It was June 20, 1996 which would mark the beginning of a new era in Indian cricket. It is because even if Sourav Ganguly, one of the debutants went on to score a century in the ‘home of cricket’ at Lords, Rahul Dravid the other debutant scored a 95 in the same innings. It was a promising start for a man who wanted to transform from a whipping boy to India’s batting bulwark at a brisk pace, atleast in Test cricket which he initially specialized in.
Rahul Dravid was born on January 11, 1973 in Indore, Madhya Pradesh but was raised in Bangalore. His father used to work for the company Kissan, and as a result in his schooldays Rahul Dravid was given the nickname Jammy. While his mother was a professor of architecture at the University of Bangalore. Despite not having a cricketing background, he was amazingly being able to rise briskly in school cricket thanks to his mentor Keki Tarapore in particular and was seen making his Ranji Trophy debut for Karnataka at the age of 18, alongside future stars such as Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath.
Within the next five years, he got a call-up into the Indian team in both ODIs and Tests. He struggled in the first two years of his career in one-day cricket but was able to quickly flourish in the Test format, after being promoted up the order at No.3 in just a span of six months from his excellent debut at Lords. His first Test century came away from home, against South Africa at The Wanderers in Johannesburg where he hit a patient 148 in the first innings, against an attack comprising the likes of Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener.
Dravid played some stunning shots in the arc between cover and mid-on and successfully being able to pull and square-cutting any short-pitched delivery hurled at him, something which not many Indian batsmen have been successful in doing over the years. While in the second innings, he applied himself much more at the crease for an 81. India were in the end, just 2 wickets away from winning a rare Test outside the Indian subcontinent before rain ensured that the match ended in a draw.
The Johannesburg match ensured that Dravid would bat one-down for India in Tests for a long period of time, and even in the ODIS for a while. The year 1997 was the first one where he made it as a batting bulwark of the side following stupendous performances in South Africa and West Indies. In the Caribbean, he scored 361 runs in 7 innings at an average of 51.57 with his highest being 92 at Guyana in the last Test. His 78 in the first innings at Barbados could have almost won India the Test match, but a batting disaster in the second innings saw India lose yet another opportunity to win an away series.
He was not able to get hundreds on a regular basis but the selectors persisted with him due to his consistency as he hit seven fifties on the trot from the home series against Sri Lanka in November 1997 to the home series against Australia in March 1998. While in ODIs, his first century came against Pakistan in Chennai in May 1997, which was incidentally the same match in which Saeed Anwar scored a then world record 194. He ended with 951 ODI runs in the calendar year but was still considered too slow for this format of the game.
1998 was an average year for Dravid but the following year proved to be one of Dravid’s best throughout his career in both Tests and ODIs. He began 1999 with two centuries in the New Year’s Test against New Zealand at Hamilton, which ended in a draw after India needed a daunting 415 to win the game, having to bat out more than four sessions. It was followed by the World Cup where he ended as the highest run-scorer of the tournament, despite India getting knocked out in the Super Six stage after a loss to New Zealand. A run tally of 461 runs in 7 games was marvelous considering the criticism he was facing prior to the tournament.
His 104 not out at Bristol against Kenya and 145 not out at Taunton against the defending champions Sri Lanka went under the shadow of Sachin Tendulkar’s 140 at Bristol since he played this innings returning from India after his father’s expiry and of Sourav Ganguly’s 183 at Taunton which was the second highest score by an individual in World Cup cricket. Yet, Dravid’s centuries played a fine supporting role in both the games, helping India win them. The World Cup was the catalyst Dravid needed to kickstart his ODI career, a format he was considered to be weak at.
Post World Cup, and he did seem out of form in the ODIs for a couple of months until the home series against New Zealand. Stunning as it seems for any Indian batsman, Rahul Dravid bought up his first Test century at home more than three years after his Test debut. His 144 at Mohali in the second innings made India declare at 505/3, but the match was drawn. In the ODIs, he scored a run-a-ball 153 not out in the second match in Hyderabad which is his highest ODI score till date. He was now getting into a habit of forming huge partnerships with the top-order batsmen, but more with Sachin Tendulkar in ODIs as well as Test matches with Tendulkar usually opening the batting in ODIs and batting at No.4 in Tests.
