A Serious Player

In July 2011, after watching Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar in the Long Room at Lord's prior to their post-lunch duel with the England attack, I wrote this about Dravid:

'First there is Rahul Dravid. A native of the city of Bangalore in southern India, he has played in 154 Test matches and has scored more than twelve thousand runs. In this innings he has just fifteen to his name. Before lunch he was settling in at the crease, but now he needs to do so again. He is a slim, serious man with distant eyes which carry the memories of thousands of hours at the crease. On the dusty, unforgiving grounds of his homeland, on the palm-fringed greens of the West Indian islands and of Sri Lanka, on the fast tracks of Australia, where players’ reflexes are tested to their very limits. This, batting, is what he does.'

Seriousness - not in the sense of humourlessness but of mental and emotional rigour and precision - often seems to have little place in the modern game. In the age of Twenty20, different virtues are celebrated, and the ability simply to repel bowlers without hitting them for four or six every other ball isn't usually one of them.

For Rahul Dravid, batting was a serious business. Of the great modern Indian trinity he never had the flair or the aura of Tendulkar, nor the elegance or relative unpredictability of Laxman. But, when all is said, he was every bit as good - in the case of Laxman you'd have to say he was better - and as important for the game in his country, and the world, as either of them.

My own relationship with Dravid goes back to his first tour of England in 1996. In my mind's eye I can still see him working the ball around against the Gloucestershire attack while on the way to 86 not out at Bristol. The bowling is largely weak but the impression is of a neat, controlled - yes, serious - young player, if not one who is going to become one of the world's best batsmen.

A few weeks later I am in the Tavern Stand at Lord's when Dravid is dismissed for 95 in his first innings in Test cricket. He immediately becomes a name to watch.

A few years later I am at Bath watching Somerset play Kent. Dravid holds the Kent batting together and the clean lines of his strokeplay, even his many forward defensives, match the exquisite architecture of the city which surrounds the ground.

Then I am at Lord's last summer and he is going out with Tendulkar and returning a few hours later with a century to his name. It feels like a swansong, but we aren't to know that he will do the same, and better, at Trent Bridge and the Oval in the coming weeks.

At first on the 2011 tour he is overshadowed by the attention given to Tendulkar, who has ninety-nine international centuries to his name and is expected to make it a hundred soon. But this passes as people are reminded - or shown for the first time - what a great batsman Dravid is.

I am well aware of how good he is, but one stroke confirms this. When he has about sixty, during the Trent Bridge hundred, he plays out a prolonged defensive duel with Graeme Swann, who is bowling a penetrating line. Dravid does what he has done to many bowlers over many years; he sees out all the good balls, but, as soon as Swann drops errantly short, he rocks on to his back foot and eases the ball through the covers for four with a completely straight bat and an alchemic combination of timing and power. It is a stroke of such class and timing - both in the sense of the way he strikes the ball and the way it fits into the structure of his innings - that it's obvious that this is a batsman as good as any to have played international cricket in a very, very long time.

Tendulkar's words on Thursday, when he said 'I will miss Rahul in the dressing room and out in the middle. All I can say is there was and is only one Rahul Dravid and there can be no other', were touching and true. In the context of the Indian team, one of Dravid's many significances was that he became, along with Laxman and Sehwag, one of the players who mitigated the weight of expectation on Tendulkar's shoulders as the team moved from the era of Azharuddin into the era of Ganguly, and a time when they could challenge the best, both at home and away. And the legend that is Sachin Tendulkar's career would not now appear quite so legendary without the reassuring presence of Rahul Dravid.

It is a cliché, but, when people like this retire, or even die, people say things like 'we shall not see his like again'.

This time it is true. With the way cricket is going, we probably won't.


Anonymous said...

Brian, reconciled as I am to not seeing Dravid bat again in a Test, it's a consolation to be able to read your description of his batting. So sensitively written. Thanks.

Brian Carpenter said...

Thanks, Anon. Glad you liked it.

I enjoyed writing it, much as I enjoyed watching Dravid bat.

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