Rahul Dravid Turns 50: ‘The Wall’ Stands Tall Among Cricketing Legends | Cricket News

Team India gave an early birthday present to Head Coach Rahul Dravid as they beat Sri Lanka by 67 runs in Guwahati. It is a no-brainer that Dravid, who is celebrating his 50th birthday today, is an all-time great. His stats as a batsman and fielder speak for themselves – 164 Tests, 13,288 runs, 36 tons and 210 catches; 344 ODIs, 10,889 runs, 83 fifties.

Not many players have such an enviable record. So, Dravid elicits a different kind of comparison, reserved only for ‘GOATs’. Dravid has often been compared to his compatriot Sachin Tendulkar and to a lesser extent with Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. All four were part of the legendary ‘Fab Four’ – the fulcrum of India’s Test batting in the 2000s. Dravid’s 16-year-long career was in many ways intertwined with the ‘Fab Four’.

Rewind to June 20, 1996: a 23-year-old Dravid made his debut alongside Ganguly and scored 95. But his performance was eclipsed by Ganguly’s 131. His debut Test set the tone for his early career — of often being overshadowed by Tendulkar, Ganguly, and Laxman.

Be it 2001 Kolkata Test, when his 180 was overshadowed by Laxman’s 281, or the 2002 Leeds Test, when his 148 on a deadly pitch, was surpassed by Tendulkar’s 193.

The overshadowing of Dravid was much more visible in ODIs. His highest score – 153 versus New Zealand – was forgotten as Tendulkar raced to 186 in the same match. When Ganguly hit 183 versus Sri Lanka, Dravid scored 145.

The year 1999, when these two innings were played, was also a turning point for Dravid. It was the year he metamorphosed into a complete player: the classic Test batter, the ODI run-machine and the handy wicketkeeper.

It was a sign of things to come.

Ganguly’s captaincy from 2000 to 2005 brought out the best out of Dravid. In the 21 matches that India won under Ganguly, Dravid scored 2,571 runs at a record average of 102.84 with three double centuries.

In the same period, though occasionally overshadowed by Tendulkar, Dravid was able to create his own niche. Between 2000, when he scored his first double century, to 2005, when he eventually took over the captaincy from Ganguly, Dravid scored 5,305 runs at an average of 61.69 in 60 Tests.

In the same period, Tendulkar accumulated 4,482 runs in 53 Tests at an average of 56. Laxman, with whom Dravid shared many memorable partnerships, made 3,677 runs at an average of 50. But captaincy had taken the sting out of Ganguly’s batting, scoring just 2,718 runs at an average of 35 in those years. Ganguly eventually retired from Tests in 2008, with over 7,000 runs and an average of 42.

In that period, only Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis scored more runs at a better average than Dravid. Such was his dominance that he won the inaugural ICC Player of the Year and the Test Player of the Year awards in 2004.

The same period also saw Dravid evolving as a sheet-anchor in ODIs, holding the team’s batting together and grabbing the wicketkeeping gloves whenever needed. While he never had many blockbuster innings under his belt, Dravid scored more ODI runs than Tendulkar and Ganguly – both often acknowledged as all-time ODI greats, with over 11,000 runs – between 1999 and 2007.

The year 2007 marked a change in Dravid’s career. He fell out of favour in ODIs and saw a dip in Test form, which continued until his retirement in 2012. Although, there was a notable surge in his form in 2009 and 2011.

Dravid scored 3,796 runs at an average of 44.13 after quitting captaincy in 2007. The same period saw Laxman and Tendulkar hitting a purple patch. The former scored 3,698 runs at an average of over 51, while the latter hit 4,482 runs at an average of nearly 59 between November 2007 and 2011.

However, 2012 was a dreadful year for the three players. The disastrous Australia tour proved to be Dravid’s and Laxman’s final international appearances, while Tendulkar’s form continued to dip until his retirement in November 2013.

The era of the ‘Fab Four’ was over. But their legacy continues to be debated today.

Dravid was not known as an elegant stroke player. Laxman had a better claim on it as he epitomised fine wrist play. Unlike Ganguly, Dravid was not the ‘god of the offside’ who could pulverise bowling attacks. Unlike Tendulkar, Dravid could never capture the imagination of Indians on the cricket pitch. Yet, Dravid evoked sobriquets like ‘The Wall’ and ‘Mr Dependable’, which speak volumes about the high degree of trust he enjoyed in the team and among the public.

Look at these stats: India never lost a match when he scored a century, except for his three centuries during the disastrous 2011 England tour. Team India was considered a poor touring team before 2000s. That changed with the entry of Dravid, who scored 1,577 runs at 65.70 — a record better than Tendulkar’s – in 15 overseas Test wins in his career.

Dravid was a match winner and less of a headline-grabber like Tendulkar or Virender Sehwag. His innings, either in ODIs and Tests, rarely made it to the front pages of newspapers. He was a workhorse who continued to pile on the runs while crossing many milestones that went unnoticed.

Perhaps, two aspects separate Dravid and Tendulkar – aura and longevity. Tendulkar brought with him the unmatchable aura of a child prodigy who made it big on the international stage. He also had a 24-year-long career, spanning three generations, during which he performed consistently against top-notch bowling.

Dravid, though a big match player, struggled against the simmering pace attacks of South Africa and Australia. He particularly struggled against the Aussies, scoring just two Test centuries at an average of 38. His ODI record against them was even worse. And Dravid lacked the aura and charisma of Tendulkar. But with tenacity, technique and temperament, Dravid overcame what he lacked vis-à-vis Tendulkar.

It is also futile to compare him with the Master Blaster or anyone else just based on statistics. Dravid was the quintessential partnership man who rescued Team India from difficult situations and played a supporting role in some of the biggest personal milestones of his batting partners. Thanks to Dravid’s solid batting, Tendulkar and Sehwag got the licence to dominate the Opposition bowling. It will not be wrong to conclude that Tendulkar came into his own only after the arrival of Dravid.

Dravid, thus, played the role of an enabler in a team full of stars. He was, as Harsha Bogle rightly said, “the wolf who lived for the pack.” That’s how we must remember his contribution to Indian cricket.

Happy birthday, Jammy!

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