Dravid – The Great ‘Wall’ of India

Yahoo cricket editorial blogs

Seaming conditions, the opposition has an outstanding pace attack, the team is down 0-1 in the series and it's up to the batsmen to build on the bowling attack's good work, and the team needs a volunteer to open the batting as one of the opening batsmen is injured. Sounds like pressure and a lot of work ahead? For most batsmen in international cricket probably, but not if your name is Rahul Sharad Dravid.

Dravid has already done it all half through the second of the four-Test series against England - he donned the wicket-keeping gloves at Lord's as India skipper MS Dhoni wanted to have a bowl, he has already faced 548 balls in the series to hold the Indian batting together, and in the absence of the injured Gautam Gambhir, the Indore-born batsman batted at the top of the order at Trent Bridge.

Dravid and VVS Laxman survived a testing final hour on the first day's play, but both started in an aggressive fashion on the second day as conditions veered towards being "batting-friendly" with the sun peeping out before being circumspect in the face of some probing bowling from England's seamers. Laxman though looked more at ease in the middle hitting some well-timed boundaries as he scored yet another Test half-century; but Dravid didn't seem to be at his fluent best and got himself in a tangle a few times in the first session.

That, however, is the sign of a true champion - the ability to bounce back after absorbing the early blows. And, that's exactly what Dravid did even as India lost Sachin Tendulkar and Suresh Raina early in the post-lunch session yesterday. Dravid and Yuvraj Singh, who was making yet another Test comeback, then added 128 runs for the fifth wicket to help India edge into the lead. Yuvraj was lucky to be put down by Kevin Pietersen when on 4 (he eventually made 62), but his presence helped Dravid as he continued to hold one end up.

Rahul Dravid celebrates scoring his 34th Test century on the second day of the Trent Bridge Test.

Dravid was compact in his defence, his concentration was impeccable, he easily picked the balls that could be scored off, and got on with business even when he was beaten. The beauty of Dravid's knock was that it exemplified the need for good technique and strong powers of concentration in the Twenty20 era. Players like Dravid make batting look easy even in bowler-friendly conditions and it's such moments that are forever ingrained in the opposition and spectators' memory. Good batsmen also know when to take advantage of a potential weakness in a bowling attack, and Dravid being one of the all-time greats, changed gears when Graeme Swann, arguably the best spin bowler in world cricket currently came on to bowl. Dravid hit five boundaries, including the one that brought up his 34th Test century, as he scored 42 runs in the 37 balls he faced from Swann. He has joined batting greats Sunil Gavaskar and Brian Lara on 34 Test centuries and only Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis and Ricky Ponting have scored more hundreds in Test cricket.  That apart, he is also currently the second-highest run-scorer in Test cricket.

With his compact technique, it is no surprise that Dravid has scored 20 of his 34 Test centuries away from home; and he has a tremendous batting record in most of the Test cricket playing countries. Dravid averages 50.75 in Test cricket at home; his corresponding away figures are: in Australia 48.60; in Bangladesh 70; in England 73.18; in New Zealand 63.83; in Pakistan 78.57; in West Indies 65.69 and in Zimbabwe 79.16. The only two countries where Dravid has struggled to score runs in are South Africa and Sri Lanka, where he averages 29.71 and 33.10 respectively.

Dravid scored 117 in 235 balls and spent 371 minutes at the crease in India's first innings at Trent Bridge and only got support from Laxman and Yuvraj as the world's No. 1 Test team took a slender 67-run lead, which could prove to be an important statistics in the final outcome of the second Test. This century was Dravid's second of the Test series against England and his third in five Tests following his 112 in Jamaica last month. At the end of the second day's play at Trent Bridge, Dravid admitted it was one of his better hundreds as he said: "It was quite satisfying as this was a tough wicket to play on, it was a good quality bowling attack and the ball swung for the whole day. As long as I was there I was determined to try and make it count and keep fighting away."

Dravid plays a shot

Dravid described his 117 at Trent Bridge as one of his better centuries in Test cricket.

And, fight away, Dravid certainly did as he overcame a couple of painful blows to his arm as well as cramps apart from the initial difficult phase early in his marathon innings when the England bowlers worked him over and out. He though knew for most part of his knock, the deliveries he needs to play at and the ones that can be left alone - without good technique that's just not possible and it's a facet of Dravid's batting that England skipper Andrew Strauss and his team would like to emulate in their second innings at Trent Bridge. That aspect of Dravid's batting, and in fact, his entire batting ethos also needs to be emulated by his own team-mates, who have failed to adjust to the testing conditions in England so far. If it weren't for Dravid, India would undoubtedly have been forced to follow-on at Lord's; and at Trent Bridge it was his courage, discipline, concentration and technique that helped the visitors take an important first innings lead. He was calmness personified until he tried to play the first truly extravagant shot of his knock after Stuart Broad had taken a hat-trick. In an effort to counter attack, Dravid hit an uppercut to Alastair Cook at third man with Tim Bresnan being the successful bowler as he was the ninth Indian wicket to fall in the first innings.

Dravid has been under the radar for most of his international career even as his other teammates have been in the spotlight. But, that's just the way this soft-spoken legend, who is a role model for generations to come prefers it. He is more than happy to let his bat do the talking for him and pleasingly is back to his best after being below-par in South Africa earlier in the year. Dravid is undoubtedly the Great 'Wall' of India and as long as he is in the middle, the team and his fans can rest easy and treat themselves to watching one of the all-time greats in action putting on batting masterclasses even as opposition skippers and bowlers continue to strategise on the best way possible in which to breach his defence.