Known as ‘the Wall’ due to his ability to bat for long, Rahul Dravid has been the batting mainstay of Indian Test Team since he first arrived at the international scene in 1996. Dravid is regarded as one of the most technically sound batsmen of his time. He holds the record of being the only batsman to score a century in all ten Test playing nations. Dravid made his Test debut against England at Lords in June 1996 and scored 95. He is the third batsman to score more than 12,000 runs in Test cricket. Dravid has been involved in more than 80 century partnerships and stitched 19 century partnerships with Sachin Tendulkar – a world record. Dravid was awarded the ICC Player of the Year and the Test Player of the Year in 2004.
India’s batting great Rahul Dravid, who bid adieu to international cricket on Friday, holds 30th position in the rating list for the all-time best in the Test cricket. The 39-year-old Karnataka batsman spent a total of 35 Tests and 226 days at the top, with the highest-rating of 892 which he achieved in March 2005, an ICC release stated. Among India batsmen, only Sunil Gavaskar (916) and Sachin Tendulkar (898) have achieved higher career ratings than Dravid. Dravid was also the first recipient of the ICC Test Player of the Year and the ICC Cricketer of the Year (the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy) awards, presented in 2004 in London.
Rahul Dravid was not just a cricketer. He was a true ambassador, who presented himself in the most appropriate manner on and off the cricket field. Never involved in any controversy whatsoever, Dravid ensured cricket firmly retained its tag of ‘Gentleman’s game’. Cricket fans is seen shaking hands with Indian player Rahul Dravid after his shoot for music channel MTV in Bombay June 23, 2004. Dravid was voted by Indian youth as the MTV Youth Icon of the Year 2004, in a field of nominees comprising of leading Indian personalities from various fields, like films, science, fashion, sports and business.
After 16 years of steadfast service ‘The Wall’ has finally toppled. Rahul Dravid was one of cricket’s finest batsmen and one of a few Indian players no selector seemed able to drop. But dignity could have been his middle name and sensing he’d begun to overstay his welcome Dravid has retired from international cricket. For those who love cricket the game, as opposed to cricket the enterprise, he will be missed, for his kind of cricketer, on and off the field, is becoming rarer. A man for whom technique mattered, he knew that batting not based on a sturdy defence was to dabble with chance. Like Glenn Turner before him, he learnt to keep the good balls out before risking glory through boundaries, though those glories did come as 13,288 Test runs and 10,889 one-day international runs attest.
If his deportment at the crease was exemplary and an example to others, so too was the way he engaged off the field. It is easy to lose perspective when one is lauded for simply breathing, as great cricketers in India are, but Dravid, now 39, neither milked nor scoffed at the idolatry. It won him enormous respect wherever he went, not something readily associated with many of today’s sportsmen.
With Sachin Tendulkar in the team, he wasn’t quite the best Indian batsmen of his era but he probably would have been in any other. Unlike Tendulkar or Virender Sehwag, though, he could have come from a time not his own. You only needed to apply a sepia wash to photos of him batting with his cap and neckerchief affixed to be transported back to the age of Vijay Merchant or Lala Armanath. Dravid was timeless but always with glorious timing.
His Test debut was at Lord’s in 1996, his first big game being umpire Dicky Bird’s last. Bird famously wept during the match as Dravid might after being dismissed for 95. His moniker of ‘The Wall’, one he never encouraged as it suggested his batting lacked elegance, hadn’t been constructed by then but its foundations were surely laid after he’d struck just six fours from the 363 balls he’d faced.
That innings helped to save India’s hide but the best knock I saw him play, also against England, was the 148 he made in the third Test at Headingley in 2002. In the kind conditions that English seam bowlers used to fantasise about – greenish pitch with thick, dark clouds hemming everyone in – he and Tendulkar, who made 193, gave a batting master class when the ball should not have been at their beckoning. Sourav Ganguly also made a century but England’s bowlers were so demoralised by the time he came in to join Tendulkar that it was a formality as India’s eventual victory was too, by an innings and 46 runs.
He was centre stage too in India’s extraordinary win over Steve Waugh’s Australia in 2001 Kolkata Test. His 180, made in concert with VVS Laxman’s double hundred, allowed India, who were in any case following-on, to turn a match that had looked lost completely on its head. The ensuing victory exposed a rare vulnerability in the Aussies and India won the next Test as well to take the series 2-1.
He batted well against England last summer, making three typically determined hundreds as his team were whitewashed from their perch as the world’s No 1 Test side. His batting, based on silky wrists and wondrous powers of concentration, hasn’t been so flash since and while his run of low scores against Australia is not in itself a reason to retire, their manner, after being bowled six times in eight innings, probably was.
As news of his retirement sunk in, Sunil Gavaskar, another great Indian batsman, called him a terrific role model saying that while youngsters look up to Tendulkar in awe, they could actually be Dravid, providing they were prepared to work hard enough.
My own thoughts are that he epitomised perfectly the phrase “Grace under fire,” Ernest Hemingway’s description of courage. Whatever challenge Dravid was presented with, at least on the pitch, he faced it with the kind of unruffled integrity that makes his next choice in life almost as interesting as his last one.