The 95 in Lord’s was the moment I had waited for, when I could tell the world, here was a player I knew would do well and had arrived on the big scene! You don’t get those moments much, trust me!
Close to 16 years and 13288 runs later he hangs up his boots. 16 years during which I grew out of school, went to college, made it to engineering, passed out, worked in China and Bangalore, moved to Australia, did my masters, moved to the USA, worked for 3 years there and then moved back to Bangalore. Yes, half my lifetime so far in terms of years and more than that in terms of experiences!
How do I reconcile to his absence from the team? You’d wake up in the middle of the night to check scores of matches being played on the other side of the world only to check if he’s still playing, and then suddenly he’s no longer there. Some past thing that was there, to be consigned to memories.
Yes, he was aging, yes it was a cricket career, and cricket careers are never permanent. But it’s only once in a lifetime you go through adolescence, the initial experience of a job, a career, those precious days when you grow out of adolescence and into adulthood. And there was one man who was there, playing all the time, who’s been a constant for you all the time. One man who was there growing in his own parallel world along with you. One man who was part of your own growing up story.
There are people from your childhood who retire or die and those serve as constant reminders of your own growing up. But with Dravid it was different. He was never a part of my childhood, he was never a superstar like Tendulkar, always there, always scoring those huge runs. I guess his cricketing career was a part of me as I grew out myself from childhood into adulthood. His disappointments and successes there for me, in parallel with my own failures, disappointments and successes as I grew up.
You don’t grow out of adolescence into adulthood every day. There might be players who’ll turn up in India whites who are better than him, make more runs than him, conduct themselves as good as him. But they can never be a part of my life as much as this man. There are things that go well beyond statistics.
There are different types of retirements. There are ones where you leave the ground with handshakes, to standing ovations and guards of honour. There are those where you just don’t call it right, are no longer part of the team and soon realize that the doors are shut on you forever. You go as a quite footnote in the papers with people wondering “who cares”. And then there are those where you pop into a press conference outside of the game and announce quietly, no tears or emotions, that you are done.
Having watched Dravid all these years, you could almost smell that he’d retire this way, outside the game, without a huge fuss. There are cricket grounds which you call your home, some which people associate with you and your deeds there. Kumble had his Delhi, Sachin has Mumbai and Chennai, VVS will always have Kolkata and Sydney. For Dravid, there were none. I guess in a way Bangalore was home to him, being equally unlucky for India and Dravid. Maybe it was fitting that he called it there, inside the Chinnaswamy, with no fuss, tears or magic moments. Sweat and grit have no place for romantic, tearful endings, eh?
Goodbye Dravid! You’ll be missed!
…And thanks for being around all those years!