While he’s been venerated as the Mr Perfect of world cricket, there are few among us who haven’t hoped that for all his ideals, Rahul Dravid would some day chill out and be one of the boys. Here in a chat with Bharat Sundaresan, he holds a mirror up to his own nature and reflects upon why despite being a showstealer on the field he’s never quite managed to be the life of a party off it.
Abhishek Sharma, the U-19 captain, said in an interview recently about how they were celebrating their Asia Cup win raucously in the dressing room, and then you walked in, and there was pin-drop silence. That’s just the aura you have, where everyone feels they should behave themselves around you.
One of the things I recognised when I started coaching, especially at the U-19 level, is when someone who’s played a lot of cricket comes in as coach, players can be a bit hesitant at times. You have a reputation. Just knowing from being a U-19 cricketer myself when a Sunil Gavaskar or a Kapil Dev came to a national camp in Bangalore, I would probably have been tongue-tied and not been able to speak to them. You just have to make things as relaxed as possible. You have to be the first one to approach them at times. But the more time we spend with each other, they get to know me better, especially when we go on tours. I found with the last U-19 team that by the time the World Cup was over, they are pretty confident to come have a chat about things and even share a joke with me.
You’ve always come across as this guy who bottles up all his emotions, and some even have gone on to call you stuck-up.
I am who I am. I am a slightly quieter person than other people. But in the confines of a dressing room and with people I know I’d like to think I’m pretty relaxed, yaar. People will and do get to know me. That’s important, right? It’s not an effort for me. As time has gone on, you mature, you are a bit more chilled. Interacting with your own children means that you lighten up a bit. I really think I’ve just been introverted and shy more than anything. At times it can be thought that he doesn’t like to talk. I’ve never tried to be someone I’m not. I can’t put up a face.
Then there’s that Rajasthan Royals video of you dancing and a Gillette event where you had to shave on the stage. Those things must be bugging for you.
They are uncomfortable. It’s not easy for me. You won’t see me being the life of a party or standing up and suddenly singing or dancing. The few times I do it, it’s a little bit against my nature. But it’s sometimes good to try and get out of your nature. At the end of the day, you want an environment in which you are happy and allowed to be yourself. Everyone’s different and there’s no right and wrong. When you are allowed to be yourself, you give your best.
You say no to an honorary doctorate degree and are built up to be this pillar of virtue. Did you sit back and wonder why people made such a big deal of it?
I don’t get to see or hear many of these things that are necessarily said about me. People do say “oh you know, there’s been a great reaction”. I’m like ‘I don’t know’ other than reading the odd paper. It’s sometimes more of a big deal for people around me. I don’t feel the hype because I’m not a regular on social media sites or someone who follows everything that is written about me. I think if you’re an actor, then you need to be in that space. As a former cricketer or a coach, it doesn’t matter that much.
And again, I’m not trying to do this because I’m trying to live up to some level of virtue. That’s incredibly dangerous. Not dangerous, but I’ve not gone around saying that. The thing about the doctorate is that my mom did her PhD and earned a doctorate at the age of 55. My wife’s a surgeon who studied seven years to get a degree in surgery. And I’ve always felt that if it was something I wanted, I would like to have earned it. I don’t mean that anyone else should have that feeling and I’m not trying to belittle anyone else. It’s just that I felt that way because of my own experiences. And it’s not the first time that people have asked me to become a doctorate. It’s just that it’s happened privately and over an email exchange. And before it’s been announced, I have declined it politely even then. It so happened that this unfortunately came out in public.
The only time you probably showed a lot of emotion was by flinging your cap in the Royals’ dugout after a bad defeat at Wankhede Stadium a couple of years ago.
I do get nervous, yaar. I get more nervous as a coach than I did as a player, whether it’s at Rajasthan Royals or even at the U-19 level. The thing with being coach is that you can’t really do anything about it. You’re just relying on other people and in fact, you’re feeling for them. You know you’ve spent time, invested conversations and you’re really hoping that they do well for their own sake more than anything else. It’s one thing feeling nervous about yourself when you are playing. But now it’s enhanced because you are feeling nervous for other people. I’ve learnt from good coaches that one of the things is that you have to try and show your team that you’re not getting stressed. I never enjoyed being in a dressing room when I found the coach getting nervous, tense and showing his emotions. That did nothing for me. It only made me feel worse. So I’ve made a conscious effort to not get over-excited when we win and not get too down when we lose.
