In arguably the most disastrous Test series in Indian cricket history, Rahul Dravid stood out like a lotus in muck or a solitaire among brickbats. Okay, this seems to be getting a little mushy, so I’ll eschew further pyrotechnics with imagery and let some facts and figures take over.
In the 0-4 whitewash, India lost two matches by an innings and the other two by margins in excess of 150 runs. The one-sidedness of the contest puts Dravid’s performance in true perspective. He scored 461 runs when no other Indian batsman topped even 300, and averaged 76.83. The team totalled 300 only once, in the first innings of the last Test at the Oval, where Dravid made an unbeaten 146. The Oval century was Dravid’s third of the series, in itself a remarkable feat in a four-Test contest. He faced 965 deliveries in the series, the next best being Sachin Tendulkar with 520. M.S. Dhoni comes in third with 406 and V.V.S. Laxman next with 379.
Focused: Rahul Dravid. Photograph by Philip Brown/Reuters
This might seem like a mundane, irrelevant statistic, but the fact is that if some of the other batsmen had shown similar concentration and aptitude, India’s fate may not have been as dismal. There were moments when winning a session could have swung the momentum India’s way—at Trent Bridge, for instance, when Dravid’s century in the first innings had already got India a lead. But the remaining batsmen squandered the opportunity and the Test turned on its head.
I have no doubt that England, the superior team, would have won the series irrespective. They packed too much power in batting, bowling and fielding; they had more energy and ambition. A debacle could perhaps have been averted, perchance even the No. 1 Test ranking saved, had the result been 2-1 or 1-0 instead of 0-4.
But hang on, I’m not done yet. Apart from showing resolute defence, determination and impeccable technique, Dravid’s selflessness also shone through. The fact that he had to open in five of the eight innings demands tribute in letters of gold—as well as an inquiry into why and how the regular openers were so fragile.
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Moreover, he was unarguably the most cogent speaker from the Indian camp at press conferences during the series, no small feat considering that most others were reduced to banalities, lame excuse-making or pettyfogging. Most pertinently, he also compelled the selectors to revise a two-year-old decision and include him for the One Day series, such has become the dependency on his ability and temperament on this tour.
Throughout the six-week tenure of the Tests, Dravid was a picture of high concentration and an even higher level of commitment. The intensity on mastering adverse conditions and circumstances—through extraordinary technical skill and mental toughness—was evident as much from the grim determination writ on his visage as from the “broadness” of his blade.
The only time one saw his focus and attention waver was perhaps in the third Test at Edgbaston. He dropped two easy catches and did not ask for a review of the umpire’s decision when his bat had hit his shoelace and not snicked a delivery for a catch behind, showing that he too was feeling the pressure. In the Oval Test, he had regained composure and produced his best knock of the series.
This was a compelling, moving performance that finds few parallels in contemporary cricket in a team that has been blanked out. The one instance which comes instantly to mind is Brian Lara scoring 689 runs against Sri Lanka in 2001, though the series was lost 0-3 on rank turners with Muttiah Muralitharan taking 33 wickets.
Former England captain Nasser Hussain reckoned Dravid to be the best judge of length apart from Lara, stating that this was the single biggest reason for his success in England not just on this tour, but previous ones too (in 2002, he scored 602 runs in four Tests).
Hussain’s assessment was ratified by Dravid’s meticulous and decisive footwork—forward or back—in countering not just the late swing, seam and bounce of James Anderson, Chris Broad and Tim Bresnan, but also the off-spin of Graeme Swann.
Geoff Boycott, renowned master of orthodox technique, thought Dravid’s success came because he had planned well for the series —for fitness and in knowing the strength of the opponent—and an uncluttered mind that became stronger under stress. “Pressure can make a batsman crumble or make him doughty and resolute,” says Boycott. “Dravid has shown that he enjoys such situations.”
This has been the hallmark of Dravid’s batsmanship over a 15-year career that has fetched him over 12,000 Test runs and 35 centuries: Demanding situations have seen him rise to the occasion and perform even better. He has fought self-doubt and doubting Thomases with diligence. In fan lingo, he is known as the Wall for reasons that are self-evident. But I find that one-dimensional, outdated and a tad immature. I’ll tread the path that has stood the test of time for thousands of years.
He is a true-blue hero, no less.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.
Write to Ayaz at email@example.com