This will be a no comparison, no-nonsense article regarding a cricketer who gave his heart and soul to Indian cricket, Test cricket in particular (since he has completed fourteen Test Cricket years).
What would you call a cricketer who lives under the shadow of others despite excelling at the international level in a sport’s prime format (or the real Test as they call it)? I will call him Rahul Dravid. Despite scoring runs consistently in both formats, he still is considered lesser than many of the IPL-generation kids by many. Here, no talks on the shorter formats, let’s talk about his fourteen wonderful years to Indian cricket.
We always talk about grabbing each opportunity, however small it may be. It once happened that a specialist batsman had to make a debut batting at number 7, and guess what, unlike many others who would have fretted and cursed their luck, he made it count. Soon, he was moved to number 3 through sheer performance and hard work. Slowly and steadily, he cemented his place and went on to become the one of the best batsmen ever to play at number 3.
Often coming when the openers fell quickly, and playing innings like only he can, consistently. But it’s not just about number 3 and number 7. When the team had trouble finding openers, he opened. Not as successful as he has been at other positions, he has still been decent considering the record of openers in India during the time he played. The second highest opening partnership record with Virender Sehwag in Pakistan is one of the highlights along with the infamous Sydney Test where he was already under a lot of flak for the last test but scored a stable fifty in the first innings, and continued it into the second innings to score forty odd when Umpire Bucknor horrified everybody with the leg before wicket caught.
He has also succeeded at the Sachin Tendulkar position in the team, playing at 4 when either Sachin was injured or a night watchman batted at 3. In 2006, at Sabina Park, Kingston, Rahul Dravid played historic innings winning a series in West Indies. He was the man of the match and man of the series, rightly so. He was brilliant. An innings on a minefield of a pitch made Chris Gayle and Brian Lara his fans. Gayle commented that ‘Dravid can play like me, I can’t play like him’. Lara said ‘If I have to put anyone to bat for my life, it’ll be Kallis or Dravid’. Anil Kumble provided solid support to this great batsman during that innings.
Other noteworthy innings at number four are the eighty-eight against England at Mohali, where Sachin batted at five and Kumble played as night watchman at three. Another innings was at Galle, where his sixty odd in second innings went into lost cause because nobody else scored. His only hundred in losing cause, hundred and fourteen against Zimbabwe at Harare sports Club also came at four. This match, he top scored in both the innings, yet India failed to beat the Zimbabweans.
The only position in top 7 where he hasn’t played much is number 5. Out of the 10 innings, not much to show except a fifty odd and a hundred forty odd unbeaten, in a drawn Test where only four days play was possible. But if in 10 innings he could score a hundred, it shows the adaptability to any position.
Number 6, we all know the magical Kolkata innings, hundred eighty. It was one of the best partnerships in history of Test Cricket, and will be one of India’s most glorious moments ever. No wicket to Warne, McGrath and co. on the fourth day of a Test match at Eden Gardens is really rare, and it takes cricketers of rare quality to achieve the feat.
Of the twenty-one record wins by Sourav Ganguly as captain, Rahul Dravid averages above hundred. This is the highest average in wins under any captain by anybody in Test Cricket. The highest catches by a non-fielder, not anybody could have managed that. Indian slip cordon is still safe when it comes to fast bowlers, and as a result often Dravid has been moved to second, third slips, and even gully and further. But the slip position to spinners, Rahul Dravid is the king along with Mark Waugh (to Shane Warne) and Mahela Jayawardne (to Muthiah Muralitharan) as contemporaries.
But he has often been there at slips when two or even three spinners have bowled in a match, varying from the accurate and quick Kumble (who has injured a lot of wicketkeepers in his career from Saba Karim to MSK Prasad to Nayan Mongia to Parthiv Patel), to the turning Harbhajan Singh (remember the early part of the previous decade?) to the orthodox Murali Kartik to the unpredictable Sachin Tendulkar, and many more.
The early part of his career went fielding in the silly point regions, and other close-in positions. He took some blinders there, especially one off Javagal Srinath where he dived judging the ball accurately within a second, and took it handsomely. Also, one lightning quick run out where he fielded the ball at silly mid-on from his left arm turned the ball to right and threw an accurate throw to the keeper. Had it been anyone else, he would have thrown immediately with left, giving batsman a lot of time due to inaccurate throw. But he is Rahul Dravid; presence of mind is brilliant, which is visible everytime he walks to the crease.
What Rahul Dravid is to Indian Test Cricket in particular can be gauged from the fact that despite a year or two of ordinary performances (strictly by his standards), he was still in the team while he was removed from ODI team despite getting man of the match barely nine innings back, and doing well enough to select himself among the top three batsmen in the team (we’ll come to that sometime later, that’s a different story altogether).
Though we have Sachin Tendulkar, we had Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly, we have VVS Laxman, we have Virender Sehwag, we have Harbhajan Singh, we have Zaheer Khan, and we have had many others who have been part of time off and on, but either form or fitness has kept them away from the team for long periods at times, but this man Rahul Dravid has been out of the Test team only twice due to fitness (never on form), and holds the record for second most consecutive Test matches played after Adam Gilchrist.
Form, consistency, patience, hard work, never-say-die attitude, fitness, ability to shift gears when needed (example Rawalpindi innings where he didn’t care for a three hundred but was scoring runs quickly for the team), playing for the team always (though some calculation errors, or poor performances made it look otherwise at times, especially against Australia 2008 and England 2006), brilliant catching, razor-sharp reflexes behind the wicket (slip position), etc, make him a legend without doubt.
Though he doesn’t often outshine his partners in either departments, mostly due to lack of flamboyance, his career has been a perfect example of teamsmanship. Yet, the irony, only when you judge him individually you understand the impact he has had. Last fourteen years, home and away, one of the most important success factors of Team India has been Rahul Dravid. It’s like a paint advertisement, which shows the paint is fine in cold, hot, and rains, all the places. Rahul Dravid is one such consistent performer, everywhere. India is number 1 in Tests, and he has had a huge role