Friday, 9 March 2012

Rahul Dravid - One of the games' greats...

There are times in sport when every now and then a truly great player comes along, with regards Indian cricket they were lucky, at the same time they had four.  Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid.  Together they formed a scary middle order that even the best bowling attack would struggle to break through. 

This line-up lasted around 12 years together - from 1996 when Ganguly and Dravid joined Tendulkar (already a main figure) in the team during their tour of England, with VVS Laxman joining later that year until 2008 when Ganguly became the first of this magnificent quartet to retire from the international game. 

I grew up watching the magnificent Australian team lead by Mark Taylor then Steve Waugh before Punter took over, but even in this period it was always India's batting line up that was the scariest as an opposition fan - particularly in the subcontinent. 

VVS and Ganguly were both fine players, but for most people the star that shone brightest was Sachin, particularly in India where he is treated like a God.  For me however, if I could have taken one of them and put them into the English team (form being equal) then it was no contest, I'd take Dravid every time.  

"The Wall"

He wasn't known as "The Wall" for no reason, it was because of his immense powers of concentration. it was first mentioned after an epic 12 hour innings (that's two full day's play) of 270 runs against Pakistan back in 2004.  It was a very fitting nickname, as far as the opposition were concerned if he got himself in then you might as well just bowl to the other end as he wouldn't give you a chance - you might as well be bowling at a wall.

I was very lucky (even though I paid for it etc) last summer to go to one day of the Edgbaston test between England and India and luckier still to see the three remaining legends have a bat.  I actually saw both Rahul and Sachin get dismissed in unlucky fashions, Rahul was "caught behind" when in fact he didn't touch it, he actually hit his shoelace with the bat which had made the correct sort of sound so he didn't review it and Sachin was run out at the non-striker's end.  Having seen both of them I had to agree that Sachin is the best batsman I've seen bat, just so elegant... but I'd still take Dravid. 

Dravid at Edgbaston '11
The main reason for this is that time and time again Dravid seemed to deliver when the others around him failed. This was really summed up in that series, he was top run scorer with 461 runs and 3 centuries... between them the rest of the team didn't manage a single treble figure score (against England's 7)  and his average of 76 was double that of the next best.  In particular I have been so impressed with his ability to adapt to English conditions when so often his countrymen failed to do so.

In many ways it is a shame that Dravid's career has overlapped Sachin's completely, as he has always been in the great man's shadow, going about his business quietly whilst the maestro gets all of the attention.  Yet for all his quietness he has amassed 13,288 test runs at an impressive average of 52.31, that total is second only to Sachin himself with only Kallis close enough to over take any time soon.  At the same time it has been great for Indian cricket, as a result Sachin and himself have 20 century partnerships (a record) out of 143 innings, with another 29 50+ stands.  The highest of which was 249 against Zimbabwe in 2000.  If they came together you might as well already add 50 runs to the score and hope they were having an off day!

It is therefore in my mind a very sad day today that Rahul Dravid has called time on his international career, every time he spoke he did so with intelligence and what seemed like genuine warmth.  The modern game, with the explosion of Twenty20 cricket has many incredible stroke makers (which Dravid could match on his day) but very few who can match the concentration this man was capable of.  India must have been fearing this day, especially with Sachin and VVS also in the twilight of their careers, but it was always going to happen, hopefully they still have some young players to come through and fill these incredible shoes.

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