Dravid versus Goliath 

When the Indian team landed at Madras for the crucial Independence Cup tie against Pakistan - a do or die encounter in which the winner progresses to the final - it was not captain and star batsman Sachin Tendulkar who was the cynosure of all eyes. 
That honour went to a quiet, unassuming gent tagging along in the rear, lugging his cricket gear and pretending not to hear the squeals of a contingent of female cricket fans. 
Within an hour of Dravid's checking in at his hotel, the managing director of Sun TV - Tamil Nadu's vernacular network with an enviable viewership of 91.3 per cent - was at his door, to request the star batsman to appear in a live phone-in programme. Given that his practise and other commitments were to take up most of the next day, Dravid agreed to appear only if it could be done that very afternoon. 
And so Sun TV went live, with Rahul Dravid, giving viewers a bare couple of hours of advance notice. And yet, the 12 phone lines reserved for the chat were clogged with calls pouring in from all over the state - and if a good 70 per cent or more of them were from female fans, it's pretty much par for the course for the Mr Cool of Indian cricket, who has become the latest pin up boys for women from South Africa to the Caribbean - not to mention his native India. 
His record - and strange as it seems, he is just completing a year of international cricket - is enviable. An average of 51.95 in 14 Tests with a century and eight fifties; an average of 33.03 in 32 ODI innings with 8 50s.... the kind of bottomline that argues a degree of consistency that has been missing from the crucial number three berth in the Indian batting lineup ever since the exit of Mohinder Amarnath. 
"It has been a very tough, challenging year," smiles Dravid. "But it has taught me a lot!" 
Just how much, was made evident on two instances too fresh in the memory to need much elaboration. When India chased 251 to win in 40 overs in the ODI tournament in South Africa and lost Saurav Ganguly cheap, Rahul Dravid walked in and, contrary to his usual measured style, launched a blitz against Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald that had the latter bowler literally foaming at the mouth. "That is all part of the game," he laughs, when reminded of the on-field confrontation. "We parted friends, really, we keep pulling each other's legs all the time..." 
The other instance came against Sri Lanka last Saturday. India 29/3 - and Dravid, balancing aggression very nicely with defence, not only spearheaded the fightback but, during the initial phase, played the senior partner's role to perfection, reining in the more tempestuous Ajay Jadeja and guiding him along on the road to a big, as opposed to briefly explosive, innings. 
It is this maturity that, more than the runs he scores, is his real hallmark. And it comes through not only in his unflappable demeanour at the crease, but in the calm commonsense he brings to his interviews. Thus, a question about the weight of expectations elicits a wry smile: "Who on earth can ever live up to other people's expectations?," he asks. "For me, I have set myself some standards, have some expectations of myself - and it is against these that I try to measure each innings of mine." 
So what standards would those be? "It is very simple, really. Getting runs is one part of it, but I have realised that getting runs alone doesn't mean anything - I topped the tour averages in South Africa and the West Indies, but didn't play a single innings that I can honestly say won the match for my team. So that is what I want to do - win matches. It is this that I am now focussing on - I would like to think back, at the end of my career, and feel glad that I have helped my country win matches, rather than pat myself on the back because I have a fifty-plus average." 
If there is one lacuna in his career stats thus far, it lies in the fact that he keeps missing the three-figure mark time and again, after getting the measure of the bowling. Four fifties in seven Test innings in the West Indies is a case in point, and Dravid concurs that this is a problem he needs to work on. "Though, for myself, I was more disappointed about the fact that I didn't get a few more runs in Barbados - a fifty in the second innings would have won the game for India, and that would have meant more than if I had converted the other four fifties into hundreds, those were easier wickets to play on than the Barbados track." 
Against that minus, a plus is that Dravid always appears enormously focussed - even at the very end of 12-months of frenetic cricket, in which he has played against all the other eight Test-playing nations in some tournament or the other. "Yes, well, I won't deny that it has been pretty tough, strenuous," says Dravid. "But I am not complaining - look at the number of people who would love to get into the Indian side, winning a place is an honour and I want to keep my place as long as I can, for which I need to stay focussed all the time, fatigue or no. And besides, this kind of schedule, for a person in his first year on the international circuit, is like a crash course, a compressed learning experience. I won't deny that at times you feel drained, but then, when you are out there, you shrug it off and get on with the job..." 
And when you get right down to it, that seems to define Rahul Dravid right there - a calm, composed bloke who just shrugs and gets on with the job... 

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