Rahul Dravid is a name synonymous with the qualities of perseverance, patience and resilience. He epitomises what many call the gentleman’s game. It was exactly 20 years ago that the world first witnessed a cricketer for whom magnificence was second nature and who left behind an unrivalled legacy.
That left-elbow jutting stance, those perfect leaves and that back-foot defence – it would make any bowler pull his hair out in sheer frustration. Dravid had the ability to render the best in the business powerless.
On a summer morning at Lord’s in 1996, he made his Test debut against England alongside another champion by the name of Sourav Ganguly.
Ahead of the 20th anniversary of this legendary duo’s first footsteps in cricket’s most pristine format, we relive five of the finest Test innings played by Dravid.
180 VS AUSTRALIA AT KOLKATA, 2001
Dubbed as one of the greatest Test matches of all time, India produced an escape act Houdini would have been proud of to win from behind. Asked to follow on by Australia and still trailing by 274 runs, India started cautiously, their hopes of saving the match with nearly three full days to go appearing more like a distant dream.
Rahul Dravid joined VVS Laxman at the fall of the fourth wicket on the evening of Day Three with the score reading 232/4. He switched batting positions with Laxman, a move that paid off as both architects constructed a magical 376-run stand to push Australia out of the contest.
Dravid’s knock was stellar, both in that he struggled with cramps and dehydration throughout his innings and also because he was subject to media bullying for his poor form in the build up to this innings.
When he got to his hundred, an on drive off Shane Warne, the celebration said it all. A man known to express few emotions on field, gesticulated in the direction of his team-mates and with his bat towards the media box. He wanted this, and it showed in his intent to carry on and upset the Aussies, who were on a 16-match winning streak.
Steve Waugh’s men were set a daunting target of 384 on the final day, Harbahajan Singh’s pyrotechnics proving too much and Australia ended up losing the match. It was only the third instance in Test cricket history that a team won the match after having been forced to follow on and speaks volumes about two contrasting, special innings by the modern day legends.
233 VS AUSTRALIA AT ADELAIDE, 2003
India’s tour Down Under in 2003 ranks among the finest overseas performances seen in the history of Indian cricket. It’s not every day that an Indian team comes close to beating Australia in their own backyard.
During that series, ahead of the second Test at the Adelaide Oval, the excitement in the air was palpable. India had drawn the first Test at Brisbane and had taken the fight to the opposition. So when Steve Waugh opted to bat first on a flat deck and his team amassed a fortress-like 556 runs in the first innings, the Indians weren’t perturbed – the response started in a flash with the openers scoring at a run-a-ball till the 11th over.
However, what started in a flash also went down the barrel in a flash with four wickets falling in quick succession. And just like in 2001, it was left to Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman to carry out the repair work. The pair eschewed all risks by leaving good balls and playing with the full face of the bat when necessary, stitching together a match-altering partnership.
As the game moved on with the batsmen switching gears gently, the demons of Kolkata reawakened for Australia, with new chief tormentor Dravid reaching his double ton on the fourth morning. The Indian vice-captain continued to pile on the misery, even as Laxman departed, ending a 303-run stand.
Dravid stayed on, putting up 135 valuable runs with the remainder of the batting line-up and put India at touching distance of the Australian score. In the second innings, Ajit Agarkar ran havoc, setting up the game for India and, chasing 230 runs to win in the final innings, Dravid resumed from where he left and anchored the chase 0 sealing a memorable victory for India with an unbeaten 72 to go with his 233 in the first innings.
148 VS ENGLAND AT HEADINGLY, 2002
The third Test at Headingly saw a bold decision by skipper Sourav Ganguly to bat first on a green top, especially after being 0-1 down in the four-match series.
Virender Sehwag fell cheaply for 8 runs and it seemed like the decision to bat first would come back to haunt the captain. Then Rahul Dravid strolled in at number three and produced some of the highest quality of grinding ever seen on a cricket field.
Dravid, along with Sanjay Bangar, left deliveries outside the off stump with purpose, defended straighter deliveries with conviction and collected runs wherever possible. The Karnataka batsman held forth, not letting anything go past him. And when the bad balls arrived off the tired shoulders of the English bowlers, he sent those to the fence.
The plan to stay put worked as the partnership between Dravid & Bangar (170 runs) came at a rate of nearly 2.5 runs an over and subsequent partnerships saw the rate going up to 3.82 (150 runs) and then 4.19 (249 runs). A selfless knock by Dravid, along with tons from Sachin Tendulkar & Ganguly, ensured India batted only once in the match – posting a mammoth 628 runs and later skittling England out by an innings and 46 runs.
Dravid was named Man of the Match and also went on to become India’s Player of the Series, courtesy a double hundred in the fourth Test.
190 VS NEW ZEALAND AT HAMILTON, 1999
Batting second and trailing New Zealand’s 366 runs, India were 17/1 when Rahul Dravid walked in. Towards the end of the fifth over, the score read 17/2 with both openers gone.
Dravid started scratchily on a pitch that offered enough movement and bounce to keep Simon Doull, Chris Cairns and Dion Nash eager. A 100-run stand with Tendulkar (67) was followed by a middle order collapse that saw India go from 126/2 to 211/7.
Dravid seemed like the only batsman to show application and doled out cuts, drives and pulls without breaking a sweat. A delightful back-foot punch through covers off Cairns was worth a million runs, a shot one could keep watching on loop all day.
More than 150 runs short of the Kiwi total, Dravid combined yet again with the tail to accumulate 200 runs, gaining a slender 50-run lead to bail the team when on rocky shores. The trademark Dravid attributes of grit, determination and hustle were on full display and they rubbed off on Javagal Srinath too, who recorded his best Test score of 76 runs.
Dravid ended up with another ton in the second innings (103*) putting him on par with the legends like Sunil Gavaskar and Vijay Hazare, in only the third year of his Test career. The match ended in a draw and the series was lost 1-0, but a glorious career had been unearthed, one that would go on to improve India’s reputation as travellers in years to come.
148 VS SOUTH AFRICA AT JOHANNESBURG, 1997
On the back of two heavy defeats at the hands of a bowling attack of Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Paul Adams and Lance Klusener, a young man battling form was trying to cement his place in the side.
A hungry Proteas outfit, armoured to kill, greeted Rahul Dravid when he walked in one down. A straight drive past a foot fiddling Pollock early in the innings was an ominous sign for the bowlers. While he read the length early to cut or drive at will, the hallmark of this innings was in the ease with which he pulled.
The short-ball strategy persisted in a bid to bounce him out, however Dravid replied as though he read the length and the bowlers’ minds the night before. Regular wickets at the other end meant India were precariously placed at 266/5 (effectively six wickets down with VVS Laxman retired hurt) with the tail to follow. Dravid rallied admirably, first with Anil Kumble (29) to reach his maiden ton and then with Javagal Srinath (41) to take India past 400.
A rare example of aggression was seen in this innings, especially towards Klusener who faced the wrath first with Dravid’s bat and then with his words. The nine-hour passive-aggressive innings ended with India on 410 runs, a handsome score considering that this batting order had been bundled out for less than 150 in three out of four innings on that tour.
Dravid amassed another superior knock of 81 runs in the second innings and if not for Daryll Cullinan’s resistance on Day 5 tagged with thunderstorms, India would have tasted a rare overseas victory.