The Great Wall Of India
With the India cricket team in England this summer, it was an opportune moment to photograph and interview one of the greatest batsmen in cricketing history, Rahul Dravid. As a Laureus member, Rahul is featured and has his own chapter in the Laureus Opus. The Opus team met up with the cricket legend after the third day of a four day test match in Worcester.
Since retiring from playing professional cricket, Rahul is the current Overseas Batting Consultant for the Indian team, and also the head coach for the Under-19 and ‘A’ teams. It seems an obvious choice to put in place a former international captain with a fountain of knowledge to share their wisdom with the next generation of Indian cricket stars.
Rahul reminisced how the senior team members would share stories and anecdotes on long train journeys when he was a young man and after turning professional. He shared the locker room with senior players when he was in Karnataka and Bangalore and soaked up all the things they discussed to help him grow.
“It was an invaluable lesson for someone who was keen to learn and curious. Having that expertise and knowledge around the dressing room with brains you could pick was invaluable.”
It was now his turn to give back to a sport that has seen him honoured as a titan of the game in every country playing testmatch cricket. Coaching the younger Indian team players allows Rahul to spend time with them over a longer period, get to know them a bit and hopefully influence their approach to the game and life.
Travelling to the teams base in the beautiful Worcestershire countryside seemed like the ideal location to ask Rahul about his childhood and how he was introduced to the game.
“A lot of my love for the game comes from my father who really loved the game of cricket. He never coached me but he would take me to cricket matches and listen to radio commentary together when India was playing … My heroes growing up were people like Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev back home in India” (a fellow Laureus member).
“I’ve been in love with the game from the time I remember. My earliest memories are with a bat and ball in my hand. Just playing the game on the streets with my friends in front of my garage. You grow up in India playing the game on the roads and streets or on any plot of empty land you can find.”
As with most elite athletes sporting skills came naturally to Rahul.
“When I was older and in school you didn’t have to specialise early. I played a lot of hockey in school, I really loved playing hockey and we had a really strong school team. I played soccer and badminton in the evenings, so really during my school days I played a lot of different sports. The real challenge is about finding the balance between education and playing sport. It wasn’t easy to commit to playing cricket because in those days there wasn’t a lot of money in the sport. I had to ensure I completed my degree and graduation whilst managing the sporting side.”
Rahul’s passion for cricket saw him progress and impress coaches and selectors in India.
“As much as you’d like to believe that you’ve practiced and trained very hard to achieve your dream and play for India, you’re still never very sure if you can cut it at that level. You have that deep down belief and self confidence but it’s nice to see some results early on, in my first game and got to 95 and then scored 84 in the next. It made me feel a lot more confident and helped me believe that by continuing to work hard, I would have the skills to succeed at that level. I didn’t want to be someone who just played one test match for India or just a few games. I wanted to be someone who was going to make a significant contribution to the team over a long period of time. That was very important to me, so staying in the team and putting in good performances was really what it was all about. I just wanted to be the best I could be, I wasn’t about comparing myself to other people or worrying about the competition. I’ve had a long career, a lot of disappointments but I really don’t have regrets, in the sense that with the knowledge that I had, I tried my very best, worked hard and did what was required to be the best that I could be… I loved to work hard, train and get fitter. I admit that in the early days we were a bit naive about physical fitness and what was the right diet but that was across all sports. Things got more professional and I tried to adapt with it. These were challenges but not really a struggle.”
Looking back on his career Rahul has fond memories. “I loved touring the UK. I just found that people really loved the game here, especially test matches, it’s very well received and watched and people are very knowledgeable about the game. It was easy to get around, you didn’t need to take flights to get from one place to another. We had some great rivalries… Australia were probably the greatest team of our generation and Pakistan always gave us a good contest … If I had the chance to share some advice with my younger self, I would tell myself to enjoy the journey a little bit more. You can get so caught up in trying to get better and improve that it can get intense. I learned to relax a bit more later on in my career… But it’s also that intensity and desire that helps you to succeed. Sporting greatness is defined a lot by consistency and longevity. If you have a long career and you’re consistent, you’ll have faced a lot of different challenges through that spectrum of time. Some sports don’t allow you to have a career as long as a cricketer but for me that’s a good way to define greatness.