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Dravid the Incomparable

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Rahul_Dravid_India_cricket_legendWhy doesn’t Dravid have any great rivalries?

Has it ever been Dravid vs Warne, or Dravid vs McGrath, or Dravid vs Murali or Dravid vs Pollock despite the fact that Dravid has more often than not, occupied the most enchanting spot in a batting line up- number 3?

He was there at Kolkata alongside Very Very Special Laxman, scripting one of the most dramatic comebacks in the history of sports. He was there with Ganguly a few months later at Kandy, playing like only he could, and helping India chase the highest successful one in the Island nation then. He was there at Port Elizabeth, saving a Test in the most Dravid-ian ways possible- blocking everything that came his way and plodding on. He was there at Georgetown four months later, averting a follow on after popping painkillers for a swollen jaw. He was there, four months on, at Nottingham, saving yet another Test, as he played down the last four sessions of the match. In the very next match, in very much what could be termed as a bowler’s paradise, Dravid excelled. His innings at Headingley was one of the greatest exhibitions of batting craftsmanship. And just when we thought that Dravid would run out of gas, came the innnings’ against Australia and Pakistan, then, two of the best bowling attacks in World Cricket. He batted, batted and batted, exhibiting his class and portraying his determination and the will to score runs. And as he neared the twilight of his career, at the Home of Cricket, Dravid produced yet another batting masterclass. He was present in the tricky first morning, and was omnipresent in India’s innings: staying rooted to his crease even as his partners came and went. Dravid was there, almost always.

Dravid, undoubtedly, was India’s batsman of the early 21st century.

Yet when he retired, or as many feel, was shoved out, there wasn’t the fanfare one would expect for a modern great. True, he didn’t have the style of a Laxman, the strokemaking of a Tendulkar, or play the flashy strokes of a Ganguly. But cometh the hour, cometh Dravid. There weren’t many better than Dravid whilst saving a Test. When he retired, he scored over 30 centuries, including 5 doubles and scoring lesser than only Tendulkar, his illustrious contemporary, who had played a whole lot more for the country. Dravid scored the most runs in overseas victories for a country which was David, if not worse, with its bowling and its batting was what helped them win. And only Tendulkar, who else but Tendulkar, has made more runs than Dravid in a single batting position.

 

Dravid embodied grit and resilience and his work ethic enabled him to be the special player which he turned out to be.

It has been almost three full years since Dravid decided to perennially hang his boots from Test Cricket and yet, India haven’t found a suitable replacement for Rahul Dravid. Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli alongside Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan look all set to become a great batting line up. There are striking similarities. Kohli very much resembles a bygone Ganguly: Attitude and a character that Indian fans haven’t been used to. Sehwag and Dhawan, Vijay being the solid opener who India have longed, Rahane fits the bill as a Laxman: classy with a dash of audacious stroke making and a penchant of scoring runs when the rest falter. That leaves us with the two who look seemingly irreplaceable: Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. Going by stats and performances, it wouldn’t do much harm to say that it would be the latter who, as the days go, looks to be the one India really needs. Yes, you can’t get a Tendulkar. But hey! Getting a Dravid is even tougher.

When we think of the greatest cricketers to have graced the game, the likes of Glenn McGrath, Rahul Dravid, Bob Willis and many others almost never come up even though they might have notched up better figures than most. McGrath always had for company a certain Shane Keith Warne, who almost always, stole the limelight. Much like McGrath, in most conversations and debates, people tend to even forget the mere existence of Dravid.

Harsha Bhogle is one of the very few people who continue to inspire me. “He was the wolf who lived for the pack,” said Bhogle, in one of his many articles on Dravid.

Dravid didn’t like doing two things- opening and keeping wickets. Ultimately, he ended up doing both, with apparent ease and a lot of distinction. I do not know if this can be said with accuracy or precision, but I doubt there is anyone who would do more for his team than himself.

Stats generally do not give us a complete indication on a player’s performance in the game. But, if there is one statistic that describes Rahul Dravid, it is not the heaps of runs he made or the hundreds he notched up, but the number of deliveries he faced in a decade and a half long Test Career.

In 286 Test innings, Dravid played 31,258 balls. Given that no other batsman has faced more than 29,000 deliveries, it puts into perspective the amount of hard work and sheer effort that went into scoring those 13,288 runs.

There was little about the man that was flamboyant. What eventually characterized him was the hours of work he put in, his poise, his diligence, his stature, his demeanor, his class.

As Siddhartha Vaidhyanathan perfectly put it, “If Tendulkar is the son that every mother would want, Dravid is the boy who every single girl would want to take to her mother.”

He didn’t possess the eloquence necessary for a stylish batsman. He didn’t possess a single signature stroke. He didn’t possess an attitude, other than Gentlemanly.

To witness Dravid in full flow, one needs a graveyard of a pitch, one that’s virtually unplayable for the other batsmen. Got a featherbed? Call Laxman. Got a dead turner? Call Tendulkar. Got a minefield filled with cracks and crevices? Call Dravid.

Like most things Dravid, his innings at Kolkata or Leeds or Georgetown or Galle, may soon be forgotten. And one day, which doesn’t seem too far right now, we shall know why we miss the presence of Dravid.

In a career filled with grace, charm, timing and poise, it was sad that it had to end with a slog. But, once again, it was what the team needed.

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