8:45 am: I get a call from my teammates saying, “Come fast, Rahul Dravid is here. He is playing.”
Since this game was close to where I coached, I had told the boys that I would finish a coaching stint and get to the ground in time for the 9:30 start.
As I drove to the ground, I could feel my heart beat faster. After all, it was not every day that you got to play against someone with 13,000 Test runs. It was not every day that you got to play against someone you have adored and idolised since the first time you saw him. It was not every day that you played against Rahul Dravid.
When I reached the ground, Rahul was already in his whites and was returning to the pavilion after having a talk with his team. I walked up and said: “Good morning Rahul.” He replied, “Good morning, Arjun, you are playing for them? That’s nice.” That relaxed me a little. Seeing him at my coaching camp every other weekend had helped me come to terms with his presence.
Snippets from the match:
We played at the HAL ground, which was mostly made up of rough mud and stones and had a matting wicket. The toilets were dirty. He still played. The only benefit he got was that his car was allowed inside the gate. There was no parking inside for anyone else.
It was a KSCA Division II League game between BUCC and FUCC, two of the oldest clubs in Bangalore. The top two teams in the league get promoted. BUCC were second, but with another club close behind. That was why Rahul played, to ensure his team did well, and were promoted. It was a two-day game, with a points system more or less like the Ranji Trophy.
Shining the Ball
BUCC fielded first. Rahul was, as usual, at slip. By the tenth over, a part of his trousers was red. After every delivery, he shone the ball rigorously, as if a Zaheer Khan was looking to exploit some reverse swing. It didn’t matter to him that it was just a local bowler bowling against some local batsmen. He gave his bowler every opportunity to swing the ball.
Fielding and Encouraging
Most senior players in these leagues, most former and current Ranji players, do not necessarily field for the entire innings. They make the most of the services of the 12th man and often come out for a ‘break’. But not Rahul Dravid. He fielded for the entire 82 overs that we batted, he did not miss a single over. And he did not just field like an immortal surrounded by mere mortals. He encouraged his bowlers, kept giving them tips. He asked his bowlers if they wanted water. He spoke to them in English, in Kannada and in Hindi.
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not
I went in to bat at around 200 for 5, with my team in a spot of bother as we had lost a couple of quick wickets after a good partnership. I edged the third ball off a left-arm spinner to slip. I was dropped by none other than the man himself. It was a tough chance, dipped on him and probably didn’t carry, but I was given a life. He dived forward to try and reach it. Falling on the mud at HAL is not as nice as diving at Lord’s. He felt the impact as he rubbed the mud off his elbows. And then I batted on, had this interesting duel with their fast bowler. Copped a bouncer on the grill of my helmet. Then played one straight back to him which he threw back at me, quite dangerously. As he was about to throw, Rahul was shouting: “Easy easy, no.” The bowler later apologised to me. And then, the same left-arm spinner got me edging again. This time, Rahul took the catch, quite similar to the first one. I have never been happier getting out. After all, it took a guy with 200 Test catches to dismiss me.
We got the third wicket off the penultimate delivery of the day. At No. 5, to play one ball, came Rahul. We had a spinner bowling and with one delivery to go, we thought he would just defend it away. So, we had a couple of slips, a short leg and I came in really close at catching cover. It was pitched up, he stretched his leg out and drove it. It went like a bullet. We knew we were in for a long fielding day on Sunday.
He did not disappoint. He scored a century. When his partner, who also scored a hundred, was cramping a little, Dravid walked down and helped him stretch. He had a go at the umpires a couple of times as they were missing out on no-balls. Yes, Rahul had a go at the umpire in a club game because they missed out on no-balls. And you thought club cricket might not be important to him. I told him in between overs that in our innings as well they had missed a few. He was really angry and made a gesture with his hands suggesting that they were missing huge no-balls.
When another boundary was scored and the ball went into the bushes, where our fielders were looking for it, he came up to me (I was at cover, he was non-striker) and said: “What if there are snakes there?” We chatted for a minute, and then he said: “Want to take my bat and look for it?”
He ran his singles hard. Pushed our fielders by running the first one hard and converting any kind of a fumble into two. They were chasing 298. He lost his partner who had retired hurt, and the rest of the batsmen weren’t the best. We put pressure on him by trying to keep him off strike and build the dot balls. We would like to think that he did feel a bit of pressure as he saw a couple of wickets fall, but he went on.
Dropped off My Bowling
I came on to bowl my part time offies with Rahul on strike. That was already a mini-dream, but what happened off the first ball was as close as I would ever get to dismissing a batsman with over 23,000 International runs. He punched a short ball straight to cover. It went low but the fielder caught it and in the process of rolling over, dropped it somewhere. No one saw the ball going down as he was over it. Not me, not the umpire, not Rahul himself. But the fielder said he put it down. With Rahul wearing the MCC Spirit of Cricket cap and T-shirt, it was kind of fitting. He took a single off the next ball and I said to him, “Now that would have been a real dream come true.” He laughed. In my next over, he mis-hit one and it went just over deep midwicket’s head for six. Another fell just short off short midwicket. As he took another single and I smiled at him, he said: “That is some old-fashioned loopy offspinners you are bowling”. I took that as a compliment, although he probably ‘struggled’ because he hadn’t faced slow crap like that since his schooldays. Eventually, he launched my extra-flighted full toss (had to try something to get him out) out of the ground and that was the last I bowled in the game.
Disappointed at Getting out
He had got a hundred, and taken his team to within ten runs of the lead and the all-important three points when he edged behind and was caught by the keeper. He walked to a standing ovation but he was unhappy and cursing himself, hitting the bat on the ground. He was upset at not having finished off the chase. The tail eventually did.
After getting out, he sat with his sons and wife and was seen explaining something to the boys.
Usually, no more than a dog and a cow, if that, watch us play league cricket. But there was a constant stream of people coming in for this match. There was no security. They did not let him change, did not let him eat and kept hounding him for pictures and autographs. I don’t think a single person went home unhappy. He posed for everyone and never got angry, despite them not giving him a moment of privacy. The only time he showed a semblance of anger was when someone gave him a 50 rupee note to sign on. He supposedly said something along the lines of, “What is wrong with you? I don’t sign on money!”
He gave a few of his teammates bats. He gave the guy who scored a century for us a pair of gloves. He ate with the team, drank water and was like just another cricketer plying his trade on the club circuit.
At the end of the match, he walked out to shake hands and said to me, “Well played, and thank you, Arjun.”
Thank you, Rahul Dravid, for giving us the opportunity to play against you and a weekend that we would never forget. Thank you for giving us another lesson in humility. Thank you for being an inspiration. And thank you for showing us that some dreams do come true.