India were in midst of their horror overseas run that lasted from 2011 to 2012. 3-0 down to England, India scratched and crawled their way to the Kennington Oval, rather reluctantly. As they tried their best to move up the ladder with their bruised, distressed hands, to salvage some pride, the English batsmen stomped on them hard, forcing the Indian players into resignation.
But there was still one man, who had some fight left in him. He hoped that if he dug it out, his team had a chance at salvation. No prizes for guessing who that man was.
India were a tad unlucky with the spate of injuries that the players suffered during the course of the series. It got worse as Gautam Gambhir suffered a concussion while attempting to catch Kevin Pietersen. India had to shuffle their batting order.
Rahul Dravid was “promoted” to the opening position again. In hindsight, it wouldn’t have been much different had Dravid stayed at No.3, for India lost Sehwag in the first over of the match to Anderson. And then the cricketing world was witness to one of the great Test innings played in vain.
Rahul Dravid was 38 during the tour – in the twilight of his career. But he took us back on a journey, a journey of defiance, of valour, of determination. It was a sight to behold for ardent Indian cricket fans as it was a throwback to India’s impressive overseas performances in the previous decade.
After India’s meek surrender in the first three Tests, akin to Indian cricket overseas in the 1990s, it was an even more delightful sight to see one dogged, indefatigable man, battling it out, hoping to redeem some lost pride for his country.
Dravid’s nearly 7 hour and 266 balls vigil, amounted to 146 runs, almost half of the team’s total of 300. Everyone around him failed. Sehwag did a Sehwag, Laxman was gone plodding at a ball outside off, Sachin scratched his way to an ugly 20 odd, Raina struggled against pace and spin with equal aplomb, Dhoni was clueless, so was Gambhir (a blow to the head had ensured it).
But Dravid stuck to the crease. He left and defended with assurance. A few balls whizzed past his outside edge, but he didn’t let it upset his rhythm. Anytime he chose to play his shots, it was as if someone had switched on a highlight reel of the era gone by.
As India made their first score of 300 in the series, they were still way short of the follow on mark. Alastair Cook enforced the follow-on, and Dravid became only the 7th batsman in Test history to carry his bat straight into the follow-on. What made the feat even more extraordinary was that he was opening only because India’s regular opener was suffering from a concussion.
As he walked out to bat in the 2nd innings and the crowd in Kenington Oval was on its feet applauding a special feat, it was almost as if the man was finally getting the recognition he deserved over the past 15 years. It was anticlimactic that Dravids’ was the first wicket to fall in the 2nd innings, to a dodgy DRS decision.
The England-India series of 2011 had a fair share of great batsmanship throughout the series from the English batsmen. Kevin Pietersen’s belligerence, Matt Prior’s rearguards, Ian Bell‘s delightfully classy tons, Alastair Cook’s marathon (almost) triple ton and Eoin Morgan’s fiesty knock.
With all due respect to their achievements, these innings were against an insipid, uninspired Indian bowling attack that lacked discipline, skills and enthusiasm. It was Rahul Dravid who was facing the real deal all summer. His 3 tons were against bowlers in the peak of their powers and visibly dominant over the rest of the batsmen.
Though England won 4-0, and though the English batsmen were bloating their averages with exceptional ease, it was Rahul Dravid’s endurance, bloodymindedness and intestinal fortitude that was the story of the summer. The overseas hero had lived up to his name, again.
As Rahul Dravid turns 41 today, this was my tribute to one of his greatest performances in his extremely successful Test career. Here is wishing the legend, the greatest Test match player for India and one of the most gentlemanly cricketers ever, a very Happy Birthday.