In a recent poll by Wisden India, Rahul Dravid beat Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar and Virat Kohli to be voted as the greatest Indian Test batsman of the last 50 years. All the four Indian legends have amazing records in the longer version of the game, with each of them averaging over 50. And, it must have been a really tough job to pick between the four. But, we are glad Dravid won the contest this time, for he has constantly lived in the shadows of his more illustrious teammates. It was recognition long overdue.
Complete team man
One of the greatest assets of Dravid the Test batsman was that he could do anything for the team. While he batted at his customary number three position for the majority of his career, he did not shy away from opening the innings whenever the situation demanded. One must also remember that Dravid started his career batting lower down the order, and shifted back to number six temporarily when VVS Laxman was thought to be the better choice at one down for a brief period. Even when sacrificing his regular batting position, Dravid did not let his guard down, typified with the fighting 180 against the Aussies in a once-in-a-lifetime partnership with Laxman at Eden Gardens in 2001.
The Wall’s presence always gave the impression that he was the complete team man. Yes, Gavaskar and Tendulkar also achieved incredible feats with the bat. At the same time, both are associated more with individual landmarks. Gavaskar is often referred to as the first batsman to breach the 10,000-run mark in Test cricket while Tendulkar is glorified as the man with most runs and hundreds in the longer version of the game (and ODIs as well). This was not the case with Dravid. The former Indian captain is mostly remembered for his match-winning feats in Adelaide, Rawalpindi and Leeds.
Less talented, no less committed
It is no secret that Dravid the batsman was not as gifted as some of the other greats to have played the game. He is the batting parallel of Anil Kumble, who was not as blessed as Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan, yet was no less successful than the two spin wizards. The greatness of a batsman is judged by how he performed against the best teams of his era. Although Dravid scored only two Test hundreds against Australia, both of them were legendary ones — the 233 at Adelaide in 2003 and 180 at Eden Gardens in 2001.
Dravid had an excellent record in England in testing conditions, a place where most visiting batsmen struggle. He scored six hundreds in 13 Tests at an average of 68.80. Even in his farewell series in England in 2011, when most others, including Tendulkar, struggled, Dravid single-handedly held the fort for India with three hard-fought hundreds. Known for occupying the crease for long hours, the dogged batsman notched up double hundreds against five different Test-playing nations. The ultimate tribute to Dravid was paid by former Aussie paceman Jason Gillespie, who stated that he ‘can’t recall beating him more than one ball in a row.’
Looking beyond the numbers
Statistically, Tendulkar and Gavaskar were superior to Dravid when it came to their records against the champion teams of their era. Tendulkar averaged 55 against Australia and Gavaskar 65.45 against West Indies. However, there is a reason fans voted for Dravid over Tendulkar and Gavaskar. It was the assured presence he brought to the crease for a decade and a half that enabled the other celebrated stroke makers to play around him and score freely. Whatever the situation, Kolkata 2001 or Adelaide 2003, fans always had hope as long as Dravid was at the crease. The constantly dripping sweat from his face on to the pitch was the ultimate proof of Dravid’s dedication. Thus, his recognition as a greatest Indian Test batsman of the last 50 years is a richly deserving one.