Not Brian Lara, Steve Waugh or Sachin Tendulkar - This is Rahul Dravid, ‘The Wall'. By Colin Croft
A few years ago, when they were all still playing Tests, I was asked while doing commentary: "Crofty, if you had to choose between Steve Waugh, Brian Lara or Sachin Tendulkar to bat to save your life, which one would you go for?" What a very difficult question that is! As Trinbagonians like to say: "Yuh askin' answers or whuh'?"...
But this is not ‘Jeopardy', and my answer is not in the given choices. As brilliant as these three have been - and only Sachin is still playing - I could not select any of them if Rahul Sharad Dravid might also be available. If my back were against the wall in cricket, I would want to be protected by ‘The Wall'.
Stephen Rodger Waugh was as ruthless, intense and stubborn as they come, and I have witnessed that first hand: you cannot make 10,927 runs; 168 Tests, avg. 51.06, by some fluke. While covering the series in Jamaica, 1995 (Steve was not yet captain) and with West Indies straining desperately like an ageing fighter to keep hold of its Test championship, I witnessed Steve Waugh in his pomp - 200 no at Sabina Park - grinding that championship back to Australia.
Like India v England now (Test No. 2 being played at Trent Bridge, rated No. 1 v No. 2), West Indies v Australia back in 1995 was for everything. Whichever team won would be World Champions.
Australia had already won Test No. 1 of that series in Bridgetown by 10 wickets, while Test No. 2 at the venerable Antigua Recreation Ground was a good, even draw. West Indies won Test No. 3 at Queens Park Oval, with Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Kenny and Winston Benjamin getting all 20 Australian wickets, Ambrose getting nine and Walsh six in the game. Sabina Park was to be the decider.
The present West Indian selector Courtney Brown, as wicket-keeper on his Test debut, dropped Steve on 42 - it was described as ‘the simplest catch he would ever drop' - and Steve never looked back. Mark Waugh made 126, Steve a magnificent career-best 200 no, and Shane Warne and Paul Reiffel (four wickets each) cleaned up.
West Indies lost the game by an innings, the series 2-1, and World Championship - all in one dreadful moment. I remember seeing grown, very senior, even veteran members of the West Indies crying long, open tears. It was as if they knew that the baton had been dropped for what is now more than 15 years.
If Steve Waugh was tough, Brian Charles Lara's statistics and style were quite different. Brian was there to lose in 1995 to Australia too, but his 375 (gaining that batting record from Sir Gary Sobers) v England in 1994, or 400 no, also v England 2004, and also at ARG, are still stand-out beacons for batsmen anywhere.
Lara's statistics are to be marvelled at too: 131 Tests; 11953 runs; avg. 52.88. Truly amazing. As already suggested, Lara's 153 no, in 311-9, to beat Australia in 1999 was his best innings ever. His best series by far though, for pistols-drawn and deep-in-the-trenches batsmanship, had to be Sri Lanka, 2001. If you ever get a chance, just buy the DVDs of that series: it is incredible.
Lara made 688 runs in 3 Tests; 178 and 40 (1st), 74 and 45 (2nd) and 221 and 130. West Indies still lost every game badly; by 10 wickets, 131 runs and 10 wickets - it was not even close - but that series confirmed that BCL was a full batting genius, despite Chaminda Vaas and Mauttiah Maralitheran.
And what can one say about Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar that has not been said already? His is another story altogether. According to cricinfo, he is ‘perhaps the most complete batsman and most worshipped cricketer in the world.' This guy has more batting records than some people had lunches! After Lord's last weekend he had played 178 Tests, 14738 runs, average 56.68. Just for dessert, he also has 18,111 runs from 453 ODIs, average 45.16. This is about his Tests and real class - what a player!
The first time I saw him bat in person, Sachin was actually captain, QPO, 1997. He made 88 and was run out. I would never forget the crowd's reaction when he made his first stroke, a caress that exploded for four through extra cover. Everyone stood and applauded, and some shed tears when he was dismissed.
One number that gave me a great laugh on reviewing Sachin's batting résumé, was that ‘only' 63,097 Facebook users had ‘liked' it. This guy already has 99 centuries, and will probably add that so-far-elusive century of centuries in this present series, and that's all the following he has? Nah man!
Yet even with the excellence of these players, I would still go for the security of ‘The Wall' to look after my back.
Rahul Dravid is not about flash. He plays his cricket to be as efficient, effective and productive as it can be. While the world has directed many praises at Sachin, Rahul has, under the radar, managed to upstage him in a sense. He is always there, takes whatever comes, and fights to the end. Always.
He is described by cricinfo as ‘probably the last classical Test match batsman, that most pragmatic and grounded of men, a colossus of a cricketer in his own right. Even with his pedigree, he has never fussed about conducting his own cricket under the great shadow of Sachin Tendulkar!' Absolutely!
Made in the mould of England's Geoff Boycott, Australia's Greg Chappell or Pakistan's Majid Khan, Dravid has always put a great premium on his wicket. These players hardly ever gave bowlers any chances.
Dravid made his 33rd Test century last week, 103 no at Lord's, when India were in deep trouble. He always bats well when his team needs it most. His trademark first Test of the series century, at Sabina Park last month against West Indies, won India that series too.
Rahul is the most reliable batsman India had had since Dulip Sardesai or Sunil Gavaskar. His hundred at Lord's last week also appeased a hunger for one at that great ground. When he made his debut there in 1996 he made 95, while the other debutant, Saurav Ganguly, made 131!
Like Shiv Chanderpaul, who has done similarly for West Indies, ‘The Wall' has stopped the world's bowlers by batting at any number in the line-up. He batted at No. 7 on debut, and now, in this Second Test against England at Trent Bridge, he is opening. No other batsman for any team in recent memory, with perhaps the exception of England coach Andy Flower, has been as useful a batsman.
For real batting security, I always would jump on ‘The Wall', Rahul Dravid. Enjoy!