Rahul Dravid is not merely India’s most dependable or most consistent or most valuable batsman. He is all of these. But the time has come to recognise that on the basis of his performances in the last three years he is, quite simply, India’s best batsman. He is not merely the fortress providing India’s dazzling batsmen with a cushion; he has become the pivot around which the Indian batting revolves. Sachin Tendulkar was India’s batsman of the ‘90s; Rahul Dravid has made this decade his very own.
To see a good ball hit for four is a spectacle; surviving a great ball requires no less skill, but it rarely elicits a sense of wonderment. It is easy to be agog over a batsman responding to a sharp short ball with an explosive hook, but we often miss the artfulness and skill involved in leaving a bouncer. No one in contemporary cricket, Tendulkar and Lara included, deals with the short ball with greater poise and equanimity than Dravid, whose eye never leaves the ball. Dravid has been hit a couple of times while trying to force the ball away, but rarely would you see him ducking in to a bouncer.
Dravid’s other great strength is also intangible, and entirely invisible. Dravid’s batting is as much about technical purity as it is about the mind. Test cricket, he often says, is such a fulfilling experience because it challenges the mind continuously for four to five days. Dravid belongs to that priceless breed of champions whose mental resolve is at its strongest when the situation is the direst.
Which brings us to the final, and most defining, aspect of Dravid’s greatness. The manner of playing and statistics are fair pointers, but to many, the heart of a cricketer’s greatness lies in what his performances have meant to the team.
He has answered nearly every call of crisis; he has saved them from defeats in South Africa, West Indies and England, and set up wins in Sri Lanka, England and Australia.
Tendulkar will perhaps end his career with a hundred hundreds. But as Indian cricket stands on the precipice of its own golden age, it must be remembered that Rahul Dravid has made the most difference.
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