England v India, 4th npower Test, The Oval, 4th day August 21, 2011

Dravid stops the clocks with magnificent defiance

At the very last gasp of a series that began with such expectation, we're finally seeing the India that the crowds have flocked to witness

At the very last gasp of a series that began with such expectation, we're finally seeing the India that the crowds have flocked to witness. On a day when England's victory surge was slowed but never halted, Rahul Dravid stopped the clocks around The Oval with a performance to rival any of the ground's great farewells of the past.

He's not gone yet, of course, but he's going - just as Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman are heading over the brow of the hill, and just as Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble are already waiting in the pantheon of Indian cricket. At the age of 38, Dravid will not be returning to England as a player, the country where it all began for him 15 years and four tours ago, and poignantly his defiance on this fourth day might not make a jot of difference in the final analysis of a humbling series. However, for as long as it lasted - seven-and-a-quarter hours spread across two consecutive innings - it was arguably the most magnificent sight of the summer.

Immense batting performances have been two-a-penny in an extraordinary season for statistics, but somehow the sheer weight of England's numbers have numbed the senses a touch. We've had the dour from Alastair Cook and the delightful from Ian Bell; the crushing from Kevin Pietersen and the capable from Eoin Morgan. At too many moments, however, the accompanying air has been one of surrender, belched out from an Indian attack that has lacked the fitness, discipline and depth to remain threatening for more than a few isolated spells at a time.

Dravid, on the other hand, has faced the real deal all summer long. The tenacity of England's bowlers has been a central plank of their success, with India yet to make a score in excess of 300 in seven completed innings - the sort of figure that Sehwag used to rack up in a day. Dravid alone has held firm with a fearlessness that has both shamed those team-mates who have been incapable of carrying the fight, and reminded the series' many onlookers of what could and should have been.

Only seven batsmen in history have carried their bat through a completed Test innings and straight into the follow-on. The last man to do so was Desmond Haynes in 1991, also at The Oval, although his feat was something of a fait accompli, given the dramatic speed with which West Indies' tail succumbed to Phil Tufnell - 6 for 4 in 33 deliveries all told. India fared considerably better than that, but to make Dravid's innings even more extraordinary, he was only opening the batting because Gautam Gambhir was suffering from concussion. "I felt I was in the flow," he said. "Mentally I was ready for it."

Dravid's shots, when he chose to play them, simmered to the boundary with a defiance that harked back to a bygone era. It was as if the match had been rewound to the turn of the Millennium, to a time just before India's great awakening, when such incredible feats of endurance were accompanied by the wonder of what might be possible, rather than the complacency of what's since been accomplished.

"It's sad for us that, collectively, we've all had a tough tour," said Dravid. "That hasn't happened to us for a long time, where all the batsmen have failed. People do have bad tours, but this time we haven't clicked as a unit. No-one's going out there trying not to succeed, everyone's been working hard, but we've just been found wanting against a better team."

The last hurrah of India's titans was never meant to be like this. "England v Dravid, the Wall," was how one placard in the crowd chose to rebrand this contest, and in a summer in which his final average of 76.83 is more than double (and in most cases treble) that of any of his misfiring team-mates, the sentiment could not have been clearer.

"There will be mixed feelings," said Dravid. "There's a sense of satisfaction at the quality of the way I've played, because I've always enjoyed batting and playing cricket, and competing and getting the best of myself. I continue to try to do that, irrespective of my age and the situation I'm in. I'm still hoping we will be able to draw the Test match, but when you get a hundred and don't end up winning, it doesn't feel nice. I hadn't experienced it too much in my career [until this tour], so you experience something new all the time."

Instead of reaffirming their greatness in a tussle for the ages, India's ageing side has been reduced to a slow, sad routine of standing ovations that have become more wistful at every new venue. Sachin Tendulkar, 35 not out overnight and frozen since the World Cup on 99 international hundreds, has one last opportunity in this series to tick off a landmark that has lingered like a gypsy's curse. A rare fifth-day sell-out crowd will pile through the turnstiles expecting a dose of instant history, but the context of the achievement is in danger of being misplaced amid the chaos of India's campaign. There are too many vital issues that need resolution once this series is over, and a misleading dose of euphoria would be unhelpful to say the least.

For that reason, among others, Dravid's fourth-day interjection was pitch-perfect. After all, he's the man India's fans have never fully appreciated, despite being the absolute bedrock of all the good times to which they've been treated. Therefore who better to deliver such a damning verdict on the status quo?

He did so first in deed with his run-making but then in word at the end-of-day press conference. The coming generation has, he said, "a lot of talent and ball-striking ability", a euphemism if ever there was one. But in terms of the skills, discipline and fitness levels that England brought to bear on the series, he added, "we were not up to scratch. This is a mental game; it is about the space of the mind."

Dravid's four tours of England read like bullet points for the waxing and waning of India's golden generation. On that first trip in 1996, India were the support act in every sense, overshadowed by the summer's top billing, the Wasim-and-Waqar-powered Pakistan, and bumped aside by a Nasser Hussain century in their solitary defeat at Edgbaston. Six years later, they were under-rated but on the rise, and when England were routed by an innings on a seamer's deck in Headingley, it was Dravid's outstanding 148 that laid the foundations for everything that followed.

