June 21, 2006

Dravid - Cricket's Goliath

By H Natarajan

A couple of years back I received an email that still remains vivid in memory. The mail had three pictures. The first one was that of the historic Berlin Wall. The second was the Great Wall of China. And the third picture was of the Great Wall of India – Rahul Dravid!

The world was finally giving the man his due. The Indian captain, who completed a decade in international cricket on June 22, has long remained the best man without becoming the groom. But while he still has his carping critics, there has been a greater acceptance of his worth in the last five years or thereabouts.

Where will Dravid rank among the all-time greats in the game? If one has to take a minimum qualification of 20 innings, Dravid’s average of 58.34 is the ninth highest in the history of Tests and the highest by any player who has figured in 100 Tests.

One factor, by any reckoning, in assessing greatness is the player’s ability to perform with a high degree of consistency on overseas soil. Dravid has scored 5,049 runs at 64.73 from 55 Tests as against, scoring 3,761 runs at 51.52, from 47 Tests at home. While he has hit eight hundreds in India, he has as many as 15 overseas, getting to the three figures in every Test playing nation.

His expertise in crisis management is par excellence. Scoring when the team needs most and scoring in alien and bowler-friendly conditions are some of the hallmarks of a great player, which Dravid is. His average of 48.35 in the fourth innings – when the wear and tear of the pitch favours bowlers – is another testimony of his greatness. Even the likes of Len Hutton, Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar trail Dravid in this respect.

Dravid’s ability to concentrate for long stretches has yielded him six double hundreds in Tests – only Sir Don Bradman, Brian Lara and Wally Hammond exceed that tally.

But for all the impressive numbers, Dravid is the finest example of an Indian player who puts team interest over personal glory. He declared the Indian innings with Tendulkar six short of his double hundred in Pakistan. It was a decision that required great courage and conviction; the batsman was not close to hundred, but a double century. It was not any batsman, but the nation’s demi God. He has shown the team over individuals motto when it came to himself. He could have thrown around his weight as a senior pro when he was asked to open the innings or when he was told to keep wickets, but he assumed both responsibilities manfully and effectively.
Behind the baby-faced, smiling face is a tough cookie. He has shown that he can take tough decisions. He has forged the team into a cohesive unit, quickly bringing under control the divisive factors that hovered around the side when he took over from Ganguly.

Greg Chappell found in Dravid a man who was on the same intellectual wavelength as him. In Dravid he found a general who could be trusted to implement the strategies that he chalked out. In Dravid he found the perfect man with whom he could articulate cerebrally to do justice to his role as coach. The excellence of this jugalbandi has seen the team rise to new heights.

Incidentally, Ganguly made his Test debut in the same Test as Dravid. He got 131 on debut at Lord’s and then followed it up with 136 at Trent Bridge. Dravid scored 95 on his debut at Lord’s and then 84 in the next Test. But while Ganguly’s career has been chequered and controversial, Dravid has remained a paragon of virtue – on and off the field. He has played the role of his country’s ambassador to perfection. He realizes that as cricketing icon he wields enormous influence over the masses, especially young and immature children, and thus conducts himself without utmost dignity. He exudes class in whatever he does.

At 33, while Dravid promises to be around for five years at the international level, Ganguly finds himself troubled in exile. As a batsman, too, Dravid has left Ganguly way behind. While Ganguly has scored 5221 runs from 88 Tests, Dravid has amassed 3589 more runs playing 14 more Tests.

Dravid is from the old school of thought. He does not believe in sledging or in any overt aggressive methods to get at the opposition. And nor does he get ruffled by the sledgers. It’s a futile and counterproductive exercise as such acts of aggression only make him steelier in his determination.

He may not have the divine gifts of Tendulkar, the flair of Ricky Ponting or the range of Lara, but for sheer solidity and consistency, Dravid takes the cake and the bakery. Except in the year of his debut when he finished with an average of 39.64, he has averaged well in the high 40s in every calendar year. That’s phenomenal. He has shown the consistency in the ODIs as well since 2001.

It has been 10 remarkable years for Dravid. A total of 392 internationals, 18,338 runs, 35 hundreds, 114 half-centuries and 317 catches, and counting. Truly awesome.