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.