India has always produced several great batting legends and Rahul Dravid is definitely in the top notches of that list. Despite
making his Test Debut nearly six years after Tendulkar, he did not take time to catch up with the 'Little Master'. By the time Dravid
was in his early thirties, he was regarded at par with the big league with the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Vijay Merchant, Sachin
Tendulkar and others.
The Bangalore batsman made a patchy International ODI debut in the Singer Cup match in 1995-96. But he displayed
an early promise in his first few Test matches. His entry into Test cricket was in remarkable contrast to his ODI debut.
Nothing short of spectacular, I must say. He missed the opportunity to score a century on debut by a whisker, when he
cracked an elegant 95 in the Second Test at Lord's in April '96. The 1996 Debut for the awesome twosome who played
equally well though one (Saurav Ganguly) stole the show because of his magic 3 figures, while Rahul was denied the same,
falling mere 5 runs short.In the next Test at Notthingham, again coming in at number 7, Dravid scored 84, only to be overshadowed
by yet another Ganguly century.
If you can make runs on the English and Australian wickets you are universally regarded as a fine batsman; and Dravid was
already showing signs that he had the technique to adapt against seam and swing, as well as pace and bounce. Ever since
his Test Debut he was quickly stereotyped as a technically sound player capable of stonewalling against world's best bowling attacks.
His ramarkable fitness levels, strength of mind, fierce focus and the ability to adapt to the different conditions enabled him to be the
dependable and resilient batsman that he is today. There was this notion about Dravid being 'soft' . Nothing can be farther from the truth.
Beneath the pleasant exterior lurked a ruthless professional.
The year 1997 started off on a high for Dravid courtesy his maiden century in both the forms of the game. After comming off a slump ,
batting at No. 3 in the third Test in Johannesburg, scored his maiden century with 148 and 81, the top score in each innings to claim his
first Man of the Match award. His first century coming in a Test away from home, was a sign of things to come. Then taking a cue from Saeed
Anwar's feat of 194, Dravid notched up his first century in ODI's, at the Chidambaram stadium in Chennai. Three consecutive fifties against Sri Lanka
and Australia further cemented his stand as a reliable middle-order batsman. His Test average thus spiralled to 61.
Dravid was dropped from the ODI squad in the beginning of 1998. The selectors cited a reson that he wasn't adapting too well
to the shorter version of the game. He scored his second century in late 1998 against Zimbabwe in a one-off Test match, top-scoring
in both the innings with 148 and 44, but was unable to prevent an Indian defeat Two fifties against Australia at home and a century
against Zimbabwe helped Dravid build up an average of 45 by the end of 1998.
Dravid began the year 1999 commendably well with centuries in both the innings in the third Test against New Zealand at
Hamilton. He became the third Indian batsman after Vijay Hazare and Sunil Gavaskar to score centuries in both innings of a match.
He then continued his superb form in the ODI's too which later followed. The New Zealand tour was a mere pre-cursor as Rahul
went on to score two centuries and fifties in the 1999 WC in England thereby shattering a few myths.
Brilliant knocks at Columbo and Mohali ensured him a moderate session in the subcontinent
Four Test centuries that year ensured his Test average for that year was over 48.
This without doubt was his career defining season.
A classical stroke player who effortlessly blended substance with style. It was a treat to watch him play those pulls and cover
drives. Glad that he still creates magic when he steps out to bat. His prowess with the bat was not his sole area of specialization though.
The selfless player that he is, opted to keep wickets to restore the team's balance in ODI's, like a team man to the core.
He transformed himself into an astute finisher in the middle-order,strung together a series of awe-inspiring performances in
Test matches as India crept closer ro their quest of an overseas victory. Saving Tests and winning them became second nature to Dravid.
Greg Chappell has rightly said "History will show that he (Dravid) is one of the best players for anyone, forget India, anywhere, anytime.
He makes runs anywhere and does it consistently"
Dravid has taken every inning seriously. It matters little, whether he's batting on a seaming English wicket or a dead track in the
sub-continent. He just carries on with his job, that is, to score and score heavily at that. The sobriquet 'THE WALL' is accurate as it aptly
conveys the image of a man who does not let off his wicket easliy. Left to him, he would not like to let off his wicket at all. When it comes to
India's number three mainstay, what's in a name you argue. He's not 'God', that three letter word has been associated with Sachin Tendulkar.
So perhaps the reasoning goes , if you must call him something, you might as well call him 'The Wall'. But I personally feel that Dravid is stuck
with that inglorious epithet. 'The Wall' be damned. Rahul Sharad Dravid truly is a hell lot more than that!