I’m not claiming that I’ve never lost my cooI or that it won’t happen again. I just try and make it as less as possible. As a philosophy, I like to just try and give the perception of being calm. It’s worked in my cricket as well. You have to keep working on it. It’s not that easy. You are sitting there, drinking a cup of cappuccino and thinking “I’m trying to act cool there” but underneath it’s a different story.
You speak to agents of modern-day players and they’re encouraging the likes of Pujara and Rahane to be like Rahul Dravid on the field but then almost warning them that if they don’t loosen up off the field, their brand endorsement opportunities would be restricted like they were with you.
Man, you have to be yourself. You can’t live a lie. If it’s not your personality, you can’t pull it off for too long. At the end of the day, you score runs, take wickets and play for a long time, life will look after itself for you. People like authenticity. They can see through eventually if you are not being authentic. People have told me this even while I was playing. You can imagine that. “Go lighten up. If you do this, this might happen. You have to be cooler. Or say this in an interview.” That’s not who I am. It would have sounded inauthentic. I have no regrets, man. If I look at things, I did pretty well. In terms of adulation I got, the ads I made, I have absolutely no regrets about anything else. I don’t think I would have been happy getting a little more by trying to be different just to get something. It would have been a struggle for me. I can’t answer for other people though.
You’ve always been ultra-careful with whatever you’ve said. Journalists of yore would say you could do an interview with Rahul Dravid for an hour and walk away without a single headline.
I’m not there to try and not give a headline or give a headline. Let’s put it that way. There was a point of time, when you said something and it gets misconstrued or gets reported very differently from what you mean it to be. The sad part is you know that the journalist knows where you were coming from but just to get the headline, he shaped it differently. After it happens once or twice, at least for the person I was, it had an impact on me. Then you start thinking, ‘why should I say something?’ It’s irritating. It’s not like I made a conscious effort never to say anything that’s controversial but I’ve not gone out of my way to be controversial either. In a country like India if you are a cricketer and in a public space, then they are decisions you need to make, yaar. I can’t say something and make someone happy because Rahul Dravid gave him a headline. That’s not exactly my job. I’ve never been comfortable with being in the headlines or with a lot of the attention that’s come my way.
This drive to be understated and uncomfortable with the attention, how much of it comes from your middle-class background?
We are products of our environment and the age you live in. There are lot of things I admire about what the youngsters can do and think, ‘wow I wish I had that freedom and confidence’. There are a lot of things about my generation that I’m proud and happy of. I was lucky in the sense to live in a generation which started off not having to deal with so much of our lives being in the fish-bowl. We could do a lot of things a bit more simply. But I am appreciative of the fact that the extra media and attention has also got me certain things that a generation earlier probably missed out on.
How much pressure does all this talk about you being the epitome of good conduct on the field put on you?
I’ve never set any standard for myself. So there’s no question of living up to it. I don’t claim to be anything. So when I throw my cap sometimes when things go wrong, people go “Oh”. But for me, yeah it’ll happen, yaar. I’m just trying to be calm and conduct myself in the best way possible, I think. But that doesn’t mean I am thinking I should never go wrong. I’m not. There’s no pressure at all. You feel a responsibility as a public figure in India. There are certain things you have to be careful about. You expect that kids are watching you. In some ways you may not like it, but you are a role model for a lot of people.
How can you not get overwhelmed with some of the adulation that comes your way. Like Matthew Hayden saying if you want to know what aggression is, look into Rahul Dravid’s eyes, for example.
