Hello and welcome once again to DRS, my own take on what's happening in the world of cricket. One of the enduring aspects of a cricket fan’s fascination with this game is choosing an all-time XI. If you had to choose and all-time Indian XI, who would you pick?
As far as I am concerned, there are five names that would go into the hat undisputed: [Sunil] Gavaskar at No. 2, Sachin Tendulkar at No. 4, Kapil Dev at No. 7, Anil Kumble as the lead spinner in the side, and Rahul Dravid at No. 3. To my mind, Dravid is quite clearly an all-time great. The greatest ever No. 3 that India has produced.
Any cricketer will tell you that No. 3 is perhaps the most difficult position to have in the side because you could be out in the middle in the first over of a game if openers are gone, or you could have to push the innings forward if there's a good partnership. You’ve got to be the rock around which an innings is built. And that, frankly, is what Rahul Dravid has been.
You call him 'The Wall'; I call him much more than a wall … a rock. A rock that cannot be broken in any way. He has not been broken in the 16 years he played for India. Just think about an Indian team without Dravid and then you really get a sense of what Tendulkar meant when he said that Rahul Dravid is truly irreplaceable.
When you think back on Dravid's career and what the great shots were that he played, an individual shot might not come easily to mind. For a Sachin Tendulkar it was that straight drive which whizzed past the bowler. With Dravid, ironically, it was the forward defensive shot. Or even Dravid on the back foot, the bat as straight as it could be.
A defensive shot does not perhaps attract the oohs and aahs that a wonderful cover drive or a hook played by a great batsman or a straight drive does. But if you ask a true connoisseur of the sport, they will tell you that there is nothing more important in the armory of a batsman than a good defensive shot. It could be either off the front foot or the back foot. And Dravid was a master of that, particularly when he went forward to cover the seam or swing of the ball, which is why he was so successful in England in seaming and swinging conditions.
To my mind, Dravid’s other great quality was not just the way he played the game on the field but the way he played it off it – with total dignity. Ironically, the one controversy that surrounded Dravid was when he was captain of the team and declared the innings in Multan when Sachin Tendulkar was on 194. There was much criticism that Rahul had prevented Sachin from a double-century, but think about it. In 16 years that was the only controversy the critics were able to catch on to when it came to Dravid, because he handled himself with such grace and equanimity. That is really what makes him such a special player.
Is there any great Dravid innings that I remember? Last year I was hearing that until he scored that hundred in the Lord’s Test, there wasn't a single hundred that Dravid scored in a match that India lost. Think about it – every hundred that Dravid made, India either won or drew the Test. In that sense, he was both a match-saver and a match-winner.
I recall that phenomenal innings that he played at Headingley in 2002, that 148. To my mind it was batting at its very best because it was a difficult wicket and difficult conditions – typical conditions in which India used to often be bowled out – and there was Dravid facing every ball like a master. To my mind that was batsmanship at its very perfection.
One other point that stood out about Dravid was his ability never to play for himself but to play for the side. He was a team player in the truest sense of the word. He actually kept wicket for India in more than 70 one-day internationals. He could have easily said ‘No, I will not keep wickets’ but he knew the requirements of the side were bigger than his own needs. He realized India needed in one-day cricket that important balance in the side, and that’s why he chose to ‘keep. How many Indian cricketers would keep the interest of the side ahead of themselves? Again, that really exemplifies the man.
Even today when he retired from the game there was none of that paraphernalia or wanting a testimonial in front of his home ground or waiting to achieve some milestone. He retired like he played his cricket: with quiet dignity. And that’s what really stood out about Rahul Dravid. For all the achievements he had – he made more centuries than the great Sunil Gavaskar – or for the fact that he scored more than 13,000 Test runs or played in every position that the side wanted him to. What really stood out was the dignity of the man.
When the history of Indian cricket is written, Rahul Dravid – along with Sachin Tendulkar – will be the two men who revived the art of Indian batting and took it to new levels. There was Vijay Merchant in a previous era, there was Sunil Gavaskar after that, and the have been many great batsmen. But truly, if I were to ask who the two batsmen were who really gave Indian cricket a certain self-respect which it perhaps never had, the two men who will stand out are Dravid and Tendulkar.
It’s unfair and unfortunate that Dravid was perhaps born in the era of Tendulkar, and therefore was often overshadowed by the achievements of Tendulkar, but maybe that’s the way Dravid wanted it. He was always the quiet performer, in the background. He let his bat do the talking, and that’s the best way a cricketer should be.