Rahul Dravid has been Indian cricket's insurance policy against batting collapses since 1996. Last week he reiterated his undiminished value and role to his team
He remains Indian cricket's go-to man. Throw him into a batting crisis and he often does the repair work that reflects a strong work ethic and a stronger mind. Ever since he made the members at cricket's hallowed turf – Lords – in distant London, appreciate a poignant 95 on his Test debut in 1996, Rahul Dravid has been steadfast in his walk towards greatness.
Today greatness is his by right. He may not be Sachin Tendulkar but Dravid remains the recipient of the maximum number of SOS calls from the middle whenever India searches for brick and mortar to strengthen its crumbling batting edifices.
Last week, he notched his 11,000th Test run, became the fifth highest run-getter in cricket's longer version, scored his 27th Test ton, shared a world record 78th 100-run partnership but above all that indulged in his favourite hobby — reviving India. He did that with aplomb as his 177 rescued his team from a precarious 32 for four at Ahmedabad on the opening day of the first Test between India and Sri Lanka. “One of my most fluent efforts,” Dravid said.
In a nation besotted with Tendulkar, Dravid's efforts have often been consigned to the shadows. Even the lead-up to the drawn match at Ahmedabad was a blinding reflection of Tendulkar's aura. The maestro's 20th year in Test cricket triggered nostalgia and adulation but when the business of Test cricket commenced, Dravid stepped in with his silent and efficient ways.
Remaining solid and yet living in the dull light has been the story of his life. People remember V.V.S. Laxman's 281 at Kolkata when the Indians ambushed Steve Waugh's plans of conquering the last frontier but Dravid with his 180 too played an equal part. In his debut at Lords, Dravid was upstaged by another debutant who carved a delightful century and who answered to the name of Sourav Ganguly.
Dravid does have the Adelaide Test in 2003 to claim as his own. He scored a 233 and a vanquished Steve Waugh later asked the man from Indira Nagar to write the foreword for his autobiography. Subsequently Dravid played his central part in many more matches as the Mr. Dependable title sat smugly beside him.
When Dravid set out on his career, he wanted to be bracketed alongside his heroes – Sunil Gavaskar and G.R. Viswanath. The two gentlemen were truly huge benchmarks but Dravid, ever keen to touch the horizon, has carved a niche for himself. There is also the small matter of Dravid holding the world record for the highest number of catches in Tests – 185.
A man of few words and known for dishing out politically correct lines, Dravid has stayed away from the media spotlight off the field. “I have nothing new to say,” has been his oft-repeated rebuff to interview requests. He remains a tough cricketer but his vulnerable side was revealed when he relinquished the Indian captaincy.
Dravid then suffered a slump in form but managed to hang on as selectors backed his pedigree and trusted the cliché — form is temporary but class is permanent. Though he was jettisoned from the limited-overs' teams and was treated like a yo-yo by the powers that be, Dravid got his space to regain his form in Tests and he did that while banking on his trusted ally – perseverance.
Long hours at the National Cricket Academy nets and regular stints with the Karnataka team in Ranji Trophy games meant that Dravid was just a step away from his usual sturdy self. At 36, Dravid's years in cricket are numbered but even in his twilight phase, he will bring to the crease, his patented blend of assurance and reliability. Like the innumerable books he reads, Dravid will remain a classic and a hard act to follow.