Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 15, 2011

Form, class and a lesson learned.

"Fancy meeting you here"

In Kolkata, the incomparable (go on then- with whom can you compare him?) Rahul Dravid has helped himself to a fifth Test century this year to take him past Ian Bell as the highest run scorer of 2011. Deep into his 39th year, that feat alone would be worthy of garlanding, but even more remarkable, and the mark of an iron mental constitution, is the fact that Dravid has rekindled a batting flame that was flickering and fading.

Almost exactly a year ago, I was motorcycling through the cold gloom of South London’s dead of the night to commentate for Test Match Sofa on the India vs New Zealand Test series, the first match of which was played on Ahmedabad’s road of a pitch. After fifty overs (ten of which had been bowled by Hamish Bennett, seven by Jesse Ryder, and three by Kane Williamson – and those three would still be bowling now if it were a timeless Test), Dravid was blocking half-volleys as he crawled to 28* off 117 deliveries – at the other end, Virender Sehwag had the mere matter of 134* off 145. With the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, having impressed in India’s previous series (vs Australia), heading a queue of ever-more frustrated young Indian batsmen (Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay and less young but just as frustrated, Yuvraj Singh), the writing was on the wall for The Wall. Dravid had scored just one century away from the flat wickets of the sub-continent since his magnificent double in the extraordinary Adelaide Test of 2003.  And you had to track back 50 ODIs to find his last century in that format, a run that saw him cede his place. And as for Twenty20? Well, please…

I regret to say that somewhere on Test Match Sofa’s server, there’s my voice calling for Dravid to do the honorable thing and step aside before his brilliant career was tarnished. Well, that’ll learn yer, as they used to say in Jamie Carragher country where I grew up, as Dravid suddenly got his feet and the scoreboard moving, clicking through the gears to register 104 in that innings and 191 in the Third Test to cement his place for another England tour and, of course, he hasn’t looked back. To cite the cliche, Dravid’s permanent class has trumped his temporary form and he’s the best batsman in the Indian Test XI now and probably the best in the world.

One instinctively feels that such an assertion of an all-time great’s true colours should be common – after all, cliches are usually cliches because they are true and surely mid-career injuries and staleness can be shaken off and the muse rediscovered. But Dravid’s recapturing of the form of his late-twenties in his late-thirties has a Dorian Gray-like quality to it, a tempting of the Gods in its insolent thumbing of the nose at time’s ineluctable power to diminish man’s. With VVS Laxman at the other end reviving memories of a handy stand ten years ago, and making his case to hold on to a slot in the middle-order, it seems that the young guns of Indian batting will have to content themselves with playing limited overs cricket and counting money. Not bad, but surely not enough for those who aspire to write their names alongside Sachin, Rahul and VVS and must wait and wait and wait.

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Responses

  1. Dare one say it, but perhaps the player out of Dravid, VVS & Tendulkar who is most easily replaced in the current Indian side is the one with 51 test hundreds?

    Laxman is in the side for a 4th innings dog-fight, a quality that he shares with Graeme Smith. Dravid is hard to replace because he’s technically speaking a more correct keeper than Dhoni and a brilliant all-round batsman. But what about Tendulkar? he’s a great batsman but he needs to find the form he had at Cape Town and find it quickly, if he gets this “100th international ton” off his back (which is an erroneous stat, celebrating his 50th test ton and his 50th ODI ton would be more fitting IMO) hopefullly the true class will return, but at the moment his place in the team is due to what he has done, not what he can do. Raina has more 50s since Tendulkar scored his last ton FFS.

    The England series saw his immovability from the number 4 spot hurt the side twice in the series. Now Tendulkar could come good again, but he’s not in great form and what’s exacerbating the problem is neither are the openers.

    India need to get the rest of their top order into form, the motivation should be clear enough, there’s a fighting chance of their becoming the first Asian side to win a series in Australia.

    Anyway, enough of my thoughts, that piece was a pleasure to read!

  2. But how long do you give aging players? Rahul has at least had the cushion of India winning a lot of matches. The Aussies are in the same boat with Punter who is adamant that the changearound is just around the corner, but they are not being particularly sucessful as a team..

    Since 2007, Rahul has had 2 years where he’s dipped below 40. Punter has had 4 (so far if you are counting this year).

  3. That piece was indeed a pleasure to read…and has me anticipating more than ever the series in Australia. Only three matches doesn’t seem enough, but this late flowering by Dravid, the promise of Tendulkar’s ‘century’ and Shewag getting into gear really offers something good. Even without Anil Kumble…

  4. Thank you for the kind words.

    Lolly – that is the question!

  5. I donno, somehow I find it strange to read Dravid being described as the best batsman in the world.It is probably true, but I have seen Dravid since age group cricket, and always felt he was an over achiever. I saw VVS play from his teens, and he always looked destined to be the most graceful right handed batsman I ever had the privilege of watching. I am not for even a moment pulling Dravid down, he is a champion.Just that one never expected him to become the best batsman in the world.

    Sachin – actually he has been playing well, but making those silly mistakes against harmless deliveries and getting out. He was shaping up well on atleast two occassions in England when he scored a 50+, but failed to concentrate harder (the credit should go to the England bowlers) and got out when he was well set. Else, he would have ended up with 2 tons against Dravid’s 3, and India would have still lost, I reckon.

    I think Sachin is going to get back to his 2010 form soon, but I hope he retires after the Australia series.And Rahul and VVS too, by end 2012 at least.India needs to move on and these stalwarts have done so much already it will take a generation or two of batsmen to strive very hard to even come closer to what any of them have done.Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, and Pujara are the ones I hope will step in for SRT, VVS, and RD. Gambhir and Sehwag need to stay on for a few more years, manage their fitness, and mentor the young ones.

    With Australia, and India going through transitions, England and SA should really be dominating test cricket in the coming 3-4 years.Gary Kirsten knows the drill. So, I give a slight edge to SA. But Engald obviously seem to be the best team right now, though Pakistan may make things tough for them soon.

  6. And yes, great piece Toots ! I have been missing these posts from you, as the focus seem to be more on the six delivery summaries. I like the summaries, but I like your focused posts even better :)

    • Thank you Kumar – I do need to find time to sustain an argument in a post, rather than just write the six soundbites (though they are fun). This post needed more time thinking and more detail (the VVS post last year had that luxury) byt Dravid’s achievement in passing Bell in 2011 needed marking.

      Re Dravid as best bat in the world, it’s a great strength of our game that talent is so wondefully balanced against technique, temperament and experience and all are so visible to us despite our distance from the action. Dravid is not blessed with genius, but he has everything else in such abundance that it doesn’t matter. That he is a fine man and a credit to cricket is a bonus – but what a bonus!

  7. I was in my early teens when Dravid was in his most fruitful period(or so I thought) between 2001-06. I dreamt of batting for India at number 3 and Dravid was my god.

    For a fan like me, the phase of 2007-09 was very frustrating. With every failure, patience was running out. However, somewhere inside me, I always believed that his form would return sooner rather than later.

    This last year has been brilliantly rewarding. Every innings I watch, he seems to play with the confidence we saw at his peak. Just great to see him succeed. For me, he certainly is India’s and world’s best batsmen at the moment.

    Funnily, even in articles that talk only about Dravid, people end up talking about other greats of the team.

    • The fact that it’s impossible to write of Dravid without setting his work within the team’s context and the play of his colleagues is a fine tribute to the man.

  8. He has the best drive in the game for me. It’s just sublime.

    • Best forward defensive for me – the very definition of positive defence.

      • He has the best edge for me – such soft hands, always taking a few runs behind square, rarely caught in slips even when beaten.

  9. Hi Gary. Great to see you featured in the Guardian Sports Network. Congrats on that one.

    I day say that if you could choose one batsmen to bat for your life in world cricket today, it would be The Wall.

    I don’t remember him manipulating the field in quite the same way earlier in his career. That late cut played down through the slips is an artform in itself.

    Many of the older generation of batsmen don’t seem to adapt to their age and try to play in the same mould as in their prime (I’m looking at you Punter), but not Dravid.

  10. Interesting that Dravid is now 500 runs ahead of Punter and just shy of 13,000 runs now.
    I do wish Punter would get a wriggle on so we can get one last live glimpse of the player he once was. When he sees life’s late flurry’s bequeathed to Sachin and Dravid and even Mr Cricket after all three seemed to be heading for the exit as one point or other he would only be human if he wasn’t a little envious. I do hope that Punter has not pissed off the gods of cricket so much that his end will be a meek one.

    Anyone else think Sachin’s 100th hundred is destined to be in test match 187?

    • Punter has a chance tomorrow – for him and the team, he needs to take it.


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