The game of cricket is the battle between bat and ball. It is about who loses patience first; that determines the winner. Rahul Dravid was the master at staying patient for long, long periods of time. He won the battles more often.
Good bowlers are able to put pressure on a batsman, no matter how good, and draw him out of his comfort zone. How tough was Dravid? Dravid was so patient, he made you bowl to him. Because he did not give his wicket away easily, you had to be incredibly disciplined against him in line and length to get the better of him. That was easier said than done. It is easy to assume, like many other fast bowlers might have done, that you could settle into one line against Dravid, as opposed to someone like Sehwag, who can easily distract you with his penchant for strokes. But Dravid, being a very disciplined player, was never easy to lure. He had a set way of playing; he would always wait for a bowler to make a mistake, unlike Sehwag, who tries to take it to the bowler. So he complemented the more aggressive batsmen in the Indian batting line-up perfectly. He brought stability to their batting order, which was full of stroke-makers like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly.
He was a rock-solid player, someone who valued his wicket, someone against whom you knew you were in for a real hard task to knock him over. He could judge whether to play or leave the ball, especially early in his innings. He knew where his off stump was; that is an important asset to have for a top-order batsman.
Dravid always had a simple game plan and he stuck to it. It comes back to patience: he had the patience to grind out long innings and wait for the right ball to hit. He had his specific shots that he wanted to play, and he would wait for the bowler to pitch in the area where he was comfortable playing an attacking shot. That made him very difficult to get out.
The two best examples of how we lost the battle of wearing him down came in 2001 in Kolkata and 2003 in Adelaide. Both were good batting pitches. Our plan on both occasions was to be patient ourselves and stick to good bowling areas. Certainly in Adelaide there was good bounce and carry, and we thought that if we stuck to our plans we could get anyone out. But the way Dravid played, essentially he was more patient than us bowlers. We became impatient, especially when he scored that double-century, because we could not get him out, and that made us go away from our game plan. That in turn worked for him because his plan was to wait for the bowler to lose his patience.
"Many might call him a defensive batsman in the mould of a Jacques Kallis or a Michael Atherton, but Dravid ranks up there with the great batsmen of the game. To simply refer to him as a defensive player is selling him short as a batsman"
Some might say our bowling attack in Adelaide was not as strong as the one in Kolkata, but I was leading a very good bowling attack and we believed we could dominate the Indians. However, at the end of the day we were just not good enough against Dravid. It was good old-fashioned hard work, which he put in successfully and we did not.
I cannot recall beating Dravid more than one ball in a row. I remember in Adelaide, in the first innings, at one point I decided to have a real go at him and bowl a few short deliveries. He was ducking them pretty comfortably, and then suddenly he played a hook shot. It was a sort of top edge, it went for a six, and he got to his first hundred. I was pretty devastated. That was an example of when I decided to move away from my game plan and he was well settled at the crease and took me on confidently.
In 2001 when we went to India, we started off nicely in Mumbai by winning the Test comfortably. In Kolkata, having forced them to follow on, we felt we had won the game, having picked up early wickets during their second innings. Dravid and Laxman together, we knew they were very good players, but we thought if we kept at them, they wouldn't be able to deal with the pressure. But they counterattacked perfectly. I remember Dravid just playing in the V with a very straight bat and providing wonderful support to Laxman. It was a wonderful piece of batting from both players and we could not dislodge them.
At the end of that fourth day when we returned to the dressing room with Dravid and Laxman unbeaten, we were like, "Wow, what just happened?" We were a little stunned and very disappointed. We knew we were just one ball away from getting one of their wickets, but we couldn't produce that one ball. We knew these guys had done something special and we had to respect their performance.
We all learn. On that 2001 trip, our fast bowlers' plan was to bowl in the channel outside the off stump, get the Indian batsmen playing on one side of the wicket, and create opportunities that way. But we realised that Indian pitches were a lot flatter and slower and our plan would work only on bouncier tracks. In 2004, when we returned to India, we accounted for that and changed our lines to bowling a lot straighter and looking to hit the stumps every time. That worked, and it was one time that even Dravid was circumspect and vulnerable.
The special thing about Dravid was that when he got a bad ball, he would be waiting for it and he had the ability to put it away. He did not miss those opportunities to score. That is sometimes the difference between a very good player and a great player: the ability to score when you get the chance to score. And that is one of the reasons he averaged mid-50s consistently in Test cricket.
Many might call him a defensive batsman in the mould of a Jacques Kallis or a Michael Atherton, but Dravid ranks up there with the great batsmen of the game. To simply refer to him as a defensive player is selling him short as a batsman. He was a wonderfully gifted player and we all enjoyed the way he played the game.