Friday, May 25, 2012

"He would start at nine in the morning and bat for the entire day"

Source : Indian Express (article titled "Mr. Perfectionist, from start to finish")

A day after announcing his Test retirement, Rahul Dravid joined his Rajasthan Royals team mates at a six-day pre-season camp at the World Cricket Academy’s Institute of Sports, in the outskirts of Nagpur. By now, it had become one of Dravid’s regular haunts. From the time he had returned from the Test tour of Australia two months ago, Dravid had been visiting on and off to train for the IPL.

“One day he would ask only for left-arm spinners and get them to bowl over the wicket. The next day they would bowl around the wicket to him, and he would do the same,” says Zubin Bharucha, technical director, Rajasthan Royals. “Rahul, being Rahul, wanted to experiment with everything. He would ask for outswing bowlers one day, then bowlers who would bowl slower ones from the back of their hand, and so on.”

Siddharth Trivedi must have bowled his fair share of deliveries to Dravid during those pre-season camps. “He would start at nine in the morning and bat for the entire day,” says the Royals seamer. “He would keep talking to us, asking us if there was any mistake we could spot in his batting.”

Beginning of the end

Dravid, 39, wasn’t even in the final chapter of his career. This was the start of the epilogue. And yet, one of the foremost Test batsmen of his era was looking to prove to himself that he could thrive as a batsman in the IPL, and fill the voluminous captaincy boots of Shane Warne.

Former India mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton, who is now employed with the Pune Warriors, isn’t surprised that Dravid was preparing as meticulously as ever even after his international retirement. “Having worked very closely with Rahul and having seen him from close quarters, I can tell you that he is a consummate professional. There are no short-cuts involved with his cricket,” says Upton.

“This fierce will to compete is in their DNA. You put them on a table-tennis table, and they will be as competitive as anywhere else. You won’t see them fooling around.”

It’s clear that Dravid’s preparation paid off. With 462 runs, Dravid was the seventh-highest run scorer in the league phase. As a captain, however, he began the season under a certain amount of pressure, knowing that he would be compared, at every stage, to Warne.

“It’s difficult to compare them. Both are legends of the game,” says Trivedi, who has played for Rajasthan in all five seasons. “Warne would instill confidence in us during team talks. After that, it never felt as if we were bowling to Chris Gayle or any other big name player. Dravid motivates us just as much, but in his own way. He is very calm, and knows how to get the best out of his players.”

Deceptive demeanour

Dravid’s relaxed demeanour on the field, moreover, would suggest that he has more in common with his predecessor than most would have imagined. Off the field, there has been further evidence contradicting Dravid’s taciturn reputation, such as a ‘leaked’ video of a Royals bonding session, in which all the players are caught shaking a leg, their skipper as enthusiastically as anyone.

“Having retired from international cricket, there is less pressure on him,” says Bharucha. “But he’s always had a lighter side to his personality. It’s just that it seems to be on display more now than it used to be earlier.” Apart from this, Bharucha zeroes in on another key quality, his sense of balance.

“He’s the same regardless of whether we are winning or losing. And that kind of balance is infectious,” he says. “Some legends have this air about them, which at times puts a lot of pressure on the younger players to perform. Rahul is different. He speaks with everyone, and even the juniors enjoy a great level of comfort with him.”

One of the younger lot to have benefited from this is Rahane, who has basked in the company of his childhood idol at the crease and in the dressing room. “Rahul bhai is not like Shane Warne, who will always come up with surprises. Instead, he keeps things as simple as possible, whether it’s his batting or when he’s trying to give you instructions,” says Rahane.

It’s unclear whether Dravid will continue to play on next season — his latest statements indicate that Rajasthan are on the lookout for a younger opener to partner Rahane. But even if his playing days are over, the Royals would surely want to retain Dravid’s presence in their dugout.