Top Performer July 5, 2006

Standing on guard

He might not have made the mountain of runs that Gavaskar manged, but Dravid, throughout the series, was outstanding. In the final Test at Kingston he was plain awesome



Rahul Dravid pitched a tent on a wicket which would have made most batsmen look the other way © AFP

In 1971, when India last won a Test series in the Caribbean, Lord Relator composed a calypso specifically for that series with the constant refrain, "It was Gavaskar, the real master, just like a wall, we couldn't out Gavaskar at all; not at all, you know the West Indies couldn't out Gavaskar at all." Thirty five years later, when India triumphed in the West Indies, you could sing the same calypso and just interchange Gavaskar with Dravid. He might not have made the mountain of runs that Gavaskar manged, but Dravid, throughout the series, was outstanding. In the final Test at Kingston he was plain awesome.

With the series on the line, on a dodgy track against outstanding bowling, he delivered. On a surface where nobody appeared at home, he pitched a tent. When asked about Dravid's twin fifties, Brian Lara said he hadn't seen the like. Dravid himself admitted that they were two of his best innings. For technique, application and determination, you may struggle to find two such performances in a Test.

The first morning was a struggle. Dravid could manage only 13 off 69 balls, in a session where 29 runs were scored at exactly a run an over. The ball was seaming off the pitch, bouncing awkwardly and stopping on the batsmen. None of this fazed Dravid. He read the length early, got fully back or fully forward and, most importantly, played late. When in trouble, he loosened the grip on the bottom hand. In a setting where the rest of the batsmen were exposed, Dravid thrived.

The second innings was a masterclass. He came out more positive and made light of the variable bounce that was undoing all the others. Staggeringly, he looked in trouble just once and didn't hesitate to play his strokes at the slightest opportunity. He appeared a bit more intense as well - exaggerating his defence just a bit more and leaving with complete authority. Until he got a shooter from Corey Collymore, the lack of bounce hardly appeared to matter as Dravid's masterful technique came to the fore.

Dravid has played such innings in the past - 148 at Headingley , in mid 2002, made under leaden skies with the ball jagging around; and 76 at Wellington , in late 2002, made on a juicy pitch against the swinging ball. Yet, with all factors considered, these two fifties will probably be two of his best efforts in a Test. For examples of captains' innings, look no further.

What they say

"His batting throughout the series has been excellent. He led by example, I spoke to him after his innings and I don't think I have seen a better innings, or two innings put together, on such a surface." - Brian Lara's view on the two innings.

What he says

"These couple of innings are probably two of the best I have played. It gave me a lot of satisfaction. It was not an easy wicket to bat, you needed a bit of luck, you are going to get beaten a few times, and you may nick one early on. One of the keys on this wicket is to get fully forward and fully back, to play as late as possible and with soft hands."

What you may not know

When Dravid was dismissed in the first innings, caught behind off Collymore, he wasn't mopping about the ball he got. Instead he said he hadn't got fully forward and needed to have done better.

What the future holds

There is already a case for calling Dravid the greatest Indian batsman of all time. He's scored in all conditions, under all opposition and that too consistently. Even with the pressures of captaincy, he's managed eleven 50-plus scores in 12 Tests. A few more years of this and there will be a case of calling him one of the greatest batsmen of all time. The next year-and-a-half will be crucial as India test themselves against the might of South Africa, England and Australia, all away from home.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo