Back in 2013 I got an opportunity to listen to Rahul Dravid in a conference. What he said then continues to resonate and stay relevant even today.
Dravid's 30 minute speech was on "Staying Ahead". It might well have been called "How to be a Complete Man". The crisp presentation was laced with self-deprecating wit and minimal slides. While coming across as extempore, it was clearly very thoroughly prepared. Drawing on examples from his playing days, Dravid spoke about the principles that helped him stay ahead. Here is a (paraphrased) summary:
Laying the Platform
I became famous while playing international cricket for 16 years. But before that, I spent 5 years playing domestic cricket in places like Sambalpur and Hubli. I played on all types of wickets and against all types of spin. My true foundation was laid during this time.
Always remember the Chinese bamboo which hardly grows out of the ground for its first 5 years. In the next 6 weeks, it grows to an unbelievable 90 feet. So what does the plant do underground during the 5 years? It lays the platform for the future by creating strong roots.
Driven by Success
I scored 95 on my Lord's debut in 1996. While I was very happy with my score, I was of course disappointed that I did not get the other 5. In hindsight, I am glad that I did not because I may have become complacent. While the 95 helped me realise that I was equipped to play at this level, missing the century developed inside me the hunger to do better.
Driven by Failure
I was dropped in ODIs in 1999 and felt like blaming everyone. A few days later, I was taken aside and advised I could either sit and blame everyone or try to fix my flaws and do better. So I became obsessed with analysing my game, identifying my flaws, seeking expert advise, and practicing differently. I went on to score 10000 runs in ODIs, but looking back, getting dropped from ODIs was a very good thing.
It All Comes Together The next 7 years were the best part of my life with everything coming together. I became very adaptable (took up wicketkeeping), played fantastic games like Calcutta and Adelaide, learned from players like Sachin and Anil to never rest on my laurels and worked on my diet.
The 2007 World Cup was a huge disappointment. Fans who booked tickets a year in advance to watch a likely India vs Pak match were instead treated to an Ireland vs Scotland fare at Barbados. As much as 2007 was painful, 2008-09 was worse.
It's one thing to fail when you are young. But failing when you are older is something else because you are watched and scrutinised. It is also very humbling. My past reputation carried me through that period. After a string of bad scores, I was almost certain that I was playing my last game for India since the selectors were about to decide on the team for the New Zealand tour within a week. But I struggled through a 100 in that game and barely got selected.
Falling in Love Again
I was soon learning to enjoy the game again and not be too worried about what comes next. Good scores against New Zealand and England followed.
Climbing my Mountain
By 2012, I felt I had climbed my mountain and it was the right time to quit the game. I felt that the younger generation must now be given the opportunity. I have no regrets on my decision.