However, the year ended badly for Dravid as he misfired big time in the 3 Test matches in Australia, when he was expected to be one of the top run-getters. An average of below 30 was the first for him in a Test series, while India went on be whitewashed. It was a rare away failure for him having scored 5 of his 6 Test centuries at the time in South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Zimbabwe. He ended 1999 with 875 Test runs and 1761 ODI runs, the highest by any batsman in the world in that calendar year with 6 hundreds.
But there was worse to come. His failures in Australia were extended in the home series against South Africa in the beginning of the year 2000, where India lost both the Tests of the series. And when it came to one-day cricket, there were two fifties against the Proteas in the five match series. But he struggled in the sands of Sharjah again and the Asia Cup in Bangladesh, at the same time as the match-fixing controversy involving the then South African captain Hansie Cronje rocked Indian cricket for a couple of months.
Dravid was not questioned at all which showed his integrity towards the game very early in his career but to get away from the mess, he decided to instead fine tune his skills by taking up the invaluable experience of playing for an English county. He had an immensely successful stint at Kent in the summer of 2000, and it was the first time that he was acquainted with John Wright, the New Zealander who went on to become India’s coach in November 2000.
The moment Wright took over the coaching reigns, Dravid’s career which may have gone downhill, took a sudden upward curve. The fine run began against Zimbabwe at home in a 2 Test series where he smashed 442 runs in 3 innings, with his first of many double hundreds coming in this series. While in the series against Australia in March 2001, it was at Eden Gardens in Kolkata where Dravid batted at No.6 in the second innings and supported VVS Laxman superbly.
He was criticized by a section of the Indian media to have been scoring at a low strike rate, following his 196-ball 39 in the second innings of the first Test in Mumbai. So when Dravid reached the hundred mark, he showed his bat in anger to the press box, showing that he can bat as per the situation given to him. He remained unbeaten on 180 and the innings was instrumental in changing the fortunes of Indian cricket with India winning against champions Australia 2-1 in the 3 Tests.
For the first time, it was in the ODIs against the Aussies that Dravid was demoted to the No.4 spot to accommodate Laxman at No.3. These were the initial signs of India trying to build a potent ODI team with the World Cup 2003 being 24 months away. He eventually was further pushed down the order to a No.5 or No.6 as well on some occasions, due to Sourav Ganguly’s policy of experimenting with youngsters such as SS Das or Dinesh Mongia as well as the idea of dropping Sachin Tendulkar to No.4, so that Ganguly and Sehwag can open the batting.
Besides, Dravid also donned the wicket-keeping gloves in May 2002 on the tour of Caribbean for the ODI series so that there is a perfect team balance, which can accommodate more batsmen to strengthen the team. Apparently, Ganguly and Wright coaxed him to take up wicket-keeping since he used to do it in his school days. Dravid was hesitant initially but he agreed to do this as well for the team’s cause and what was to be seen was an amazing transformation from being a grinder at No.3 to a grinder-cum-finisher at No.5 or No.6 in ODIS, not to mention the burden of being on his hunches for 300 balls which also meant that he had to increase his fitness levels.
2001 otherwise was an uneventful year to Dravid’s standards but it made himself on a new beginning. If 1999 was good, 2002 was even better for him. This was the year which marked his maturity as an overall player, and not just a batsman having realized that he already had six years of experience playing for India, and he had to play an apt ally to the likes of Tendulkar to guide the team. The West Indies tour saw the first instance of Dravid of taking up the mantle of being ‘The Wall’ of the side.
He began with a sedate and unbeaten 144 to ensure a draw in the first Test of the 5-match contest. Two half-centuries were to follow, with one of them which was a 67 was crucial in India winning a Test match in Trinidad, a rare away victory for the team. He ended with 404 runs in 9 innings, even as India lost the series 1-2. But this was a solid foundation for the tour of England to come soon. The ODIs were a sombre affair due to intermittent rain in the country and despite 3 ODIs completed, Dravid did not contribute much.
