Rahul Dravid, who retired from international cricket recently, was a connoisseur's delight and every bowler's nightmare.
AFTER enthralling connoisseurs of cricket for 16 years, Rahul Dravid has decided to move on. The decision to retire from first-class cricket was, without doubt, expedited by his poor run of scores in the series against Australia.
With experts and laymen alike calling for a revamp of the Indian team after eight successive overseas Test defeats, including four in England last summer, Dravid, 39, chose to step down and make way for others.
But unlike the time when Dravid made it to the Indian Test team for the 1996 tour of England, there is no worthy replacement in sight now. Dravid, like Sourav Ganguly and V.V.S. Laxman, had been groomed in domestic cricket and played in the India A team before appearing ready for the grind of Test cricket.
Give me mature players like Dravid or Ganguly, I'll take them any day, instead of these young talents' that our team keeps getting from time to time, came Pakistani skipper Ramiz Raja had said during the 1997 Independence Cup in India.
Indeed, Dravid looked ready to play Test cricket then. He had the temperament, talent and an array of cricketing strokes to stand out among the list of young talents. His copybook ways at the crease, patience and stroke selection could leave any rival captain and bowler worried.
Dravid's organised defence reflected how the man valued his wicket. How I wish I could play the forward defensive shot like Rahul does, said his good friend V.V.S. Laxman, himself a batsman of rare quality. Dravid's refined qualities were result of years of hard work. He never considered himself to be supremely talented like, say Sachin Tendulkar, but made up with some amazing amount of work in training and at the nets.
Dravid, with over 13,000 runs in Tests and over 10,000 runs in One Day Internationals (ODI), would have been acknowledged even more for his contribution had he not been overshadowed by Tendulkar's record-making skills.
But not many may have cared to notice that in the era when the two played together from June 1996 to January 2012 Dravid scored 13,288 runs in 164 Tests and Tendulkar 12,841 in 149 Tests.SECOND TO NONE
Dravid's contribution to Indian cricket over the past decade and a half is clearly second to none. His exploits while batting at number three are well known but he has batted at different positions for the sake of the team.
To help the team get the right balance by giving the captain the option to go with an extra batsman or bowler, Dravid donned the wicket-keeper's gloves for 73 ODIs between 1999 and 2004. During this time, he hit four of his 12 centuries in limited overs cricket.
Like most youngsters, Dravid, too, was made to stand at short leg during his early playing days. He displayed sharp reflexes and held many reflex catches before graduating to the slip cordon. Of the several catches Dravid held at first slip, the two best remembered are the ones of Damien Martyn and Steve Waugh in successive overs of Tendulkar in the second Test at Adelaide in December 2003. This was also the Test where Dravid hit a masterly 233 and 72 not out in India's four-wicket triumph.
If there was anything that disturbed an otherwise composed Dravid, it was a dropped catch. He could not digest the fact a ball could actually elude his grasp.
Think of Dravid and the joy of his batting cannot be far behind. He delighted the purists with his orthodox ways of run-making. In testing conditions where most of the accomplished batsmen in the line-up would be at sea, Dravid's calm presence in the middle stood out. His technique came to the fore in negotiating the swing. His footwork was instrumental in negotiating the turn and bounce. His shot selection and timing sent even some of the good deliveries racing to the fence.
Dravid's contribution to India's triumphs on foreign soil cannot be forgotten. He was part of the Indian teams that won 15 Tests overseas the most by an Indian. In fact, 21 of his 36 Test centuries came on foreign soil.
Batting at number three, an important position in the absence of regular openers for the better part of his career, Dravid played 219 innings for 10,524 runs the most by any cricketer. He also holds the world record for facing the maximum number of deliveries 31, 258 in Test cricket.
Dravid was also involved in the maximum number of century partnerships 88. Among Dravid's partners in prosperity were Tendulkar (20 times), Laxman (12), Virender Sehwag and Ganguly (10 each).
Even in ODIs, a version of cricket considered not suitable for those obsessed with technique and perfection, Dravid left his mark with over 10,889 runs, dotted with 12 centuries and 83 half centuries. In ODIs, Dravid knew his role well. I cannot hit the ball like Sehwag or Tendulkar. My job is to keep one end going, bat long and rotate the strike without missing opportunities to hit boundaries, he had said during the 1999 World Cup.
In the same tournament, the way Dravid scored his first 50 runs against Sri Lanka at Taunton to set the stage for an emphatic 157-run win is still fresh in the mind. He played some glorious strokes to soften up the Lankan bowlers and went on to share a second-wicket stand of 318 runs with Ganguly. Though Ganguly top scored with 183, Dravid's 145 off 129 deliveries stood out for the craft it carried.
More than statistics and runs, Dravid will always be remembered for bringing in assurance and solidity to the Indian middle order. He repeatedly withstood the pressure of walking in at number three after one of the openers had fallen cheaply. His presence in the middle sent the right signals to those in the dressing room; his confident ways gave lots of confidence to the batsman at the other end.
Dravid has always shown how sound technique can help in overcoming any problems posed by bowlers or the pitch. It is a delight to watch him bat, says Sehwag, whose explosive batting style delights everyone, including Dravid.
Now with Dravid choosing to call it a day, there will obviously be more pressure on Tendulkar and Laxman in the middle order, where the likes of Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Cheteshwar Pujara and S. Badrinath will be keen to do what Virat Kohli has managed.
Dravid was an integral part of the most experienced middle order in contemporary cricket. With Tendulkar and Laxman also not far from announcing their retirement, watching an Indian team play Test cricket will not be the same.
By any measure, be it statistics, style or substance, Dravid's contribution to Indian cricket was more than substantial. When the great stylish G.R. Viswanath retired in the 1980s, Dravid almost filled the void in the 1990s.
Now begins the search to find ways to fill the void left by Dravid.