Growing up, I wanted the respect of my peers. When you find people you play with say things like that, it does feels nice to some level. It’s not something you can aim to achieve. But deep down, I am not comfortable with people praising me. It’s embarrassing at times. Being an Indian cricketer, I got used to people saying nice things about me. There’s also a flip side to it. I have also faced a lot of criticism in my career. When you get nice things said about you, you remind yourself that that’s great but there are also lots of times when people have judged me sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly. That balances it out. In my junior days, I never had that self-confidence or belief. At U-19 level, if you told me I’d play 160 Tests I would have laughed at you. I had this deep-down belief but that would have been too far-fetched. I would have never imagined my career would have panned out this way. It still sometimes feels surreal. The more I have coached and seen, I’m grateful things fell into place for me.
Generally, you talk about how parenthood sorts out people. But for someone like you, did it actually free you up more?
I think parenthood made me less intense. For me right from the beginning, I always wanted to be a good cricketer. I wanted to play for India. I wanted to get the best out of myself. Being a bit introverted, I at times maybe got a bit too intense about it. It’s not a regret though. In some ways, I feel I got the best of myself. So when people say, ‘you should have lightened up a lot’, I say, ‘yeah maybe but I don’t know another way’. If I had tried to lighten up and I hadn’t got the best out of myself, I would have regretted that. Parenthood helped me relax a bit more. It put a lot of things in perspective. Especially after retiring, the first couple of years I didn’t do too much other than the odd commentary gig. I was home a lot watching my kids grow. I am actually a lot more comfortable in that kind of environment.
When you watch your kid play, does the old Rahul Dravid intensity return?
Because you’ve had that experience and seen how being intense always can be difficult, you don’t want to wish that for your kid, yaar. Maybe I will answer this question differently if one of my sons plays cricket at some representative level. They are just 11 and 7. They play cricket, soccer and different sports, and I like that. I enjoy watching those games. I watch them with no expectations. I am grateful for the fact that they like sport because that means they watch less TV and are less in front of the I-pad. If I’m nervous for U-19 kids that I’m coaching, I’m sure I’ll be very nervous for my own kids if they ever played serious cricket.
You were, however, someone who explored and saw more of the countries you toured than any other Indian cricketer. That and the reading, were they your way of intellectual stimulation?
(Laughs) I don’t claim to be an intellectual PhD student, yaar. I am not denying the fact that I was intense. But I know a lot of people, who people think were chilled out and relaxed, were deep-down more intense than even I was. It’s just a perception. It’s just your way of outwardly reacting to things. What’s more important is what’s going on inside. Nobody can really tell. I feel it went in my favour and it’s why I was able to have a pretty long career, in terms of longevity too. Because if you are that intense and don’t have an outlet, you’ll drain yourself out emotionally.
The fact that I was able to do it for such a long time should actually tell you that I found a way, especially in the latter part of my career. I found a method that allowed me to switch off and not get too obsessed about cricket. I wasn’t someone who read a lot in school. The reading habit came about because I found it was the one way that actually helped me not think about the game. When you are reading a book, you can’t think of anything else. I found that if I was watching television, I was still thinking about the game. Because there is so much happening on the screen, it didn’t register. I recognised that if I could not drain all my emotional energy off the field, it starts affecting on the field.
How intense does coaching make you?
The thing about being a coach is you have sometimes 21 guys at the U-19 level. And not every one of them is doing well. Even if you have won the game, there might be three or four guys who might have failed. The instinct is to think about the guy who hasn’t done well. It’s hard even to enjoy the wins at times. You are thinking about, ‘how can I give that guy more playing time’ or ‘what can we do to get him out of his slump?’ Constantly as a coach, I find that I’m analysing it even more than I was as a captain in that sense. Not that I’m remote-controlling the captain’s decisions. Coaching is sometimes more challenging and time-consuming but is certainly easier than playing. Playing is a lot harder and stressful. You can never match that pressure.
Have your techniques of relaxation changed as a coach? Are you on Playstation more these days?
(Laughs) No, No, I’m still not a technologically savvy guy. It’s pretty much the same. The funny thing is I read only a lot more when I’m on tour. And since I don’t tour as much, I don’t read much. As a coach, the day doesn’t end at 6 pm. It drags on a lot more. You tend to keep thinking a lot more. But I still don’t like being in my room. So I go out, and it relaxes me.