So Dravid returned to the land where he top-scored in a World Cup. He has a strange affinity to England, and it continued in the summer of 2002. In the ODI triseries involving the hosts and Sri Lanka, he scored three fifties in six matches which counted in India winning the tournament, following a historic run chase against England in the final. But he hit the highest peak of his career in the Test series to come, with three centuries on the trot.
His 115 at Nottingham in the second innings saved India’s face, as they were trailing by 260 runs in the first innings having to bat out till the 5th day to draw the game. But it was in Headingley, Leeds which was witness to some of the finest moments of his career. He came into bat, with the ball swinging both the ways and partly sunny conditions with a wet outfield to score runs in. Yet, he made batting look so facile with some crunchy cover drives and the flick shots off his pads to midwicket standing out. He ended with 148, one of the best Test innings one can ever see, as it set up hundreds from Tendulkar and Ganguly to declare at 628/8 and a famous Indian win was to be seen. An innings and 46 run victory was India’s first in England since 1986 and it leveled the series 1-1, with one to play.
At The Oval, Dravid carried on his rich vein of form with an even better effort, a double century which was only the second in his career and first away from home. This was another magnificent effort especially after England made first use of the fine batting conditions and ended up with 515. His 217 saw 28 fours at a strike rate of 47, dominated most of the partnerships in the Indian innings with the next highest score being 54 from Tendulkar. India ended with 508, a mere 7 behind England and it led to another draw with the visiting team taking the honours in the end and Dravid winning the player of the series award for his aggregate of 602 runs in the series.
The final of the ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka was a washout which resulted in India sharing the trophy with the hosts. Dravid contributed with a crucial 81-ball 71 in the first match against Zimbabwe after they were in dire straits at 87/5. The win enhanced India’s chances of progressing ahead in the tournament. So India were brimming with confidence coming into the home series against the West Indies. And Dravid continued from where he left off in England, by scoring his fourth consecutive ton in four Test innings after a first innings hundred in Mumbai. But that run came to an end following a mere 11 in the next Test in Chennai. He narrowly missed out on the world record of 5 back-to-back hundreds by Everton Weekes of West Indies.
The following Tests were mediocre but the ODIs were a clear sign of his improvement in the shorter format of the game. 310 runs in 6 innings included 109 not out at Ahmedabad, which saw India play a Natwest final-like match where this time they chased down 325. It proved that India were not the same no-hoper team that was playing a year ago and were the front-runners of the upcoming World Cup. But the tour of New Zealand was the only low for India in a period of 18 months as he did start off well with a painstaking 76 at Wellington, which had conditions like Headingley but looked in bad touch with 131 runs in 2 Tests with India losing both of them. While in the one-dayers, he scored 116 runs in 7 matches as India were given a 2-5 drubbing in the series. After returning to India, Dravid disappointedly said that he had to learn how to bat again. This despite the fact that he had scored 1200 runs in the calendar year of 2002.
The World Cup 2003 in South Africa though, is the stuff of the folklore till date with India making it to the final of the tournament. Dravid was brilliant throughout the tournament, with his wicket keeping being more impressive than his batting and as a result the Indian bowling looked good. While batting-wise, Dravid had to be shifted in the batting order time and again since the team relied on him the most to give them some stability in a precarious situation, since Tendulkar was back opening the batting and Ganguly batted at No.3. He ended with 318 runs in 10 matches at an average of 53, with his fifties against England and New Zealand helping the team win crunch games.
2003 did not see India playing excessive cricket but it saw the beginning of another glorious period in Dravid’s career. In the first Test of the home series against New Zealand, he hit a 222 in Ahmedabad, followed by 73 in the second innings to give India a genuine chance to win the game. He was named the captain of the side in the second Test for the first time in his career, with an injury to Sourav Ganguly. Both the matches were drawn eventually. In the tri-series to follow, Dravid played the complete finisher especially in one of the games against New Zealand at Hyderabad where he remained not out on 50 off just 22 balls, after centuries from Sehwag and Tendulkar. India ended at 353/5 in 50 overs, winning by 122 runs in the end and qualifying for the final in style, before losing to Australia again.
