Shubh Aggarwal
11 Jan 2023 | 07:58 AM

Rahul Dravid: A Wall that rarely cracked

If Tendulkar was the cricketer the nation wanted, Dravid was the cricketer the nation needed

Let’s start this with an interesting piece of a nugget. At the 1996 World Quarterfinal between India and Pakistan played in Bangalore, there was a banner stating “Where is Dravid?” The quarterfinal was played on March 9. Rahul Dravid made his ODI debut three weeks later, on April 3. 

Hyped in his hometown before his debut, Dravid’s first ODI innings was cut short by Muttiah Muralitharan, for only 3. However, another two months later, the then 23-year justified every bit of the hype about him in his Test debut. Born on this day in 1973, Dravid went on to become one of the finest cricketers to represent India. We at take this opportunity to revisit his glorious Test career which defined unwavering concentration reinforced with perpetual efforts to evolve.

A mixed start

First 8 Tests

450 runs, 34.6 average, 3 50s, 0 100s

Owing to a failed fitness test from one of the incumbent players, Dravid was told 10 minutes before the toss that he is going make his Test debut in the second Test between India and England at Lord’s in 1996. He, unfortunately, fell short of a hundred by five runs but who would not accept occupying the crease for four and a half hours in first outing at Lord’s whilst ensuring a significant lead for his team. He backed it up with an 84 in the following Test. 

While that was a great start, he only managed one fifty in the next 12 innings. After eight Tests, his average was an ordinary figure of 34.6, dipping match after match since his return from England. 

Foundational years 

Test match number 9 to 30

2090 runs, 63.3 average, 13 50s, 6 100s

Once Dravid amassed his maiden Test ton, in his ninth Test, there was no stopping him. Batting with his collar up against the likes of Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald in Johannesburg, the right-hander showcased an exhibition of drives and pull strokes. Next up was a five-match Test series in West Indies, another grueling test that Dravid passed with flying colors. He was India’s highest run-scorer facing the opposition’s highly skilled four-pronged pace attack; including Courtney Walsh, Sir Curtly Ambrose, Ian Bishop and Franklyn Rose. The two tours displayed Dravid’s ability to withstand quality quick bowlers. 

The consistent run continued on less challenging tours - home and away against Sri Lanka, at home against Australia, one Test in Zimbabwe and two Tests in New Zealand. There were no hundreds in the sub-continent Tests but 12 fifties in 20 innings. He ended the century drought going away, with 118 in Zimbabwe and twin hundreds in Hamilton against New Zealand. 

No other Indian batter had such a purple patch since Sachin Tendulkar’s debut. Dravid mustered 2135 runs in these 22 Tests, including six hundreds. His Test average rose from 34.6 to 55.2, a whopping jump of 20.6 runs per dismissal from the second Test in South Africa in 1997 to the three Tests against New Zealand at home in November 1999. 

During this period, the Karnataka batter averaged 49.05 at home and 78.5 away. The latter is the highest away average for any batter (minm. 500 runs) between January 15, 1997 and October 15, 1999. 

His maiden Test ton raised him from the 50th position to the 25th in ICC’s Test batting rankings. A 92 in the fifth Test in the Caribbean broke him into the top 10 for the first time and the twin tons in New Zealand soared him to the number one position, only after 25 Tests in his career, close to his 26th birthday. 

Jesus, what a phase this is! Dravid cemented himself as India’s number three, after a debut batting at seven, and a reliable batter in overseas conditions.

Minor blip 

Test match number 31 to 41

830 runs, 46.1 average, 1 50s, 2 100s

A minor blip ensued. Dravid suffered one of the most horrific series in his career, averaging only 15.5 across six innings in his maiden tour Down Under. The drought of a significant score continued for only six Tests but it was bad enough to pull down his average to 47.4. India also lost five Tests in a row during this period.

Dravid caught up in the next two Tests, greeting Zimbabwe to the Indian shores with scores of 200*, 70* and 162 in two Tests. The average escalated back to 53.6. 

However, Australia were coming to India next summer and after an unfruitful first Test, there were opposition-based threats for Dravid. Even though he averaged 52.7, ranked 7 in ICC rankings, the media raised question marks on Dravid’s place in the XI. His case seemed to become weaker when he was dropped down in the batting order to six for the second innings in the Kolkata Test. And that is when things changed for good. 

The Genesis of The Wall

Test match number 41 to 104

5727 runs, 62.3 average, 29 50s, 15 100s

Batting at six, Dravid forged a momentous 376-run stand with VVS Laxman. In a second-fiddle act, he answered the media with an aggressive celebration directed towards the press box upon reaching his ton. 

“If you want to see aggression, look into Rahul Dravid’s eyes,” said Matthew Hayden once. The personnel at the Eden Gardens’ media box can vouch for Hayden’s words. 

