June 24, 2011

Welcome back Rahul Dravid

His overseas performances had fallen significantly over the last four years, but his performance at Sabina Park suggests he is ready for a scrap once again

The last four years have been difficult for the batsman who had set such ridiculously high standards for himself in Test cricket, but the Kingston game should go a long way in answering the questions which have been raised about Rahul Dravid and his batting in the last few years. It's also the perfect start in a season which is likely to be crucial for him and for Indian cricket, with tours to England and Australia lined up within the next six months.

Dravid obviously needs to thank Darren Sammy for putting down a regulation chance in the slips when he had scored only 6, but he was also skilful enough to offer no further chances on a pitch on which no other batsman looked comfortable. In this one innings alone, Dravid scored almost as many as he did in six innings in the Test series in South Africa last season.

More than any other batsman in the Indian team, Dravid is the one who is most used to grinding his way through tough conditions, but over the last few years that's exactly what had been missing from his batting. In his last 16 series before this one, Dravid had averaged less than 26 in six of them, including twice in South Africa and Sri Lanka, and once in England. Dravid had always been India's jewel in overseas conditions, which is why these failures were particularly galling. (The only good overseas series he had during this period was in New Zealand, when he averaged 62.80.) Combine these failures abroad with 60-plus averages in two series against Bangladesh, and one each at home against New Zealand and a weak Sri Lankan attack, and it seemed that Dravid's USP had suddenly deserted him.

A comparison between his numbers during these four-and-a-half years and the previous such period brings out the stark contrast in his overseas numbers. There isn't much to choose between his home stats, but on tours his average between 2002 and 2006 was more than twice his recent average. In 30 overseas Tests then he scored ten centuries; now it reduced to two from 26, and even those two hundreds came in Bangladesh. In fact, the last time Dravid scored an overseas hundred against a team other than Bangladesh was on India's last tour to the West Indies five years ago, when he made 146 in St Lucia. Since then he went 47 innings without a hundred, which is an awfully long time for a batsman of his class.

Rahul Dravid in Tests between Apr 2002 and Nov 2006
  Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Overall 49 4720 68.40 14/ 22
Home 19 1560 55.71 4/ 9
Away 30 3160 77.07 10/ 13
Away excl. Zim and B'desh 26 2825 76.35 9/ 11
Rahul Dravid in Tests between Dec 2006 and May 2011
  Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Overall 46 3014 39.65 8/ 13
Home 20 1518 48.96 6/ 4
Away 26 1496 33.24 2/ 9
Away excl. Zim and B'desh 22 1165 29.12 0/ 8

Dravid's century at Sabina Park also reconfirmed his ability to score big runs at No.3 after the early loss of the first wicket. In this case, M Vijay fell without a run on the board, which means there was a fair amount of pressure when he came in to bat, despite India's first-innings lead.

At his peak, Dravid used to pride himself on the ability to come in early, soak up the pressure of the new ball and fresh bowlers, and then build a huge score brick by painstaking brick. Of late, though, he had lost that ability somewhat. The table below shows his performances at No.3 sorted by the score at which he came in to bat, and it's clear that he scored most of his runs only when the openers had put together a solid partnership. In the 30 innings when the first wicket fell at 20 or less, Dravid averaged only 30.79, with five 50-plus scores. On the other hand, when the openers have put together more than 75, Dravid's average has soared to 60.50, with five centuries.

That's a far cry from how it used to be during Dravid's pomp. Between April 2002 and November 2006, Dravid came in to bat early 38 times, and averaged an incredible 69.44. In those 38 innings, 17 times he scored fifty or more, including six centuries. That includes the unforgettable 148 at Headingley in 2002, and his 270 in Rawalpindi in 2004, which helped India clinch the series.

During that period between 2002 and 2006, Dravid won seven of his 11 Man-of-the-Match awards. Between the two Kingston matches in 2006 and 2011, the only he won the prize was against New Zealand in Nagpur in 2010. The challenge for Dravid will be to continue this form, for over the next eight months, there will surely be many more games in which conditions will be tough for batting, and where his class could make the decisive difference.

Rahul Dravid at No.3 between Dec 2006 and May 2011, by point-of-entry score
Entry score Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
20 or less 30 893 30.79 2/ 3
21 to 75 22 817 38.90 1/ 7
Greater than 75 19 1089 60.50 5/ 2
Total 71 2799 41.16 8/ 12

Dravid's runs obviously tell the story of his skill and his immense contribution for India, but it doesn't tell how many runs he has helped other batsmen score. His ability to occupy the crease for long periods and his sheer solidity have allowed other batsmen to express themselves freely and add plenty of runs to the team's cause.

As the table below shows, no batsman has been involved in as many partnership runs as Dravid. Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting have scored more runs, but they also tend to bat more aggressively and dominate partnerships. Dravid, on the other hand, is the anchor who doesn't mind playing second fiddle to other, more high-profile strokeplayers. Only, when the conditions get really difficult, like they did at Sabina Park, Dravid is the one who usually takes centrestage. That had changed for a while over the last few years, but all of India will be hoping - given what lies ahead for the team - that normal service has been restored.

Partnership runs for all batsmen in the 10,000 club
Batsman Own runs Partnership runs Percentage
Rahul Dravid 12,215 29,420 41.52
Sachin Tendulkar 14,692 28,794 51.02
Jacques Kallis 11,947 25,540 46.78
Ricky Ponting 12,363 24,898 49.65
Allan Border 11,174 24,500 45.61
Steve Waugh 10,927 23,457 46.58
Brian Lara 11,953 21,495 55.61
Sunil Gavaskar 10,122 21,080 48.02

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo