The Decade of Dravid
Last month as the entire planet was seemingly caught up in World Cup fever, Rahul Dravid celebrated his 10th year as an international cricketer amongst muted celebrations.
For a player that has been so supremely consistent over the past decade, it is funny to think that even now he shies away from the limelight. But that is the essence of Dravid; gargantuan performances by him have always been footnotes to the Sachin and Sourav stories and he has thus managed to escape the public's imagination. He is the engine at the heart of the car that is Indian cricket. Many Indian batsmen have been flashier and more attractive, yet after it is all said and done a Ferrari may look good, but without the engine under the hood it just won't work. Indian cricket may be in a position of strength these days but without the unsung efforts of Dravid they would be nowhere. It is a bold statement to make but he is even more important to the team than Sachin Tendulkar. For consistency in performances no one has outdone Dravid, not even Sachin.
Dravid made his debut for India in the second test at Lords in '96 and it was an innings to remember. Ganguly may have scored a century on debut and hogged the headlines but Dravid's 95 was the ultimate supporting role, a role he would play many times over the next 10 years. Dickie Bird's last test was Dravid's first, one great cricketing character left the stage only for a completely opposite personality to make his entrance. His composure and technique immediately made people stand up and take notice; he seemed to be a batsman one of the old guard. Protect your wicket, graft out runs and play for time, Boycott and Gavaskar would have been proud, he was a test cricketer from the word go. Dravid took some time to make his first test century, but he could not have done it at a better time, his 148 and 81 took India to the brink of victory, with those performances a trend had been set, he was to be the rock at the centre of the Indian batting line up.
Soon enough the critics were out with their knives, while he may have been flourishing as a test player he seemed horribly out of place in the one-day team. With the likes of Sachin, Ganguly and Azharuddin to compete with, his batting came across as too sedate and one-dimensional. Sections of the press took great pleasure in calling him “the wall”, they said all he was good for was stonewalling bowlers and could not force the pace. Little did they know that a decade later they would still call him “the wall” only this time no one would be laughing. Aside from his presumed one day woes, he became increasingly consistent in the longer version of the game passing fifty almost at will, but found it tough to register centuries. It was hard work but he was steadily making his way as an international cricketer, the '98/'99 season signalled the birth of the star. His twin centuries at Hamilton were possibly the finest of his career and soon he was scoring at will, not only in tests but one dayers as well.
Having been routinely criticised for his slow-go approach to one-day cricket the '99 World Cup ushered in a new era of Dravid. He left the World Cup as the top scorer and took part in what was then a world record partnership of 318 with Ganguly. Later that year he broke the one-day partnership record with Tendulkar as they amassed 331 runs together against New Zealand. This was the player who was routinely maligned by Indian press for his inability to score fast enough. He replied with his bat and kept silent. Dravid's humility and down to earth nature made it impossible for him to react to the criticism or even outwardly show anger, this feature of his personality is reflected in his batting and lifestyle.
The defining moment of his career was when in 2001 he was pushed down the batting order to number 6 and from there with Laxman put on 376 runs as India followed on against Australia and won the match. His 180 was all passion, heart and desire. It was the start of a golden run that still continues to this day. His purple patch has lasted 5 years, now that is some achievement! Since then he has had so many records and landmarks that it would be foolish to list them. But four centuries in four consecutive innings was only second best to Everton Weekes, that deserves an honourable mention. Double centuries were a dime a dozen for him and at one point he scored three double centuries in the span of fifteen tests. His consistency and powers of concentration made him the most valued wicket in the world, yet seemingly none of it went to his head. In 2004 he was voted the Test Player of year and the International Cricketer of the year. Awards that could have gone to no one else but him, the following year he was named in the One Day team of the year. Now, who would have predicted that a decade ago? He has morphed as an individual and as a cricketer, his old world style is now infused with modern methods.
Dravid is a model of consistency, dedication, and concentration. The past six years have paid rich dividends to a player who can claim to be the hardest worker in international cricket. Indian cricket is indebted to a man who has built his career around stoic batting and mind-boggling feats of concentration and discipline. Yet it seems like he will forever be the lost son, lost behind the god that is Tendulkar. Late last year Dravid was named captain of India and with this his public face is now noticeable. Now he may be talked about in the same breath as Tendulkar, that is a shame because he deserves more. India beat the West Indies two weeks ago to win their first test series there for 35 years and as you may have guessed Dravid was at the forefront of it all. His captaincy still has room for improvement but his batting was as solid as ever. In the last test at Jamaica he was the only player on both teams to look comfortable on a pitch that was far below standard. That was because he was willing to work, grind out dot balls and dispatch the bad balls for runs. It was a batting master class on a bit of a sticky wicket and his work ethic was evident for all to see. Eventually he was the difference between the two teams and what a difference that was!
At 33 Dravid is not getting any younger but if he stays fit and retains his seemingly endless powers of concentration there is no reason to believe that he can't enjoy another half a decade as the best batsman in the world. There are many words to describe Dravid, as he celebrates 10 years of international cricket, but one, which has been most associated with him, is “dependable”. If one were to make a dictionary for the cricketing world, the sentence under the word dependable would be “Rahul Dravid is dependable”. If only that example of the word was given, I am sure no one would have trouble understanding the meaning.
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