Australia was considered to be Dravid’s ‘bogey’ team following his failure in 1999 and moderate success in 2001. However, he quashed all those perceptions as he starred in India’s third away win in two years, in the second Test at Adelaide. In response to Australia’s 556, India were left reeling at 85/4 in the first innings following Ganguly’s run out. Dravid with the help of Laxman again, resurrected India with his contribution being a mammoth 233. India were trailing by 33 runs by the time his innings came to an end. But he was not finished, as he fittingly remained till the last ball of the second innings when India chased down 230 successfully, as his calm 72 was vital in it. It was a magnificent win in Australia and India were 1-0 up against Steve Waugh’s men, as he won the man of the match award for 305 runs in the game.
His consistency continued in the last two Tests and although this was another drawn series, it helped India retain the Border Gavaskar Trophy and Dravid was yet again the player of the series in an away series for 617 runs in 4 Tests, as he matched Australia’s No.3 Ricky Ponting in style throughout. Both of them yet, have mutual admiration for each other and that is a hallmark of true sportsmen. But Dravid’s superb season continued, although there was a glitch in between in the ODI tri-series in Australia when he was fined 50% of his match fees for allegedly ball tampering in a game against Zimbabwe.
Come the tour of Pakistan and he was a hit in both ODIs and Tests. In the first one-dayer at Karachi, he was unluckily bowled by Shoaib Akhtar on 99 but that cool-headed knock was instrumental in India clinching a 5 run victory in an otherwise high scoring game. While in the fourth match, his unbeaten 92-ball 76 helped India prevail in a must-win game as Pakistan were up 2-1 prior to the game. While in the Tests, he hit a gritty 270 in the series decider at Rawalpindi which was crucial in India finally winning an away series. This innings has the world record of being the longest ever played by a batsman in Test cricket, lasting more than 800 minutes.
However, the tour did not pass without any controversy as Dravid, who was the captain of India in the first two Tests took two dubious decisions in each of the matches. In the first game at Multan, Tendulkar was batting on 194 with 16 overs remaining on day 2 when Dravid decided to declare the Indian innings. There could have been a possibility of a team rift had India not won the match, but perhaps he could have been correct for the sake of the team, which was more important than the individual. While in the second Test, he won the toss and elected to bat first on a Lahore pitch filled with grass which was to suit the bowlers with the 9 am moisture helping them. India lost by 9 wickets eventually and had to fight it out in Rawalpindi to win the series.
Nevertheless, for his stupendous performances during the period of September 2003 – August 2004 in both formats of the game, Dravid was adjudged the ICC Test Player of the Year and Player of the Year in 2004. This was a clear proof that India was no more a one-man army in the form of Sachin Tendulkar. Rahul Dravid had become a name opposition captains had to worry about.
However, with India’s failure in the ICC Champions Trophy that year, the team confidence had come to an all-time low by the time Australia came over. Dravid was a pale shadow of the artist who had annihilated the champions a year ago in their own backyard and scored only one fifty in seven innings, as Australia won 2-1 with India’s only win coming in the Mumbai Test, with Dravid’s idea of playing three spinners in the game being a masterstroke.
Yet, he had something more to cheer about. He became the first batsman in Test cricket to score centuries in all Test playing nations following his 160 against Bangladesh in Chittagong in December 2004. Besides, he was the second Indian after Sunil Gavaskar to score twin centuries in a Test match twice following his 110 and 135 against Pakistan in Kolkata in March 2005 which yet again did not go in vain. While the scene in the one-dayers was that he decided to finally quit wicket-keeping to play as a pure batsman in the side, and it ended a magnificent 3 years for India in the format.
