Rahul Dravid will walk into an all-time great Indian XI

The sheer consistency at home and abroad places Rahul Dravid (top) and Sachin Tendulkar above the entire galaxy of famed middle-order batsmen in Indian cricket history while picking a All-Time great XI. © AFP

With a roll call of greatness from Vijay Hazare to VVS Laxman, the pool of Indian middle-order batsmen is an embarrassment of riches. However, Arunabha Sengupta expects Rahul Dravid to walk into any All Time Indian XI.



 

In the 80 years of Test cricket, India has produced only three opening batsmen who can be termed world class without subsidising statistical and factual rigour for national sentiments. Vijay Merchant, Sunil Gavaskar and Virender Sehwag have records that speak for themselves and opposition bowlers who will back anything that the numbers say. But, apart from these three men at the top of the order, precious few openers did go about their business with consistency or feats to approach the threshold of greatness.

 

Surprisingly though, if one steps down the order, the resource pool expands into an embarrassment of riches, resulting in a problem of plenty.

 

The names that can be rattled off read like a veritable roll call of the masters of the craft of batsmanship: Vijay Hazare, Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar, Gundappa Viswanath, Mohinder Amarnath, Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman – runs and centuries pile up with each of the names till the mind boggles and numbers overflow.

 

And in spite of this truckload of talent, if cricket lovers indulge in their favourite armchair pursuit of selecting all-time elevens, Rahul Dravid is guaranteed walk into most of them at No 3.


Consistency at home and overseas

 

If we look only at the number of runs, centuries and longevity of career, the claims of Dravid cannot be contested while staying within the realms of rationality. No batsman donning Indian colours, other than Tendulkar who is an axiomatic inclusion at No 4, comes even remotely within striking distance of the phenomenal overall record of the man.

 

However, to generate a fair and level-playing field given that all the stalwarts of the yesteryear were not blessed with the number of Test matches played in the current day, let us try to base our selection by looking at their overall records and the comparative performances at home and abroad.

 

Home and Away Records:

 

Batsman Total Runs Avg Runs at Home Avg at Home Runs Away Avg Away
             
Vijay Hazare 2192 47.65 1113 69.15 1079 35.96
Polly Umrigar 3631 42.22 2082 43.37 1549 40.76
Vijay Manjrekar 3208 39.12 2222 46.29 986 29.00
Gundappa Viswanath 6080 41.93 3502 47.32 2578 36.30
Mohinder Amarnath 4378 43.5 1370 30.44 3008 51.76
Dilip Vengsarkar 6868 42.13 3725 55.59 3143 32.73
Mohammad Azharuddin 6215 45.03 3412 55.93 2803 36.40
Sachin Tendulkar 15470 55.44 6765 56.37 8705 54.74
Sourav Ganguly 7212 42.17 3180 42.97 4032 41.56
Rahul Dravid 13288 52.31 5598 51.35 7690 53.00
VVS Laxman 8781 45.97 3797 51.60 5014 42.49

 

Vijay Hazare, with just 30 Tests in his career, has a phenomenal average of 69 at home, but a poor 35 abroad raises uncomfortable questions about his consistency away from India. Much of this is due to one extremely disappointing series in the Caribbean in which he struggled to come to terms with the conditions, thus counter-balancing his more than decent records in England and Australia. However, left to myself, I would perhaps go for his celebrated run-making abilities and more than useful medium-pace as a potential No 5 in the all-time line-up.

 

The anomaly of Hazare is perhaps caused by the small number of Tests he played – a curiosity that might have been evened out with a few more. I believe that his average at home would have come down to reasonable levels and one more series might have stretched the away record into the respectable 40s.

 

Leaving him aside, however, it is evident that considering the overall, home and away figures, the genius of Sachin Tendulkar leads the field by miles. There are a few like Azharuddin and Vengsarkar who come close to challenging his record at home, but the Little Master comfortably outscores their less than mediocre record abroad. And what makes his effort extraordinary is that the figures have been maintained with consistency over a period of 22 years, and he has been uniformly consistent across opponents and countries.

 

When we take Tendulkar away from the equation and bear down on the lesser mortals, a similar differentiating factor seems to hold true for Dravid and his challengers.

 

Azharuddin and Vengsarkar outscore him at home with their excellent records in India. Dravid’s partner of many on pitch collaborations, VVS Laxman, just pips him at the post. But the best No 3 batsman ever produced by the country stands head and shoulders above the rest on foreign soil. While the bouncing ball got the better of both Azharuddin and Vengsarkar in the Caribbeans and Australia, Laxman was undone all through his career in the swinging conditions ofEngland.

 

Turning to overseas performances, Mohinder Amarnath does come close to Dravid, leaning on his impressive showing in Pakistan and West Indies during the early 80s. But, the former Delhi batsman scored at an atrocious 30.44 in India, and given that an Indian batsman has to bat in India for close to half his career, this definitely rules out Amarnath’s claims to the eleven.

 

Dravid accumulated his magnificent figures over one and a half decades, and the consistent rate at which he scored each 1000 run of his career is testimony to the permanence of his class. He lags behind Tendulkar in that his record does not stand up to scrutiny in South Africa and Sri Lanka – maybe he failed to answer all the questions asked in the most pacy and turning conditions. But, he scored runs and centuries in every country that he played in, a record not shared by any other Indian middle order master.

 

Some of his most sterling achievements cannot be placed in comparative tables because the teams in which the middle-order masters of different generations played were hugely different. However, an average of 2571 runs at 102.84 in the 21 Test matches won under Sourav Ganguly’s reign more than tells the story of his worth during the most successful period of Indian cricket. He has been the foundation stone of the construction of most of the memorable victories of Indian cricket in the last decade, while also being the broad blade defending the Indian citadel against foreign attacks – the man to go to in times of crisis.

 

It is this phenomenal value, along with the consistency at home and abroad that places Dravid, along with Tendulkar, above the rest in any All-Time list, establishing them firmly in the pivotal positions of No 3 and No 4 respectively. It is hardly a surprise, though, even in the wake of the recent disaster in Australia. All it does is to lend the stamp of eternity to the glittering fraction of the scorecard we have been privileged to witness for the last decade and a half.

 

(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)