Rahul Dravid's speech on Sir Donald Bradman Oration 2011 (Excerpts)*

Canberra 14 December, 2011

I realise a very distinguished list of gentlemen have preceded me in the ten years that the Bradman Oration has been held. I know that this Oration is held every year to appreciate the life and career of Sir Don Bradman, a great Australian and a great cricketer.

Yet, but first before all else, I must say that I find myself humbled by the venue we find ourselves in. Even though there is neither a pitch in sight, nor stumps or bat and balls, as a cricketer, I feel I stand on very sacred ground tonight. When I was told that I would be speaking at the National War Memorial, I thought of how often and how meaninglessly, the words 'war', 'battle', 'fight' are used to describe cricket matches.

Yes, we cricketers devote the better part of our adult lives to being prepared to perform for our countries, to persist and compete as intensely as we can - and more. This building, however, recognises the men and women who lived out the words - war, battle, fight - for real and then gave it all up for their country, their lives left incomplete, futures extinguished.

The people of both our countries are often told that cricket is the one thing that brings Indians and Australians together. That cricket is our single common denominator.

India's first Test series as a free country was played against Australia in November 1947, three months after our independence. Yet the histories of our countries are linked together far more deeply than we think and further back in time than 1947.

We share something else other than cricket. Before they played the first Test match against each other, Indians and Australians fought wars together, on the same side. In Gallipoli, where, along with the thousands of Australians, over 1300 Indians also lost their lives. In World War II, there were Indian and Australian soldiers in El Alamein, North Africa, in the Syria-Lebanon campaign, in Burma, in the battle for Singapore.

Before we were competitors, Indians and Australians were comrades. So it is only appropriate that we are here this evening at the Australian War Memorial, where along with celebrating cricket and cricketers, we remember the unknown soldiers of both nations.

It is however, incongruous, that I, an Indian, happen to be the first cricketer from outside Australia, invited to deliver the the Bradman Oration. I don't say that only because Sir Don once scored a hundred before lunch at Lord's and my 100 at Lord's this year took almost an entire day.

But more seriously, Sir Don played just five Tests against India; that was in the first India-Australia series in 1947-48, which was to be his last season at home. He didn't even play in India, and remains the most venerated cricketer in India not to have played there.

We know that he set foot in India though, in May 1953, when on his way to England to report on the Ashes for an English newspaper, his plane stopped in Calcutta airport. There were said to be close to a 1000 people waiting to greet him; as you know, he was a very private person and so got into an army jeep and rushed into a barricaded building, annoyed with the airline for having 'breached confidentiality.' That was all Indians of the time saw of Bradman who remains a mythical figure.

For one generation of fans in my country, those who grew up in the 1930s, when India was still under British rule, Bradman represented a cricketing excellence that belonged to somewhere outside England. To a country taking its first steps in Test cricket, that meant something. His success against England at that time was thought of as our personal success. He was striking one for all of us ruled by the common enemy. Or as your country has so poetically called them, the Poms.

There are two stories that I thought I should bring to your notice. On June 28, 1930, the day Bradman scored 254 at Lord's against England, was also the day Jawaharlal Nehru was arrested by the police. Nehru was, at the time, one of the most prominent leaders of the Indian independence movement and later, independent India's first Prime Minister. The coincidence of the two events, was noted by a young boy KN Prabhu, who was both nationalist, cricket fan and later became independent India's foremost cricket writer. In the 30s, as Nehru went in and out of jail, Bradman went after the England bowling and, for KN Prabhu, became a kind of avenging angel.

There's another story I've heard about the day in 1933, when the news reached India that Bradman's record for the highest Test score of 334 had been broken by Wally Hammond. As much as we love our records, they say some Indian fans at the time were not exactly happy. Now, there's a tale that a few even wanted to wear black bands to mourn the fact that this precious record that belonged to Australia - and by extension, us - had gone back. To an Englishman. We will never know if this is true, if black bands were ever worn, but as journalists sometimes tell me, why let facts get in the way of a good story.

My own link with Bradman was much like that of most other Indians - through history books, some old video footage and his wise words. About leaving the game better than you found it. About playing it positively, as Bradman, then a selector, told Richie Benaud before the 1960-61 West Indies tour of Australia. Of sending a right message out from cricket to its public. Of players being temporary trustees of a great game.

While there may be very little similarity in our records or our strike-rates or our fielding - and I can say this only today in front of all of you - I am actually pleased that I share something very important with Sir Don.

He was, primarily, like me, a No.3 batsman. It is a tough, tough job. We're the ones who make life easier for the kings of batting, the middle order that follows us. Bradman did that with a bit more success and style than I did. He dominated bowling attacks and put bums on seats, if i bat for any length of time I am more likely to bore people to sleep. Still, it is nice to have batted for a long time in a position, whose benchmark is, in fact, the benchmark for batsmanship itself.

Before he retired from public life in his 80s, I do know that Bradman watched Sunil Gavaskar's generation play a series in Australia. I remember the excitement that went through Indian cricket when we heard the news that Bradman had seen Sachin Tendulkar bat on TV and thought he batted like him. It was more than mere approval, it was as if the great Don had finally, passed on his torch. Not to an Aussie or an Englishman or a West Indian. But to one of our own.

One of the things, Bradman said has stayed in my mind. That the finest of athletes had, along with skill, a few more essential qualities: to conduct their life with dignity, with integrity, with courage and modesty. All this he believed, were totally compatible with pride, ambition, determination and competitiveness. Maybe those words should be put up in cricket dressing rooms all over the world.

As all of you know, Don Bradman passed away on February 25, 2001, two days before the India v Australia series was to begin in Mumbai.

Courtesy Cricket Australia

Complete text of the oration can be accessed at www.cricket.com.au External website that opens in a new window

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