So this guy was always a turtle, the way he went about getting his runs. You’d flick on the game in the morning and see him walk to the crease with the score at 45/1 or summat. Three hours later, that would be up at 150/3 post the lunch session, with him ‘racing’ along to 30*. Two other batsmen would have come and gone, outscored him in a flash but exited, unable to provide the stickability the team needed to take the score upwards to what would be decent for a typical first innings in a five dayer – I’m thinking 400?
But he would hold on, playing only at the deliveries that needed to be played at, and consequently improve his strike rate as the innings wore on. Inevitably, one of the six other batters in the line-up would settle in as well, and together they would post huge totals, or scale large targets themselves. Rahul playing the supporting role of course, with the other bloke assuming a more flashier technique to actually do the bulk of the run scoring.
It is this formula that helped Dravid and India escape the tag of pussycats abroad, as the turn of the century saw a handful of victories at select overseas destinations, most for the first time ever:
148 v England @ Headingley (2002)
233 and 72* v Australia @ Adelaide (2003)
270 v Pakistan @ Rawalpindi (2004)
81 and 68 v West Indies @ Jamaica (2006)
For a team that could ill afford to rely on its bowlers to take the 20 wickets abroad required for victory, a plan B was drafted and opted for – score a mammoth total and apply scoreboard pressure on the opposition. As a result, opposition batsmen were forced into making stupid mistakes and the test was in the bag. But the runs had to be scored first. And RD was the nucleus of such a plan – he would be used to see away dangerous passages of seam and negotiate tricky bowling spells, while the men at the other end – Sehwag, Ganguly, Tendulkar or Laxman or more recently Gambhir, would be brisk in their scoring, reasonably secure that they wouldn’t be party to wickets falling in a heap at the other end and could risk playing the rare audacious stroke if they so wished.
Thus began the climb to #1. The Leeds test above helped the team draw a four test series in England 1-1, and was likely a stepping stone for the 1-0 series win in 2007. Ditto was the result in Australia in late ’03, 1-1. And to come away from a 2003/4 era Australian tour with that sort of scoreline was – let’s put it mildly – difficult as hell! But then Dravid averaged 100.37 that year – higher than Bradders should have been enough to beat the Aussies, no?
Pakistan a few months later saw the series tied at 1-1 going into the final test at Rawalpindi. Disaster struck however, as triple centurion Sehwag fell to a first baller, and Dravid walked in at 0/1, still 220 odd runs behind. From memory, he was struck on the pads a number of times to close LBW calls from Shoaib Akhtar rather early on, but he managed to play out that phase, saw the deficit off and took the total upto an impregnable 600, notching up a personal score of 270 in the process. Pakistan expectedly imploded trying to draw the game from that point on, and India managed a series victory out there for the first time ever. 2-1. Suck on it, Pakistan.
West Indies 2006 as skipper came towards the fag end of his dominance as a batsman, but the half centuries in both innings were nevertheless significant in helping the team win 1-0 in the Caribbean, another first.
Yeah, these 1-0 or 1-1 results may not seem like much in the grander scheme of things, but perhaps a decade ahead, these baby steps may prove to be essential in really putting an overseas opposition under the pump – 4-0 would be nice, and not the way it happened over the last year. The other way around, yeah.
Then there are a couple of other games – home tests, that deserve a mention:
25 & 180 v Australia @ Kolkata (2001)
110 & 135 v Pakistan @ Kolkata (2005)
Plenty has been said and written about the former of course, so I won’t elaborate. But the back-to-back tons against the green brigade were masterful as well, it’s a pity we couldn’t hold on to the series in the next game in Bangalore – another smashing game.
Statsguru shows him to be equally flawless in all conditions, save for South Africa – where he averages a dismal 29.71, although he did score his debut ton at the Wanderers in ’97.
In coloured clothing he proved to be less successful, but he did retool his game over the years and him picking up the gloves proved crucial in the run-in to the finals of the 2003 World Cup. Not to mention his exploits in the 1999 edition, in his favourite backyard of England.
Most importantly, he tonked that buttercup of a man – Samit Patel – for three consecutive sixes last year at Old Trafford. Loved that.
Anyway, India’s next test series is a three game home Kiwi affair in the autumn. Who’s going to bat #3? Rohit Sharma? Cheteshwar Pujara? Scary stuff!