A poor first six months of 2005 saw Dravid being appointed as captain permanently for India in all formats of the game, succeeding Ganguly after the tour of Zimbabwe. His first ODI series as captain was the tri-series in Sri Lanka and that was not a huge success as they lost the finals to the hosts. But the home series against the same team started off his captaincy tenure in grand fashion as Sri Lanka; the new World No.2 team was duly beaten 6-1 in the 7 match series and the rampaging South Africa was held to a 2-2 result in a 5 match series, also at home.
Dravid’s reign saw India flourish in the ODIs especially for a period of 6 months, with Greg Chappell seemed to be wonders as coach. His tenure saw India hold an unlikely record of chasing successfully in 16 ODIs in a row, which was the fruit of the team winning a 5 match series in Pakistan by a 4-1 margin and at home against England by 5-1 in 7 matches. However the downfall began on the West Indies tour where Dravid could not boost the team’s morale following the end of the chasing streak.
While in the Tests, the team was doing no wonders after losing a series in Pakistan 0-1 despite a record opening partnership of over 400 runs in the first Test between Sehwag and Dravid. Following which an injury-stricken England team was able to square a 3 match series in India by the 1-1 margin, with Dravid’s decision to bowl first on a deteriorating pitch in Mumbai was much criticized, although it was his 100th Test match.
However, the team’s fortunes reversed. They were on the downward spiral in the ODIs despite a mini revival in the beginning of 2007 with one-day series win at home against West Indies and Sri Lanka. The team crashed out of the first round of the World Cup following an upset from Bangladesh in the first match and a loss to Sri Lanka in the knockout match. While in the Tests, India won the Test series in the West Indies in the summer of 2006 by 1-0 with Dravid’s painstaking 69 in the final Test at Jamaica, key to the victory.
The form continued in South Africa with their first ever Test win in that country following their Johannesburg blitz. Although India lost the series, Dravid was praised for being calm and still leading from the front. In 2007, India beat Bangladesh in Bangladesh as expected but admirably won in England, 1-0 in 3 Tests for the first time since 1986 with Dravid fittingly hitting the winning runs at Trent Bridge. All this came under his captaincy, until he decided to quit following India’s 3-4 defeat in the 7 match series against England.
However, his resignation came at a time when he was beginning to face the biggest slump of his career. He was dropped from the ODI team after the home series against Australia, after the T-20 World Cup. While in Tests, there were only 3 centuries from the period of May 2007 – December 2008 and all three were scratchy ones, not the typical Dravid style efforts. He did come back to an extent in 2009 with two fighting centuries against Sri Lanka at home, but the form did not seem to return until the West Indies tour of 2011.
Fortunately, Dravid was persisted with and made 2011 his own. He ended as the highest run getter of the year with 1145 runs in 12 Tests at an average of 57.25 with a hundred in the West Indies which won India the Test match and hence the series, another one in the home series against the same team and the result was the same but three of them were even more eye catching as it came in England at a time when he was forced to open the batting and he took up the challenge even as the rest were struggling. It was inevitable that India were to be whitewashed but he salvaged India’s pride in all the defeats.
Although his current form in Australia is much like he performed there in 1999, yet he cannot be written off soon unlike Laxman. Being the captain of the Rajasthan Royals, he has the IPL to focus upon and should give up the game in the next 12 months to help the selectors groom youngsters to play at the Test level.
2011 was eventful for him also for the fact that he was recalled to play the ODIs in England and quit the format officially and has the distinction of being the only player in the world to make his T-20 debut at the age of 38, and that match also was his last. Besides, he was the first non-Australian to be selected to give the Bradman Oration in Australia, which has certainly every Indian proud of him.
His impeccable behavior on the field, selflessness, skills and fitness levels to play frequently for India makes him a role model for the youngsters. Afterall, he has a record of playing 93 consecutive Tests for the country and also the most number of catches in Test history, with 210 to his name. He is also the first man to score more than 10,000 runs at the No.3 position in Tests while also being the second highest run-getter in Test cricket at the moment, behind Sachin Tendulkar with 36 centuries to his name. Besides, he belongs to the rare breed of batsmen who have scored 10,000 runs in both formats of the game.
However, these all will be minor matters by the time ‘The Wall’ is completely broken down.