When Rahul Dravid Made Scotland Roar
I was there…..when Rahul Dravid made Scotland roar.
There were plenty of raised eyebrows around the cricket world when the news first broke that Indian maestro, Rahul Dravid, was joining the Scottish Saltires in the summer of 2003.
This, after all, was at a time when “The Wall” was starring as the immovable object to Sachin Tendulkar’s irresistible force. And he could have picked any of the English counties had he so chosen. But, instead, the Test luminary decided to travel north of Berwick and throw in his lot with the part-time Scots.
With hindsight, it would have been easy for Dravid to utter platitudes, ponder his winter plans and pick up a hefty cheque for his troubles. Yet his sojourn to Scotland couldn’t have been more different, nor could the great man have charmed any more people with his engaging mixture of genius and geniality.
I should know. After all, I followed the redoubtable Rahul throughout his visit and helped him write a weekly column for the “Sunday Herald”. Sometimes, these enterprises can be a chore for the respective parties and a crushing bore for the reader.
But Dravid was a joy, one of life’s innate gentlemen, as enthusiastic about nurturing youngsters as he was effervescent in galvanising the Saltires on their magical mystery tour of duty in the Totesport League.
It was especially uplifting for those of us who love cricket in Caledonia. Indeed, never before had the sport witnessed the kind of scenes at Edinburgh Airport as those which heralded his arrival. A Royal entourage or David and Victoria Beckham might routinely attract such a phalanx of photographers, but never a cricketer in a land of allegedly rabid unbelievers. In which circumstances, it maybe wasn’t surprising that Scottish Television’s young interviewer got a bit carried away and asked Dravid with breathless curiosity: “So what do you think about Scottish football?”
To his credit, the international star remained a model of composure and continued in that vein for the rest of the season, even as he provided regular master classes during his jousts with various English counties.
It was clearly an education to him to discover the love which existed for the game as he travelled north to Fochabers and thence to Scotland’s major cities. As he told me: “I just hadn’t envisaged I would meet so many interested, passionate, knowledgeable people, but I have walked through many club gates and the response has been amazing from seven to 70-year-olds and from experienced officials to those who have clearly never been to a cricket ground in their lives before.
“From what I saw, and from the desire on the faces of fans, players and kids alike, it was clear the talent exists for Scotland to advance on the world stage. But I think it’s just as important to encourage those at the grassroots, because I was blown away by how much hard work was being done.”
If Dravid had merely been paying lip service, he did it expertly. But I saw how much he cared when he was in the Scottish ranks as they faced Pakistan at Hamilton Crescent on a glorious sun-drenched Saturday in front of a packed crowd on June 7.
The home spectators were awaiting another illustration of the batsman’s superlative mix of defiance, durability and dash. Then suddenly, the arena fell deathly quiet when the great man was dismissed first ball, snaffled by wicket-keeper, Rashid Latif, from a brute of a ball from Shabbir Ahmed.
Looking on, I recall thinking: “Oh no!” Dravid hadn’t got round to preparing his column for the following day and I suspected he would hardly be inclined to wax lyrical. So I waited apprehensively while media officer Mike Stanger went into the changing room to raise the dread question.
If this has been some footballers or rugby stars I could mention, the interview would never have happened. But Dravid possessed enough professionalism and sheer class to realise he couldn’t duck his responsibilities. So he talked. And talked. And was wonderfully compelling after the Scots came within a whisker of recording the biggest victory of their lives.
As he said: “I’m very proud of the boys, they were just magnificent and I only wish I could have made a decent contribution. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, but I honestly thought the lads might win when Pakistan were 165 for 9 [in pursuit of 170].
“All I can take from the performance is the proof that Scotland played out of their skins, with lots of skill and pride and commitment. But I didn’t expect anything else. If I could just have chipped in a few runs…..”
He looked genuinely crestfallen and this was no hired gun without any allegiance to the cause. Instead, the frustration and disappointment in his eyes made you suspect the next attack he encountered would suffer a backlash. They did, as Somerset’s bowlers were carved and caressed to eternity while Dravid orchestrated a superb century.
This was the stuff that dreams were made of. And it was a privilege to both watch and listen to this modest individual. “You just have to keep working, keep setting higher standards and pushing onwards without standing still,” he said at the end of his stay in Scotland.
The words still resonate today.