Rahul Dravid is a difficult cricketer to write about. He is not a genius like Lara or an instinctive marauder Gilchrist or Sehwag. He isn't an enforcer like McGrath or Kumble either. The distinctively Australian confidence in strokeplay seen in Hayden or Ponting is not to be found in Dravid. He does not possess a distinctive style like Chanderpaul, neither has he been in a public battle with himself like Ganguly. He is not God. He possesses no signature strokes and his batsmanship leaves nobody but the most ardent cricketing bookworm breathless.
What then would it mean for a batsman or a cricketer to be Dravidesque? What makes Dravid, Dravid?
Statistically, Dravid leaves behind a monumental record. As S Rajesh notes, Dravid made more runs than any other batsman at number 3, is one of only two players to have scored 10,000 runs in a single position in the batting order (guess who the other is, and guess which other player is within a 100 runs of achieving this). He has been in more Test century stands than any other player. His career can be broken down neatly into four phases, with the modest one also being the shortest.
Be that as it may, the two most telling statistics about Dravid are as follows. First, as I wrote two days ago, he played 123 balls per dismissal in Tests. The second, is that he participated, on average, in about 2.5 partnerships per innings.
The first stat defines his batting, while the second defines its value in my view.
Dravid said that he set out to bat 30 overs in each innings (h/t to Subash for sending me this nugget). In another interesting nugget, Cheteshwar Pujara tells us of Dravid's diagnosis of one of his innings in South Africa. Pujara had gotten out trying to pull. Dravid's observation was that this was not Pujara's game. Dravid was not telling Pujara that the pull shot was not his strength. He was telling him that given what the conditions were and what the bowling was like ("the ball was skidding off the wicket and the bounce was high" explains Pujara), the shot was not on.
This is the essence of Dravid. He was an instinctively deliberate batsman. If I ever had the chance to ask Dravid a question, I would ask him how he judged how far away from the pad he would be willing to play on the front foot. I would ask him when he thought it was Ok to play the pull. At Sabina Park, in one of his best overseas performances, he made 81 and 68 in two small Indian totals (which were enough for India to win the Test). The first innings 81 came from 215 balls. In that innings, at one point, Dravid was on 25 out of 126 balls faced. On a bad wicket where the ball was misbehaving unpredictably (some kept low, other lept from a length) Dravid had been a picture of restraint. By the time he had faced 126 balls, India were 6 wickets down. Now, with Kumble for company, and the ball more 50 overs old, Dravid let rip 3 pull shots in quick succession off Jerome Taylor, one of them off the front foot. It is not an unconventional way to play. In some economistic sense, it is perfectly rational. Not for Dravid the risky get out of jail blow, or the instinctive flashing blade.
What Dravid developed like no other batsman, was the iron will to play rationally. It was this lethal marriage of will and thought that brought about three consecutive sixers in his T20 debut. Much has been made, rightly in my view, of Sachin Tendulkar's phenomenally austere 241 not out at Sydney in 2004. This was noteworthy because Tendulkar disciplined himself by not playing the cover drive until he was well past 150 in that innings. In Dravid's case, these choices were so common place, that nobody even noticed. For entire spells he ignored the square cut, yet others where he played it without missing a single one. His judgment of the length off a spinner was, if anything, even better than his judgment of length off the seam bowler.
My most vivid memory of Dravid relates to a dismissal. It is probably the starkest single memory I have about any cricketer. India were in England in 2007 and had just escaped with a Draw at Lord's. Having bowled England out for 198, India were going strong at 2/246 with Tendulkar and Dravid at the crease, when Dravid spooned a catch off Monty Panesar to the cover fielder Ian Bell. I think it is probably the only time in his Test career than he has been out caught at cover. Dravid had had a quiet tour of South Africa by his own amazing standards, and had just completed an undistinguished Lord's Test. The Nottingham Test was Dravid's 4th against top opposition since his match winning efforts at Sabina Park in 2006. South Africa and Lord's had left me a little bit uneasy about Dravid. His form seemed to be in decline, but his dismissals were still off good balls. I put these down to bad luck. But Nottingham was different. His form in the next few series only confirmed that he was slowing down just a tad.
Now that I think about it, the fact that he left me so worried about his form on account of that single dismissal when India were doing well in the game is a tribute to his play. Here was an error of judgment, that would have been unremarkable coming from any other Indian batsman, even Tendulkar, but from Dravid, was stunning.
In a wonderful, unexpected essay, Dr. Dravid writes that she would love a cup of tea every morning now that her husband is likely to be home every day. If Dravid the person is anything like Dravid the batsman, then pretty soon Mrs. Dravid is going to be treated to a cup of tea every morning that tastes exactly like it did on the previous day.
For a batsman to be like Dravid, he would have to possess the same barometric quality that Dravid's batting possessed. While his run output was invariably a very bad indicator of what the playing conditions (including opposition quality) were like, watching him bat for half an hour would reveal all. Dravid was not the sort of batsman who could transcend the conditions and the match situation, but he could tame them like very few others in the history of the game.
Maybe, just maybe, I should remember Dravid by that other memory that lingers sometimes. It is of Dravid skipping down to take Warne on the full and on-drive him between mid-on and mid-wicket to reach his century on that 4th day at Kolkata in 2001. I didn't watch that innings live. It was a Thursday. But I've watched that shot over and over again since.
For that and every other innings, I am in Rahul Dravid's debt.