Rahul Dravid, the head coach of the Indian cricket team, turns 49 on January 11 and many acknowledge that he is the greatest Test batsman India has ever produced.
The Indian cricket team at the start of the 21st century was blessed with a golden generation of batsmen. Virender Sehwag was the dynamic opener. Gautam Gambhir was his ideal partner in grinding the opposition down. Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, and Sourav Ganguly were the pillars of the middle order. Holding the top and middle-order together was a person who earned the nickname ‘The Wall’. He placed a heavy price on his wicket. The defense was glorified. Taking the right moment, he would produce epic match-winning knocks. Wearing the opposition down relentlessly with his stoic batting made Rahul Dravid the ultimate ace in the Indian batting line-up.
Dravid’s contributions in the era of Tendulkar, Ganguly, and Laxman make it extraordinary. If one has to look at the current domination of India in world cricket, then it was Rahul Dravid who laid the foundation for their domination. Be it England 2002, Australia 2003, Pakistan 2004, and South Africa 2006, every single great moment in Indian cricket had the imprint of Rahul Dravid.
Sachin Tendulkar has the numbers. His averages away and in countries like Australia, South Africa, and England are simply marvelous. Yet, when it comes to major moments, Dravid scores over Tendulkar. The proof is India’s golden period from 2002 to 2006 when they started winning overseas consistently. The fact that they managed to win in Australia, England, and Pakistan owe a lot to Dravid and the way he dragged India out of the hole in all of those tours.
The first instance is the 2002 tour to England. Having lost the Lord’s Test, India was staring down the barrel in Trent Bridge. In stepped Dravid and his dogged 115 ensured the game was drawn. His finest moment though came in Leeds. Green pitch, overcast skies, and a Dukes’ ball. In the past, Indian teams would be blown away in these conditions.
Dravid, though, battled the conditions and took blows on his body. He weathered the storm brilliantly and his 148 set up the base for Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly’s onslaught which helped India cross 600. India won that Test and levelled the series. In the final match at the Oval, Dravid blasted a double century and almost put India on the cusp of a win but rain and England’s doggedness stalled India’s plans.
India had not won a Test in Australia for 22 years heading into the series in 2003/04. After a rain-affected draw in Brisbane, Ricky Ponting’s double ton helped Australia reach 556. India was almost down and out at 85/4 but Dravid, eager to put behind his 1999 tour nightmares behind, stepped up.
He shared a 303-run stand with VVS Laxman and smashed his first century in Australia. He made it big, converting it into a double as his 233 gave Australia only a 33-run lead. Ajit Agarkar’s 6/41 bowled Australia out for 196. In the second innings, on a wearing pitch, it was Dravid’s 72* that helped India break their Australia jinx. Even in that series, he hit 619 runs at an average of 123. In both those series, Tendulkar’s average was 66 and 76 respectively.
In Pakistan, heading into the final Test in Rawalpindi, it was Dravid’s bloody-mindedness that broke Pakistan’s spirit. His 270 helped India win a series for the first time in Pakistan. In that series, Dravid’s average was 77. Dravid’s greatest feat probably was his knock of 81 and 68 in Jamaica against the West Indies in 2006. On a pitch where only one Indian batsman other than Dravid scored 45, his contributions helped India win in the Caribbean after 35 years. Here is a look at Dravid’s away contribution in that period from 2002 to 2006.
When one looks at India’s rise overseas, the major factor is Dravid. In that whole period from 2002 to 2006, Rahul Dravid’s overseas average was 71 while Tendulkar’s was 55.
When Dravid retired from international cricket in 2012, he could have led a simple life as a commentator or as a media analyst. He did that for two years until 2014/15. As a commentator, the analysis was typical Dravid. To the point and precise. But, after he found the life of commentators not too alluring, he decided to do something else.
Dravid decided to build the grassroots system of Indian cricket. He became the coach of the India A and Under-19 Cricket Teams and started molding them to greatness. His efforts reaped rich dividends in 2018 when the Under-19 World Cup was won by India. In his interim, he had given rise to stars such as Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Kartik Tyagi, Shivam Mavi, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Rishabh Pant, Ishan Kishan and Washington Sundar. These new stars are all set to take the Indian cricket team to the next level.
Dravid’s decision to build the grassroots of Indian cricket put him in a greater pedestal. As the current head coach of the Indian cricket team, Dravid is on the cusp of securing India’s final frontier. A birthday gift would be India’s first Test series win in South Africa.