On a day when Sehwag was on song careening at breakneck speed to his triple century with a strike rate of over a hunderd, as ironic as many things associated with Rahul Dravid, there he was on the other end with a strike rate of 13 edging his way, meticulously to a mammoth landmark achieved only by an elite set of cricketers. While the contrast between Sehwag and Dravid was both ironic and unmistakable, it was perhaps very fitting that he reached this landmark in the sweltering heat of Chennai, under trying conditions, and characteristically Dravid-ian for his own landmark of the day to be eclipsed by Sehwag’s triple century.
I was at work on the morning of March 29th, 2008, and the buzz around the office was thus.
“Sehwag is on 192 yaar!”, said one.
“Look at the other guy. Strike rate is like 13. Put Dravid on any pitch and he is consistent”, said another.
Although this was said sarcastically, it took me some thought to understand the profoundness of that statement, in a positive way. Here was a man, who toils for every run, with dogged determination and has had to and continues to live the life of an unsung hero in the shadow of a prodigy called Sachin Tendulkar. Having seldom been invited to the crease with the cheer and bravado that a Sachin or a Sehwag might get, he does his job, often of playing the un-sexy sheet-anchor role with the class of cricketers from a by-gone era. Perhaps it is only fitting for the mild-mannered Dravid, whose stats do the talking, to recieve acclaim only from a select group who understand the depth of his game.
While flipping channels in the evening of the Test match in which Dravid made it past 10,000 Test runs, NDTV was running an opinion poll. ‘Is Dravid the greatest? Better even than Sachin and Lara?‘. This made me recall some of my earliest memories of Dravid: the 98-99 ODI season where it could be said that one saw a different Rahul Dravid, one that was solid, yet belligerent; not building fortresses, but castles with some of the most beautiful drives. If I were asked to pick a best among Dravid’s ODI innings, I would probably pick the 145 against Sri Lanka during the ’99 World Cup. The question also brought to mind, some of his most valiant Test innings: the 93 at Perth, 270 plus at Rawalpindi and the 233 against Australia to pull off one of the most exhilarating Test victories. Having said that, In some ways, I think Dravid was lucky that the during the early stages of his career, people weren’t as obsessed with 6s and strike-rates (as they are today) and that he didn’t have form issues-at least in a way that was apparent to us. Had someone with his technique started his career now, with people going gaga over T20 cricket, I don’t think that person will have much of a chance. For even Dravid, after 10,000 runs, each in both forms of the game, is unsure of a place in the ODI side.
So if you are wondering that I haven’t answered the question, no, I will not duck this one. Is Rahul Dravid one of the greatest, over Sachin and Lara? Differences aside, I would say, definitely yes. For Dravid is a genius: one of the best cricketers India has produced; a unique combination of class, technique, patience and grit. His class is almost timeless and technique solid, above all his contemporaries, and one which would perhaps make him the only world cricketer in the current breed to feel at home playing when placed a few eras ago, alongside greats like Viv Richards and Bradman. I was rather pleased to find that I’m not the only one of this opinion.
His perseverance alone has been for me, one of the most awe-inspiring aspects of his personality. He is doubtless going through a rough patch of his career, but if anyone is likely to break out of this perhaps primarily mental block, it is Dravid.
Congratulations, Dravid on the milestone. Some of us lay folk do know your value, love you and respect you. Hope to see you scale greater heights.