It is now unanimously agreed that the Golden Age of Indian cricket (which is now officially over) commenced in March 2001 when India beat Australia after following-on in the second Test at Kolkata. From then till June 2006 when India won a series in West Indies for the first time in 35 years on the back of another series-defining performance from Dravid, he was indisputably the leading man of Indian Test cricket. But not many had noticed because of the ridiculous accent on individual-oriented aggregate statistics – the Neanderthal evaluation method in cricket.
Eight out of Dravid’s ten highest impact batting performances of his career are from this period. Two are after this period, interestingly none before it. This tells a very clear story – how Indian cricket changed between 1996 and 2011, and the hugely significant contributions Dravid made towards that change (elaborated best here). As the team began to win Test series against the best teams, then draw (and later win) abroad, Dravid transformed from being a prolific run-scorer to becoming the key element in a world-beating team (Sunil Gavaskar was sadly not fortunate on this count). A legendary batting order was formed around Dravid, two outstanding spinners and two world-class fast bowlers alternated (with some other bowlers producing a performance or two of their lifetimes), all led by the most aggressive captain India had ever had. India gradually became the best Test team in the world, a big achievement considering that it did so on the heels of perhaps the greatest Test team of all-time and an evolving Australian side that dominated world cricket for the longest time in Test history (despite what Fire In Babylon may say).
And yet, Dravid was not considered India’s finest batsman. ODI (One Day International) cricket had a lot to do with it. Sachin Tendulkar’s awe-inspiring consistency in what was perhaps the more popular format (till T20 happened) kept his media and commercial profile higher. Dravid was a very good ODI batsman but not a great one. He even kept wickets for a period to cement his place in the team (ironically, because he excelled with the bat in that period) – and despite some memorable, even legendary performances, overall, this was not his natural habitat. Many of Dravid’s most memorable ODI batting innings did not affect the fortunes of his team as significantly as he was able to do in Test cricket.