It began with a gesture. Seconds before the start of the Champions League T20 final,a red carpet was rolled out by the dugouts. It was flanked on either side by members of the Rajasthan Royals side. They clapped as captain Rahul Dravid walked through their guard of honour. Dravid doffed his cap and pulled his side into one final team huddle. He didnt seem to say much.
Three hours later,it ended with another gesture. There were no carpets or guards of honour this time around,but as Dravid made his way back to the dugout after being dismissed,he raised his bat,pointed it at the gallery and walked away to rapturous applause. This after being bowled for a 2-ball 1.
In between these two moments,he watched helplessly as his bowlers conceded 202 runs and was part of a side that fell short by 33 runs in the chase. Walking in to bat as low as number eight didnt help the cause. But none of it mattered much,for in between those two moments,Dravid also spent his last few minutes as a cricketer on a cricket field during a competitive match. And at the Kotla on Sunday,a 23-year-old careers credits began to roll.
It has been a privilege to play alongside this man, said Sachin Tendulkar,who,incidentally,also played his last ever match in coloured clothing. In my team,Rahul will always bat at number three. Any day.
Dravid hadnt played much in that position since his final appearance in a Test match for India 21 months ago,at Adelaide in January 2012. He played the subsequent Indian Premier League season,but for a year after that,he didnt play in any position for nearly a year — his longest break since he began playing the game as a schoolkid.
Not since I was 12 or 13 did I have such a long time away from matches and practice, he had said in an interview with this newspaper. In this time,Dravid lived the life of a family man,spending quality time with his wife and kids. Even my diet had become largely a lifestyle diet. For the first time in my life I had switched off from the fitness completely.
Then he began shaping up for the sixth season of the IPL in 2013. Fit he had to be,for a 40-year-old retired cricketer was about to enter the most gruelling phase of his career. A phase that would see the team he led embroiled in crickets most damaging scandal in recent times.
The last few months have been a real roller-coaster, Dravid said each time a microphone was thrust under his chin on Sunday. And it was thrust rather often. We made the news for the wrong reasons earlier this year but we have come through like champions. I am very proud to have worked with these boys. It has been a great journey.
That journey,in some senses,began when four of his teammates were arrested,in the middle of a summer night in May,for spot fixing during IPL 6. During the investigation that unfolded,the Delhi police revealed that Dravid had felt cheated. Cheated that the players had betrayed his trust. Cheated that Royalss most successful season since Shane Warnes trophy-winning side was not what their campaign would ever be remembered for.
But none of that matters now. Whatever happens today,we have come a long way in this CLT20 and we should be proud of that. We have proved that Royals will always be known for its fighting spirit, he said before the match began. Often,players from his dressing room speak of how that fighting spirit,instilled by Warne,was kept alive by Dravids style of captaincy,a style that relied heavily on player empowerment. Just like Warnes.
Unlike Warne,Dravid didnt win his side a trophy. But he did win them their respect back.