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M.J. AKBAR
BYLINE

Veteran journalist M.J Akbar is the founder of The Sunday Guardian.

In the memory of millions

Rahul Dravid reacts after losing his wicket against England on the first day of the third test match in England last month. PTI

he appeared for just that split second that television reserves for images it cannot fully comprehend. She was in the pavilion stand at Cardiff, watching as Rahul Dravid bounded towards the dressing room after his last one-day innings, with a spring in his jump that belied the fact that he was in the winter of his career. She held a placard saying, "I love you Rahul". So far, so normal. Then the image slipped out of the conventional matrix that television drools on, worried that if 13 men on a green field cannot generate sufficient sexcitement, then it must look for the mildly salacious in the audience. She had lost the hourglass of youth, and acquired the comfortable demeanour that comes from happy Indian contentment; not fat, but not a pencil either. Her face was flush with adoration as a heedless Dravid bounded by. She could not care whether Rahul had noticed her or not; she had made her statement, and that was enough. Her eyes told a story: she had fallen in love with Rahul Dravid when she was 19 and he was 20, and this was her coming-out statement, nearly two decades later, on the last day possible, a moment of liberation that was profoundly innocent because it would change nothing in either her life or Rahul's. She looked closer to 40 than Rahul did because she had not been playing professional cricket; but she had shared the joy of Rahul's heroic achievements for all these years, and this was the final homage of surrogate participation without which sport would be an empty exercise.

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Rahul Dravid’s long career will survive not merely on the mantelpiece of his drawing room, or a den that has become a private museum, but in the memory of millions who will argue passionately about which was his finest innings.

Rahul Dravid's long career will survive not merely on the mantelpiece of his drawing room, or a den that has become a private museum, but in the memory of millions who will argue passionately about which was his finest innings, about his stoic determination when the cycle of decline became a dip, about this stupendous finale in England 2011, the memory of which will long outlast the ruins within which he fought his lonely battles, and of course his greatest mistake — the surrender of his captaincy when there was absolutely no need to. There: I have imposed my own judgement on a Dravid decision. He might not consider that a mistake. But since, as an ardent fan I own a part of the Dravid legend, my judgement must take precedence, at least as far as I am concerned, to his own. That is the privilege of the fan: the hero has no right to let him down. It is tough being a hero.

There will be others, far better than me in their knowledge, more loquacious than me in their chatter, who will analyse the spark and cool fire of his cricket. There was never the burst of firecrackers in his luminosity. His batting glowed with a consistent light; you could almost measure the periodicity of his runs by the yardstick of the team's requirement. I shall dine out with the obstinacy of a bore on his century at Lord's, a privilege to watch through the folds of a day, as confident in the morning as it was assured in the evening. Rahul Dravid could not end his cricket without the testament of a century at Lord's, and he did not. I met him on the night before; briefly, perhaps for fifteen minutes or so, just the two of us. That Lord's century had a Platonic quality. It existed in his mind the previous day, as a tableau, more real than the reality that would become performance art a sunrise later.

ahul Dravid has never been able to boast, because he does not know how to. His career coincided with the onslaught of wealth in the game, and he made his deserved share. But he preserved his dignity in the shower of money, when the game is now full of climbers who dance in the shower of unforeseen cash, unconscious that they have thereby also stripped themselves of respect. Rahul has always been a bit awkward in his advertising presence; self-promotion makes him self-conscious. He has been simple. He has been clean. He has been fair, without turning into a surrender-freak. A genius cannot be born without instinct, but his talent was honed by values, as if his bat was simultaneously a lesson in some code of conduct. The hypocrisy of some of current tributes must have irritated Rahul, particularly from contemporaries whose jealousy made them destructive. But he is too much of a gentleman to do anything but smile.

Every genius is also a meteor. Too many meteors insist on roaming the sky when their body has lost its blaze, when the tail has diminished to ash. Rahul Dravid is leaving cricket when it has swivelled into more raucous directions, when it demands too much compromise, a thought alien to Rahul's temperament. We love you, Rahul, not only for what you did but for who you are.

 
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