Dravid hit the high notes despite playing second fiddle
Rahul Dravid will go down in the annals of Indian cricket as a champion batsman who had no qualms about playing second fiddle during an illustrious 15-year career built upon the soundest of techniques.
A purist’s delight, Dravid will be fondly remembered as someone whose batting was as perfect as a coaching manual and the numerous rescue acts he performed would secure him a place on the wish-list of any international captain.
Nicknamed “The Wall” for his impeccable defence, the 39-year-old announced his retirement from test cricket on Friday after a disappointing tour of Australia, where he was bowled out in six out of his eight innings.
Probably the nature of his dismissals in Australia where the ball found it much easier to breach his previously watertight defences, convinced Dravid to call time on his career despite being the highest test run-scorer in the 2011 calendar year.
A test career that began at the Lord’s with a solid 95 in 1996 ended with a total of 13,288 runs in 164 matches, second only to team mate Sachin Tendulkar on the test history scoring list.
In that Lord’s test, fellow debutant and future captain Sourav Ganguly hit a century to outshine Dravid – a trend that would recur in the next one-and-half decades when Vangipurappu Laxman or Tendulkar would hog the limelight.
Dravid made 36 test centuries, often in the most difficult batting conditions, including three tons during last year’s dismal tour of England where India were whitewashed 4-0 in the series.
The cricketer, a thorough gentleman, was surprisingly recalled for the ODI series that followed in England after a two-year hiatus, for what would be his farewell series in the 50-over and Twenty20 format.
Dravid’s recall was an acknowledgement of his technical superiority over India’s next generation batsmen, whose inadequate skills were cruelly exposed on England’s seamer-friendly pitches.
It was not the first time, though, in Dravid’s career that he was required to perform a salvage operation.
He has been asked to, and sometimes even forced to, bat at different positions in the line-up, be it at the top or lower down the order.
A 100 percent team man, Dravid, who had managed to make the number three batting position in the Indian test side his own, never refused any of the challenges thrust upon his shoulders.
At one point in his career, he was almost written off as a one-day international cricketer but the exceptional; fielder managed to keep his place in the side by agreeing to don the wicket-keeping gloves for the team.
Dravid’s batting style was probably not perfectly suited to the rigours of limited-overs cricket, where scoring runs quickly was primary, but he managed to adapt his batting to suit the shorter format.
He finished that segment of his career with 10,889 runs, including 12 hundreds, in 344 one-dayers.
An ardent student of the game, known for a love of facts and figures, Dravid’s concentration was unflinching, also underlined by the 210 test catches, more than anyone else, he took mostly when standing in the slip cordon.
As a captain, Dravid was at the helm for two years, during which he led the team to away series victories in England and West Indies, which helped erase the stamp of “poor tourists” the Indian side was often accused of being.
But India’s early exit in the 2007 World Cup triggered a backlash at home and Dravid eventually relinquished a job he was finding too demanding.
Over the years, Dravid has been the main architect behind India’s rise in test cricket, which culminated in them being crowned the number one side in the world in 2009.
And still, like on his debut test, he would always be overshadowed by more flamboyant team mates in Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Laxman.
In 2001, at an epic test at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens, it was Laxman who got all the deserved praise with his 281 in the second innings when India beat Australia after following-on.
As usual, Dravid’s marathon innings of 180 was reduced to a passing mention.
Internationally, it was the stature of his contemporary cricketers Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting and Tendulkar who cast a shadow on Dravid as a batsman.
Dravid will continue to play in the Indian Premier League’s Twenty20 format but he has already etched his name as one of the greatest test batsman of his era.