In the beginning of the 1994 1st division league season here in Madras, Rahul Dravid was playing for India Cements in a league match at the Guru Nanak College ground. In the couple of years that had just gone by, 1992-93 and 1993-94, Dravid had got over 550runs including a double hundred and another big hundred. However, the test call still eluded him.
That morning, he walked with me to the nearby tea stall on Velachery High Road opposite Rane Madras Factory for a cup of tea and biscuits( Given the person he is, he might still fancy the tea and biscuits at that road side tea stall!!).
When I asked him what was going through his mind given that he seemed to have got enough runs in Ranji (he had also got a 90 in the season opening Irani Trophy match ) to have pushed for the test place, his answer was very simple – ‘Keep scoring runs and the call will automatically come. My job is to score runs and that is what I am focusing on even here today in the league match.’
A few months later, in October that year, Rahul got two back to back hundreds within a fortnight in matches that really mattered - a big hundred in the season opening Irani Trophy match against Bombay followed by another big hundred in the first match of the Duleep Trophy. And he never looked back since then.
This hot 1st week of June (the temperature continued to hover over the 40degrees mark), Rahul Dravid was back at Chepauk not to play in the IPL or for India (he has now retired) but to play for his old club – The India Cements team in the championship match of the Palayampatti shield in front of an almost vacant stand something he would not have experienced in the last many years. One wondered why he would want to play a first division match at this stage of his career against a not so strong MRF attack.
There were just a handful of people watching, most of them being the TNCA officials. But it seemed what he said that day 18years ago held good today as well. Same intensity – Similar hunger for runs- And the same philosophy- Your job is to go there and get runs.
After talking to an ex-colleague, who had played with him for India Cements through the 1990s in the first division league, during the lunch break on day 1, Rahul Dravid bid him bye sharp at 12.35pm to put on his pads and then sat on his chair in the dressing room to get his concentration going. This ex-colleague, who was invited by Dravid to be his room mate in the early 90s only to refuse because of prior commitment, admired Rahul's preparation though this was just a club match. For Rahul, the preparation remained no different. Looking at him, it seemed like he was playing a test match against a tough opposition.
Batting at No. 6 and coming in to bat late on day 1 in the final session, he struck a quick fire 42NO (at better than run a ball) almost toying with the MRF attack.
DRAVID READY TO FACE THE FIRST BALL ON DAY 2- THE LATE CUT OFF THE 2ND BALL WAS DROPPED BY VENUGOPAL RAO AT SLIP
On the 2nd morning, his favourite late cut may have led him to return back after the second ball of the morning but Venugopal Rao put down a sitter at slip of off spinner Prashanth. A couple of classy cover drives to the fence took him past 50 before Sunil Sam bowled him 30minutes into the day’s play.
While he had been dismissed for 60, it was the intensity in his approach that could have been a great learning for budding youngsters- Alas there were just a handful of them present at Chepauk.
Two TNCA officials who watched the morning proceedings at the ground wondered as to why at least the first division players of the other three India Cements team ( UFCC T. Nagar, Grand Slam and Falcon- now relegated) could not be present - both to watch Dravid bat as well as to encourage their company team.
The 2nd official said that in his playing years they used to pride playing for the company team and there used to be such bonhomie. He lamented the lack of such pride in current day players.
In these three teams, there are several players in the 17-25age group whose desire it is to play Ranji Trophy cricket and higher levels. Would they not have gained watching from close quarters Dravid preparing himself for the game and his preparation before going into bat both on Day 1 as well as this morning.
The first official made a more serious point- do they even know that Dravid is here to play for their company team. The players of this generation do not have the reading habit and said that despite the announcement of the presence of Dravid for the India Cements team for this final the players from the other India Cements team may not be aware!!! What a shame....if this were true.
The second official drove home the point further by saying that he wouldn't be surprised if the club players even in the first division league did not know who GR Viswanath was or a BS Chandrasekar was...
After 17years of Test Cricket, someone coming in on an oppressively hot day in Madras and batting as if his life depended on it- all this in a local league match - is a lesson that local school and college cricketers would do well to follow!!