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- By Vedam Jaishankar

While Tarapore certainly was the coach for Rahul, he was also getting inputs from others. At the Brijesh Patel Cricket Academy he was exposed to the experiences and observations of former cricketers GR Vishwanath, Ashok Mankad, Roger Binny, Daljit Singh and Patel himself.

Indian cricket History
Working hard to keep fit - Rahul (left) with Indian team physio
John Gloster

Daljit and Binny were perhaps the first to drive home the need for top cricketers to have a lot of stamina and be physically fit. Till then, most physical training involved a few laps around the ground, a couple of sprints and a few loosening up exercises. The Indian cricketers of the 1970s and 80s did not take physical conditioning seriously. Some of the biggest names in Indian cricket scoffed at the need for physical training and even ridiculed it during that period. One said that he got all his exercise while running between the wickets while another went on record that all the physical training he needed he got playing shuttle badminton once a week!

Luckily for the aspiring cricketers from Karnataka, Daljit and Binny, during the later stages of his career, were exposed to developments elsewhere and imbibed the need for rigorous physical training. An entire generation of impressionable youngsters of that period including Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Anil Kumble and Rahul learnt their lessons well and took physical training very seriously.

Thus with the physical training, his in-born mental toughness shored up by the books on mind games that he read and his supreme commitment to practice, Rahul, as a cricketer developed rapidly. The best part of his early career was that he had an open mind about everything. He was a keen listener who later assessed the pros and cons and then went about taking his own decisions. Rahul possesses these traits even now. To this day he does not flinch from approaching ex- cricketers and asking them about their experiences, may be on a bouncy track, or on conditions where the ball seams.

This constant desire to improve and excel has seen him seek a batting tip or two from stalwarts Sunil Gavaskar, GR Vishwanath and Ravi Shastri. ``At the end of the day I think destiny lies in your own hands. If somebody who has been through it can provide in-sights into what you are walking into, you can be that much better prepared,'' said Rahul.

When he learned that the bounce of the South African pitches would be higher than in any he had played till then, he decided to prepare for it. He used the paved pavilion steps at KSCA Stadium as the pitch and got a few of his Karnataka team mates to wet a tennis ball and throw it at a short of length from 10 to 12 yards. He sometimes used a bat to defend and on other occasions discarded the bat and just concentrated on swaying out of harm's way. In the nets he made some of the fast bowlers bowl at him from 18 to 20 yards.

Of course a lot had been said and written about how Sachin Tendulkar prepared for Shane Warne in 1998 by scuffing the pitch in the nets and getting local leg spinners to bowl in the rough. Very few, though, know that Rahul had prepared just as diligently to take on the South African pacemen, Allan Donald, Brian McMillian, Shaun Pollock, Fanie de Villiers and Lance Klusner in their backyard during the 1997 series. The 148 - his first Test century - and 81 he scored in the two innings at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg is proof that all the hard work paid off. In fact Rahul had such a splendid series that he was often seen as the side's number one batsman, ahead of Tendulkar and Mohammed Azharuddin.

Rahul's batting, though, was diametrically opposite to Tendulkar's. The latter sought to stamp his authority by dominating the bowling. Rahul took a different route. His aim was to frustrate the bowler by wearing him down. In this, his monumental patience and belief in his ability to stonewall helped. He presented a dead bat at most times and then every now and then came up with a stroke of exquisite timing to annoy the bowler.

The pull, hook and cut which he grew up with on the matting wickets of Bangalore always stood him in good stead, particularly as he was not a compulsive hooker. He would sway out of the way often and then suddenly come up with a rasping shot to peg back the bowler.

"We used to call him the 'Rock of Gibraltar' even at that young age,'' said coach PS Vishwanath. ``Keki and I knew that as long as he was at the crease he would keep one end going. To this day that is the way he plays the game. Others like Tendulkar, Laxman and Ganguly get the confidence to play an attacking game when he is holding the other end rock-steady."

PS Vishwanath stated that he and Keki advised Rahul to give up wicket-keeping and concentrate only on batting. ``It is too strenuous - keeping the whole day and then going out to bat at number three. Even now I hold that he must give up keeping. Wicket-keeping for a short while in One-Dayers is one thing. But if he keeps in games of longer duration his batting will suffer.''

Rahul took Tarapore's advice seriously. Of course not being the number one wicket-keeper for college, club or state juniors also helped him arrive quicker at the decision. The point, though, is that Tarapore had a great influence on Rahul. This continued till Tarapore passed away a couple of years ago.

Rahul never forgot what Tarapore did for him in the early stages of his career. He made it a point to meet him before embarking on any tour, series or major match and also met him on his return each time. Tarapore, who used to go from ground to ground to watch Rahul play, now took to following his career through live telecasts. If he thought Rahul was doing something differently or some error had crept into his basics he would note it down and alert Rahul about it.

Of course in the later stages the talk might not always have been of cricket, but the bonding between the two was excellent. When Tarapore fell sick and ultimately became bedridden, Rahul organised a benefit match for him.

In subsequent years the advent of the e-Cricket Pro tool, the software the Indian team uses, helped Rahul analyse his game and that of his opponents. He took to the gizmo enthusiastically and this further fortified the already impenetrable wall.

For Rahul his career has been one long learning phase. At no time has he believed he is the master of the game. Yes, he has had that quiet confidence about him. But it is a confidence that comes cloaked with humility and a desire for perfection. In this he shows the same hunger to learn and imbibe that he did 17 years ago. It is this trait that has helped him become one of the finest batsmen in the world.


Extracted from Rahul Dravid - a biography by Vedam Jaishankar.
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