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Rahul Dravid: The Great Wall

“The great players I have played with and the people that I have had the honour to play against know how to fail well. We have often heard ‘failure is the stepping stone to success’. But it’s just that you can fail badly and can also fail well. Failing well is very, very important.”

Rahul Dravid

For nearly two decades, Rahul Dravid was the fulcrum around which India’s ever-changing batting line-up revolved. Colloquially known as Mr Dependable, referred to by his fans as The Wall, Dravid remains one of the finest batsmen ever produced by India. By any metric, Dravid was an outstanding batsman in all formats of the game, but his most outstanding contributions for the country, and to cricket, was in test cricket.

 

EARLY CAREER

Born in a Marathi family and brought up in Bangalore, Dravid started his cricket journey at the young age of 12, representing Karnataka at the under-15, under-17 and under-19 levels in the domestic circuit. He was already a familiar name for the followers of domestic cricket, appearing there regularly enough. The phenomenal consistency that would become a hallmark of the legend had already started to show. Scoring a total of 380 runs in his first full season of Ranji Trophy, Dravid averaged 68.30, an exceptional performance by any standard.

Snubbed by the selectors for the World Cup in 1996, Dravid eventually made his way into the team immediately after the tournament. Two back-to-back failures in limited-overs cricket with the bat did not keep him from debuting in his favourite format of the game – Dravid scored an impressive 95 runs playing at no. 7 in his first innings, forging important partnerships along the way. Dravid’s early performances in his career reflected his abilities – making a name for himself in test cricket while struggling in ODIs. Not losing hope over the snubs, Dravid kept chugging, playing in county cricket and perfecting his game.  

 

A TEAM PLAYER

Dravid’s dominance of the game started in 2001 and continued till the end of his career. While not supremely gifted like Sachin Tendulkar or Sourav Ganguly, Dravid used his experience, introspection and insights to develop his technique. His neat and systematic approach to the game was so flawless that it was difficult to captivate the general audience. His style was too much rooted in technical precision that it was tough for all but the most ardent cricket fans to be captivated. His rise was too reliant on hard work that Indian fans were loath to worship back then.

Dravid was perhaps the best in the world at handling the first part of the number 3 batsman’s job: shielding the stars from the new ball. Several Indian greats owe their hundreds and double-hundreds in the format to Dravid, who blocked, tired and frustrated the bowlers with his exceptional defensive skills.

 

A PERFORMANCE FOR THE AGES

Dravid’s most memorable performance came against Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001. Steve Waugh’s all-conquering team looked on course for victory as India were reeling under the attack of Australian bowlers. When Dravid joined VVS Laxman at no.7, India still required 42 runs to avoid an innings defeat. The two of them together then staged one of the greatest fightbacks in cricketing history, batting together for a day and a half, and putting together a 376-run partnership.

 

A CAREER FULL OF RECORDS 

It’s almost impossible to list out Dravid’s achievements in test cricket. There has rarely been a match without his impactful contribution, but always being under the shadow of the ‘Little Master’, his accomplishments often went unnoticed. Dravid played a total of 164 tests, 344 ODIs and a single T20I for India, in a career spanning 16 years. Along the way, he scored 13288 runs in tests and 10889 runs in ODIs, averaging 52.31 and 39.16 respectively.

Here are just a few of his monumental records in test cricket:

44,152 minutes spent at the crease, the highest for any player.

31,258 balls faced, the highest for any player.

740 minutes spent at the crease in the Test against Pakistan at Rawalpindi, the longest time spent in an innings for any Indian player. Dravid went on to score 270 runs in the innings, his highest score.

210 catches taken as a non-wicketkeeper, the highest for any player. Dravid also donned the role of wicketkeeper for India in ODIs.

88-century partnerships, the highest for any player.

36 centuries, the second-highest for India, behind Tendulkar’s record 51.

 

AN UNDER-APPRECIATED CAPTAINCY

Dravid had his first stint at captaincy for the team against Pakistan, leading India to their first-ever Test victory in Pakistan. It was in his first test as captain that Dravid took the controversial decision to declare the innings while Tendulkar (194*) was still at the crease, six runs short of a double-century. While Tendulkar was admittedly disappointed, India went on to win the match, giving credence to Dravid’s strategy of bowling the tired Pakistanis out.

One could say that Dravid’s achievements as India captain aren’t as noteworthy as other greats. He didn’t teach the team how to never back down like Ganguly or make a habit of winning big trophies like Dhoni. But as was the case with most aspects of his career, Dravid was dependable as captain. After taking over as India’s full-time captain after the fall-out between Sourav Ganguly and Greg Chappell, Dravid captained India in 20 Tests and 62 ODIs. In that period, India had series wins in West Indies, Bangladesh and, most memorably, in England. All that good work he did to stabilise and rebuild the confidence in the team, however, went unnoticed and unappreciated when India were infamously eliminated from the 2007 ODI World Cup after the group stage.

 

POST-RETIREMENT LEGACY

Dravid’s entire career is that of an unsung hero – one who did all the hard work for the team, content to be overshadowed by other greats of the game, but walking off the field with a smile every time. It was the mental strength of the man that made him the great batsman he was. In the words of Harsha Bhogle, Dravid was the wolf who lived for the pack, and he picked up all the slack without a murmur of dissent.

In the years since he retired, Dravid has only accumulated love and respect to such an extent that there are now jokes requesting him to stop with all the good deeds because “it’s not possible for us to respect him any more than we already do”. Instead of entering administration or being content in attending sponsored events, Dravid moved on to train the next generation of India’s cricketers. Under his guidance, India’s youngsters went on to win the Under-19 World Cup in 2018. He currently is the Director of National Cricket Academy, honing the skills of India’s future cricketers.

 

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