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Dravid, the Rock of Gibraltar

- By Vedam Jaishankar

"Rahul was a very fine person,' recollected Fr Coelho, principal at Dravid's school, St Joseph's Boys High School. Fr Coelho is currently posted in Gulbarga, in North Karnataka. "I spoke to his teachers before giving him permission to miss a few classes. The teachers were unanimous in their praise for him and his academic abilities. They had no complaints at all about him. The sports secretary, who took a lot of interest in Rahul, too showered praise on him. It was then that I started to closely follow his development as an individual.

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"Rahul had no conflict whatsoever with any teacher or student. It was not just exemplary; his relationship with fellow students and his teachers was ideal and flawless. It was unusual and, in a way, it was unreal,'' said Fr Coelho.

The fact that his principal backed him to the core was a great help. More so as he was allowed to skip the last period of the day also to attend nets in the evening. After nets he once again would wind his way back home on a crowded BTS bus. Effectively, he was home just for dinner and sleep.

All this slogging paid off when he made the State Under-15 team for the second year in a row. This time, the tournament was in Andhra and, during the school term. The Dravids were hesitant whether St Joseph's Boys High School with its demands on academics would allow Rahul to miss classes to take part in a tournament in far away Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh state.

The Dravids - Sharad and Pushpa along with Rahul - met Fr. Coelho and apologetically stated that Rahul's cricket would interfere with his studies and therefore they could not ask Rahul to go to play in Andhra Pradesh.

In Fr. Coelho's words, "I don't know if it is what I said. But much, much later, well after Rahul had become the excellent Test cricketer he is, they came to thank me and said that I had remarked `you leave studies to me. I'll handle that. You let him play cricket. It is a great adventure he is embarking on and let's support him.'

"I remember, though, that Rahul jumped with joy in my office when I gave him permission.''

That year the South Zone Under-15 tournament was in Vijayawada. The Karnataka team had practiced on matting wickets while the first match was to be played on turf. "We had never played a match on turf. In fact I remember we were asking one another `why do batsmen tap on the pitch during the match','' said Fazal Khaleel who led Karnataka Under-15 that year.

The unfamiliarity with turf pitches mattered little, for Rahul slammed a double hundred - his first big score in a representative game - Khaleel 150 and Karnataka made a huge first innings total.

"The only reporter at the ground was the Indian Express man in Vijayawada. We were very keen to see what was written about us and the innings we played. So next morning Rahul and I got up very early and walked out of the room at 6 a.m. in search of a newspaper. We got one after walking a lot and hurried back to the room. But before we could read the newspaper, one joker in our team spilt all the coffee on it. Both Rahul and I were very upset. Luckily the reporter concerned came to the ground with a copy of the newspaper and gave it to us later in the day,'' recalled Khaleel.

Although Rahul began the tournament very well, he failed in the next four innings. It was a rude initiation into the vicissitudes of form but served to prepare him for the highs and lows of his career.

Rahul, that year, made the South Zone team and subsequently the all-India camp at Kolkatta.

An interesting episode that year related to the inter-zone tournament staged at Nagpur.

All the five zonal teams were staying at the MLA Hostel in Nagpur. The boys would rush to the ground floor to gulp glasses of the orange juice that Nagpur was famous for. One night after dinner when they headed for the orange juice counter, Rahul intensely studied another youngster awaiting his turn to get a glass of juice. The boy had a mop of curly hair on his head and looked sort of funny. Rahul drew Fazal's attention to the boy and said ``Fuzz, in two to three years that boy will play for India.''

"I looked at the boy who had this funny hair and then at Rahul and asked `are you joking or what','' revealed Fazal.

"I had seen that West Zone boy bat. Yes, he played well but I could not see anything extraordinary that at 14 years of age somebody could predict he would play for India soon,'' said Fazal.

"Next day, when we poured through the newspapers, we found the boy had scored a big hundred for West Zone. `Mark my words,' Rahul said again. I just laughed.

"In fact in less than two years that boy played for India. And the same day he was selected to the Indian team Rahul reminded me of what he had said that distant day in Nagpur,'' recalled Fazal. The boy, incidentally, was Sachin Tendulkar.

Extracted from Rahul Dravid A Biography by Vedam Jaishankar.