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 coach, I had told the boys that I will finish a coaching stint and get to the match ground by 9 and be ready for the 9:30 start.
As I drove to the ground, I could feel my heart beat faster. After all, it is not every day that you get to play against someone with 13000 Test runs. It is not every day that you get to play against someone you have adored and idolised since the first time you saw him. It is not every day that you play 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 has sure helped me come to terms with his presence.
Now some snippets from the match:
We played at the HAL ground which is mostly made up of rough mud and stones and has a matting wicket. The toilets are dirty. He still played. The only benefit he got was his car was allowed inside the gate, there is no parking inside for anyone else.
It was a KSCA 2nd Division League game between BUCC and FUCC, two of the oldest clubs in Bangalore. The top two teams in the league get promoted. BUCC are second right now but with a club close behind. That is why Rahul played, to ensure his team does well, to ensure they are promoted. It’s a 2 day game, points system more or less like the Ranji Trophy.
Shining the Ball
BUCC fielded first. Rahul was as usual at slip. By over No.10 a part of his pant was red. After every delivery, he shined 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 and feel 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 into 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 3rd 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, probably didn’t carry also but I was given a life. He dived front trying to reach it and falling on the mud in HAL is not as nice as diving in Lords. He felt the pinch a bit as he rubbed off the mud from 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. While he was going to throw, Rahul was shouting from the back “Easy easy, no”. The bowler later apologised to me. And then, the same left arm spinner got me edging again. This time Rahul Dravid took the catch, quite similar to the first one. I probably have never been happier getting out, after all it took a guy with 200 Test catches to catch me.
We got the third wicket off the penultimate delivery of the day. At No. 5, to play one ball, walked out Rahul Dravid. We had a spinner bowling and with one delivery to go, thought he will just defend it away and 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 and he did not disappoint. He scored a 100. When his partner who also scored a 100 was cramping a little, Dravid got down and stretched him. He had a go at the umpires a couple of times as they were missing out on no-balls. Yes, Rahul Dravid 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 inbetween overs that in our innings as well they missed a few and he was really angry and made a gesture with his hands suggesting that they are missing huge no balls.
When another boundary was scored and the ball went into the bushes again and our fielders were looking for it, he came up to me (I was at covers, 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 was 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 feel 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 Dravid on strike. That there, was already a mini-dream but what happened off the first ball was as close as I will ever get to dismiss a batsman with over 23000 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 and well with Dravid 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. I surely had this guy in some spot of bother. As he took another single and I smiled at him, he said “that is some old fashioned loopy off spinners you are bowling”. I will take that as a compliment although he probably ‘struggled’ cause he hasn’t faced slow crap like that since his school days. 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 100, he had got his team to within 10 runs from taking the lead and the all-important 3 points when he edged behind and was caught by the keeper. He walked out to a standing applause but he was unhappy and was cursing himself and hitting the bat on the ground (not Kohli level upset, he was gentlemanly even in anger). He was upset at not having finished off the chase which the tail eventually did.
After getting out, he sat with his sons and wife and was seen explaining something to the boys.
There is usually a dog and a cow maybe watching us play league cricket. But there was a constant traffic 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 on 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, Thank you Arjun”.
Well, thank you Rahul Dravid for giving us the opportunity to play against you and a weekend that we will 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.