A favourite parlour game among cricket fans is to question which batsman one would ask to bat to save one’s life. When Indian cricket fans, in jest or in seriousness, pose this question to themselves, the answer invariably comes down to two names, Sunil Gavaskar and Rahul Dravid. It is a measure of the batting abilities of Mr Dravid that his name is mentioned alongside one of the greatest batsmen the game of cricket has known. There were remarkable similarities between Mr Gavaskar and Mr Dravid in their approach to batting. Both believed that the real foundation of superior batsmanship was technique. They were masters of technique. Mr Dravid, who announced his retirement from international cricket on Friday, was the model of correct batting. He was always rock still as the bowler delivered the ball; he got into position as soon as he had judged the line and the length of the ball and then decided to go into attack or defence. His defence, especially on the front foot and against spinners, was faultless. Against a bowler of the class and accuracy of Glenn McGrath, he was vulnerable on the back foot outside the off stump. But then which batsman wasn’t vulnerable outside the off stump when faced with Mr McGrath’s nagging accuracy? Mr Dravid’s stroke making was classical. He loved to drive through the covers and past mid on. In his batting he conveyed the impression of solidity and he was, for more years than he would care to remember, the sheet anchor of Indian batting.
It was Mr Dravid’s singular misfortune that he played always in the shadow of the genius of Sachin Tendulkar. Mr Dravid did not possess Mr Tendulkar’s breathtaking genius to send an unplayable ball to the boundary. Neither did he have any of Mr Tendulkar’s skills of innovation. But Mr Dravid, because he always played within his limitations, took very few risks. If Mr Tendulkar represented the rhetoric and beauty of batsmanship, Mr Dravid represented the grammar. They were the perfect foils to each other. Yet it is true, albeit ironic, that very few would choose Mr Tendulkar to bat to save someone’s life; many would vote for Mr Dravid. In a crisis, people tend to prefer solidity to excitement.
Mr Dravid was a thinking cricketer. When he went through a bad patch, getting caught in the slips while driving, he noticed the error he was making in his footwork and corrected it at the nets. He took special care to strengthen his talents through practice and through studying the game. He was also extraordinarily fit. This came out in his fielding. He had a safe pair of hands in the slips and, in the outfield, too, he was quick on his feet and accurate in his returns. Mr Dravid, contrary to current fashion, was seldom demonstrative on the field, but the way he played the game made it evident that he enjoyed playing cricket. And he played cricket the way it should be played. His batting and his attitude were reminders of more gracious times.