The 180 was the turning point, unlocking Dravid’s beast mode that would drain every bit of energy of the opposition, ounce by ounce. 

In the coming years, Dravid surfaced as an indispensable cog in arguably India’s first-ever great overseas side. 87 on a Day 5 Port Elizabeth pitch, 148 on a treacherous Headingley strip, 233 and 72* under tricky circumstances in Adelaide, a marathon 270 in Rawalpindi, twin hundreds in Kolkata, 81 and 68 on the most perilous Jamaica track, Dravid had match-winning/saving knocks in every continent. It earned him the sobriquet ‘The Wall’.

ALSO READ: Rahul Dravid, a shining light that continues to serve Indian cricket

From 2001 until the first week of July, 2006, the right-hander played 64 successive Tests, amassing 5,727 at an average of 62.3, including 15 hundreds, four of which were double centuries. Yet again, it was his exploits overseas that stood him apart. His away average of 69.9 during this period was nearly 10 runs better than any other batter scoring over 1000 runs overseas.

He was India’s number one Test batter and among the top three across the globe alongside Kallis and Ricky Ponting. He won the ICC Test Cricketer of the year, the maiden Sir Garry Sobers Trophy for the Cricketer of the Year in 2004, topped the ICC batting rankings and became the full-time captain for India across formats. 

Dravid’s Test average beefed up from an already authoritative 53.6 at the start of his 41st Test to an esteemed 58.8 at the end of his 104th Test.

The inevitable lull

Test match number 105 to 130

1324 runs, 29.4 average, 7 50s, 2 100s

No batter is immune to a lull and Dravid had his first and only long stretch of stasis from December, 2006 to the mid-December 2008. Having relinquished captaincy, Dravid averaged only 29.4 across 26 Tests, the lowest by any batter with over 1000 runs in that period. His Test average slumped from 58.8 to 52.1. There were still some significant knocks here and there. A fighting 93 in Perth paved the way for a famous victory but overall, this was his lowest period as Dravid struggled to cope with pace. He also completed 10,000 runs in Test cricket during this period. 

Mixed returns

Test match number 131 to 150

1690 runs, 54.5,  5 50s, 6 100s

Dravid broke the lull with a 136 on a placid pitch against England in Mohali. He scored a fifty in seven of his next eight Test matches, with vital knocks in New Zealand. His best effort was a sublime 177 against Sri Lanka in Ahmedabad, all of which came on Day 1 itself, forging Dravid’s highest score in a day’s play in Test cricket. 

Although Dravid averaged 54.5 during these 20 Tests, he wasn't himself. Recognized by his overseas performances, Dravid averaged only 37.1 away from home as compared to 78.6 at home. The roller coaster ride can be visualized through his rankings graph below. 

Data Credits: Official ICC Rankings' Website

The last Hurrah

Test match number 151 to 164

1225 runs, 51.04 average, 4 50s, 5 100s

Dravid fixed that away average glitch in his final season of Test cricket. 112 in Jamaica, 103* at Lord’s, 117 in Nottingham, 146* at the Oval, four of his five tons during this phase came overseas. Dravid defied both moving ball and adverse match situations to notch up each of those hundreds. Two of these tons came while opening the innings. Dravid won the world over again. Such comebacks at the age of 38 are rare. 

Another great series at home made him one of the only two batters to score over 1000 Test runs in 2011. 

And that was the last hurrah of the man known as The Wall. Dravid had a poor series in Australia. He excelled against the moving ball but was exposed to pace Down Under, getting bowled six times in eight innings. 

While every other Indian batter (barring Virat Kohli to an extent) struggled in that series, Dravid was the first one to call time on his career, citing the upcoming home season as an opportunity for the next generation to gain necessary Test experience before traveling abroad. 

That was Dravid the cricketer, always putting the welfare of his team ahead of himself, even if he had to push himself out of his comfort zone or bring curtains on his glorious career. 

The star status was almost an afterthought of the hard work he put in. Dravid didn’t take anything for granted. He missed only three matches across his 164 Tests - one because of flu and the other two due to an injury. Never missed an away Test match. 

Upon his retirement, Jason Gillespie told ESPNCricinfo that he cannot remember beating Dravid two balls in a row. Maybe Gillespie did pull off the unthinkable but Dravid created such an aura with his stoic defence that bowlers fell into a palpable sense of defeat. He faced the most number of balls in Test cricket - 31,258. 

Compare his home and away numbers, the only digit higher at home is the number of sixes. That is the legacy he left with, a sturdy number three with plenty of match-winning knocks overseas. 210 Test catches with a majority of them in the slips is a cherry on top. 

All in all...

164 Tests, the second by an Indian player

13,288 runs, the second most by an Indian player and fourth highest overall

52.3 average

36 hundreds, the second most by an Indian player

210 catches, the most by any fielder

If Tendulkar was the cricketer the nation wanted, Dravid was the cricketer the nation needed.

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