In 2007, the context was markedly different. India expected, and duly delivered, with their first series win in England for 21 years. But Dravid, now captain, had a troubling personal tour which hit rock-bottom in the final Test at The Oval, where he made 12 from 96 balls to kill the contest stone-dead and so preserve a precious 1-0 lead. He was instantly vilified for his lack of ambition, but on the contrary, such bloodymindedness merely proved how much he cared. As this subsequent tour has demonstrated, overseas glory can be a rare and precious thing.

On Sunday at The Oval, Dravid was at it once again. It was a transformed context, but that same unyielding resolve was firmly in situ. "The time I've spent away from the tour training, and the fitness work I've done has obviously paid off," he said. "I'm tired, but obviously when you are doing well, you are not that tired. I'd rather have it this way than any other way."

How the game will miss him when he's gone.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 23, 2011, 8:48 GMT

    Dravid is a great and it is a shame that the public never understood what role he had in the scheme of things. And let us not go overboard in bashing Tendulkar and Laxman for having failed. Both of them were not at their best but are greats in their own right. Be like Dravid in reacting, slow to criticise and quick to praise.

    Let's hope Tendulkar gets his hundredth ton in the ODI to follow. That he was out to a stupid LBW in the second innings is not his fault. He could have reduced he scoreline to 3-0 rather than 4-0.

    Team India needs to plan much better if they have to claw back to the top once again. With aging superstars and a young brigade without the ability to fight it out, it's a tough ask. Hopefully, our fears will be unfounded.

  • Vijay Anand on August 22, 2011, 15:25 GMT

    Well done, Mr. Dravid. Time to hail the stalwarts of Indian cricket like Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman and Kumble who have proved time and again of their caliber when it comes to saving, winning and contributing immensely to the Indian test cricket team. Instead of questioning their age, it is high time that the likes of (swashbuckling youngsters) Raina, Kholi, Dhoni and Yuvaraj put up their hands and stand up to Test cricket.

    Indian selectors should not panic and chop off these seniors just as yet. They need to take hard decisions on the youngsters. Hope, this is one very very bad series in the transition of Indian cricket.

  • Harsh on August 22, 2011, 15:05 GMT

    The best Indian batting performance I have ever seen by an Indian batsman in England,overshadowing the likes of Tendulkar,Vengsarkar, and Gavaskar.

  • Dummy4 on August 22, 2011, 13:04 GMT

    @krishna raj: perfectly right. Dravid has been the base of indian cricket around which the greats, stalwarts have stood..if someone doubts, they should check the records..he's been involved in more than 80 "100" run partnership and some 16 of them are with Tendulkar itself so it itself proves the credibility that he brings with himself. I pity him because if he was in any other team he would have been most valuable player..look at jayawardene, kallis, atapattu, they were all slammed for playing slow but they are the pillars of their nation but here since every batsman becomes a start playing on hard wickets which boasts more than 300 runs even 20-20 crickets..dravid sorry to say has not got his dues...bid adieu dravid...it was right decision on your part to retire from one day cricket or else these mean management would have again used you for one day in england thrown you in dust when the shameless indian team touched the subcontinent shore..

  • Dummy4 on August 22, 2011, 12:59 GMT

    Dravid is one of the worlds greatest up their with the best -like Lara, Waugh, Kallis, Gavaskar, Sachin. To me he is the greatest Indian batsman when it comes to playing outside Asia....and he is greater team man than anyone including Sachin who never moves outside his number 2 or opening slots in one dayers...

  • vinay on August 22, 2011, 12:58 GMT

    @Aravind_classy, did you ask him that? Its been long known fact that Laxman loves to bat at number 3. Its for that only reason why Sachin did not bat at 3. And when Sachin did not open in 2007 WC , we all know what happened.. Dravid and Sachin are both good..we should be proud.. just because Sachin failed in one series that does not mean any one else has become greater!!

  • Dummy4 on August 22, 2011, 12:31 GMT

    @criciindia Yep your boys are a real set of world beaters, fearless and brave! Don't you take any notice of this series. You just remember what the pinnacle of the game is. What is it by the way, I have forgotten?

  • Nitin on August 22, 2011, 12:27 GMT

    For me Rahul Dravid is not only India's greatest batsman of all time, but our greatest cricketer as well. No batsman has won and saved us more matches, no batsman has been so selfless.. Hamilton, Johannesberg, Adelaide, Headingly, Karachi, Kolkata, Perth, the last 2 WI tours.. Thats not even counting his other GREAT performances

    He has shown that he is superior to all the other so called greats in his team.

    Thankyou Sir. ThankYou for the great memories!

  • Dummy4 on August 22, 2011, 12:22 GMT


    And what is the reality?

    I am really surprised how short memory people have? Do you happen to remember Mr VIP's last test series BTW?

  • Dummy4 on August 22, 2011, 12:18 GMT

    Dravid is GEM , The wall proved it again i think he is the great player than sachin no doubt in that he can play any condition he got out without any evidence in the second innings or else he would hv scored his 4th century of the series.One moe thing if sachin scores 1oo tmrw that will be big news all over bcz his 1ooth ton but no one knows dravid sealed 3 hundreds in the series.bcz of sachin only dravid cornered.All the best rahul we love you.

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