Rahul Dravid symbolizes the Indian journey to the No 1 ranking in Test cricket. Over the years we have seen him toil, sweat and play some of the gutsiest knocks in Indian cricket history. Watching him bat with characteristic solidity against the West Indies in the ongoing Kingston Test, one couldn’t avoid revisiting his previous Test match at the same ground in the 2006. He essayed two brilliant knocks on a very tricky surface to help win the match and the series.
When India toured the West Indies in 2006, they had a very rough time in the One-Day Internationals (ODIs). They were beaten 1-4, registering their only win in the first ODI at Kingston. Dravid had scored a hundred in that game to anchor India's run chase. The Test series was a very different cup of tea as India dominated the first two matches, but were denied wins by spirited West Indian tail-enders in the first and a determined Brian Lara in the second. West Indies were able to put India under pressure in the third Test, but it wasn’t enough to record a result. When the two teams arrived inKingston for the fourth Test they knew that the series was at stake and that one performance would seal the deal for them.
The pitch at Sabina Park for that Test match had something for all the bowlers. It was the kind of a pitch where the fast bowlers could get bounce from certain areas and the spinners could turn it a long way.
India won the toss and elected to bat first. Virender Sehwag fell in the very first over to a brilliant catch by Ramnaresh Sarwan at forward short-leg. Dravid walked in at one for one, a situation he is familiar with. As he battled a red-hot Jerome Taylor, the crafty Corey Collymore and the deceptive Dwayne Bravo, the other Indian batsmen struggled to come to terms with the West Indies bowling. Wasim Jaffer, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif and MS Dhoni were back in the pavilion before India could get to 100. At 91 for six, Anil Kumble walked in to give Dravid solid company.
Dravid had to battle the demons during his 215-ball stay at the crease where the odd delivery kept low while the next ball surprised the batsman by taking off from length! To add to all that, Taylor was running in full steam. Taylor was quick, Pedro Collins was hitting the right areas with his left-arm over angle, Collymore’s nagging pace was difficult to read and Bravo was using his well-disguised slower ball to great effect during that tour. Any young cricketer who watched Dravid that day would have learned a lesson in solid defense. Even on the toughest of surfaces, it is the straight bat that can get you through and Dravid’s 81 is proof of that fact.
India were all out for 200 on the first day, but on the second day they came back stronger to bowl West Indies out for 103 and take a crucial 97-run lead. Going into the second innings, it was crucial that India set a target of over 200 as it would be difficult to chase on such a wicket. Once again, as Indian batsmen struggled, Dravid was in a zone, scoring 68 off 166 deliveries. This knock was similar, if not better, than his first innings effort as the pitch had worn out a little more and batting was even more difficult. Similar to the first innings, Dravid was solid in defense, but was quick to put away the bad balls as he scored 12 boundaries (two more than his knock in the first innings) in this effort.
West Indies were set a target of 269 which they fell short by 49 runs as Anil Kumble and Shantakumaran Sreesanth delivered match-winning spells. Nevertheless, this match was owned by “The Wall” as he stood firm and was the only player to register half centuries. The fact that no Indian batsman barring Kumble with 45 in the first innings, reached even 20 in either innings speaks volumes for Dravid’s match-winning efforts of 81 and 68. In the second innings, when Dravid was bowled by Collymore off a delivery that kept really low, the television cameras showed a wall with a brick missing. It symbolized Dravid’s effort in that game as the bowlers had very little chance of finding that small hole in “The Wall” even though the conditions were in their favor.
Dravid has always got runs at Sabina Park. When India toured in 1997 he made a few runs at the said venue, but his gritty essay of 2006 would have given him the most satisfaction as he was the captain then and it helped India register a win. He certainly deserved a hundred then, but the team man that he is it wouldn’t have mattered as the ultimate result of that game would have given him immense joy.
In the ongoing match, he scored 112 while the next highest score in the Indian second innings was Amit Mishra’s 28. The second innings 112 following his innings of 40 in the first innings has paved the way for India winning the Test and take a 1-0 lead in the series.
To twist a cliché goes, cometh the hour, cometh Dravid!
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")