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Rahul Dravid: The Great Wall of India

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Rahul Dravid made his final appearance on the cricket field earlier this week when his Rajasthan Royals played the Mumbai Indians in the final of the 2013 Champions League T20. The game was also Sachin Tendulkar's Final T20 game and on the day, it was Tendulkar's Mumbai Indians side that emerged victorious. Dravid scored just 1, and watched on as a jubilant Mumbai Indians side went on a victory parade around the Feroz Shah Kotla after the game. Typical of how he played his cricket on the field over his career, Dravid bowed out with what he had earned, his head held high, his dignity intact and with greater promise to come back stronger. Only this one time, there would be no comeback for the great man. It was not the best ending, but Dravid's greatness and his character were played out long before the events of this Sunday. He will always be remembered as one of India's premier batsman, and as one of the greatest batsman in the history of Test Cricket.

Rahul Dravid was born on 11 January 1973 in Indore, Madhya Pradesh into a middle class family. His family moved to Bangalore shortly thereafter, a city where Dravid would learn the roots of his cricket and later represent his state at the national level.

Dravid's early days have been well documented over the years, right from his first games for Karnataka at the U-15 level, to his performances in the Ranji Trophy from the age of 18. Dravid averaged just under 65 in his very first season of the Ranji Trophy , and soon got a call-up to play for the South Zone Team in the Duleep Trophy.

Dravid's international cricket career is littered with gems of innings right through, with numerous match-saving and match-winning performances in both the Test and ODI formats of the game. After fighting it out for 4 years in the domestic circuit, Dravid finally broke into the Indian side during the summer of 1996 for the  Tour of England after Sanjay Manjrekar pulled due to injury. Nicknamed 'Jammy' because his father worked in a factory that made jams and preservatives, Dravid stepped out to bat for India at number 7 at Lords' on his test debut, and struck a magnificent 95, missing out on a debut Test Match century by 5 runs.

Dravid's capability and stature as a quality top-order Test Match batsman though, wasn't fully established till about 6 years later, when he amassed just over 600 runs from four Test matches during India's next tour of England in the summer of 2002. Dravid won the Man-of-the-Match award for his match-winning knock of 148 during the Headlingley test match and would follow up the 148 with the second of his five Test Match double centuries,a brilliant 217 at the Kennington Oval in the fourth and final test of the series.

The 2002 England series firmly established Dravid as a batsman of the highest calibre at the international level.  His brilliant technique and temperament would propell his stature even further and win him great praise and adulation from cricket players and analysts all over the world. Prior to the 2002 England tour though, Dravid's most notable innings was the 180 he struck during the second innings of the famous Eden Gardens Test Match against Australia in 2001. Dravid's heroics were largely overshadowed by VVS Laxman's exploits in that game, but the 180 helped Dravid secure his until then uncertain place in the Test Side and gave enough confidence and reason to the team management to promote him higher up in the batting order. After 2002, Dravid has never batted at any position lower than the number 3 position in Test Cricket, and his average has remained around the mid 50 mark. Dravid eventually finished with an average of 52.31 after 164 Test Matches.

Rahul Dravid finished his ODI career as one of only 10 batsmen in the history of the format, to cross the 10,000 run mark and crossed the same mark in Test Cricket in April 2008. Dravid has held numerous individual records in the ODI format, including the record for the third highest number of 50s in ODI cricket (83) and the distinction of having been involved in the two highest partnerships in the history of ODI cricket ( 331 with Tendulkar in 1999 Vs New Zealand & 318 with Ganguly in 1999 Vs Sri Lanka). Dravid has primarily batted in the middle order in the shorter format of the game, but has also taken up the role of an opener. He was the highest run-getter in the 1999 Cricket World Cup in England, a tournament where India did not qualify beyond the Super-Sixes stage. Dravid though managed to amass 461 runs from just 8 games, at an average of over 65.

But more than the statistics, Rahul Dravid, the cricketer, has added immense value to every Indian Playing XI he has been a part of. His self-less approach to batting and willingness to adjust to the team's cause was best demonstrated in 2003 when he agreed to don the wicket-keeping gloves to make up for the absence of a regular keeper in the side. Dravid was frequently criticized and left out of the Indian side during the early part of his ODI career for his slow scoring rate, though he emerged a much better batsman at the turn of the century in the ODI format too. Dravid holds the record for the second fastest ODI 50 (off 22 balls) by an Indian batsman; a record he achieved during an ODI against New Zealand in 2003 at Hyderabad. Over the years, Dravid has achieved a great deal of success in the shorter format of the game as a batsman, and has played some aggressive innings in addition to his usual anchor-role knocks. The last of his 12 ODI centuries came in May 2006, when he opened the batting against the West Indies at the Sabina Park. Dravid featured on and off in India's ODI squad during the last few years of his career, and played his last ODI innings during India's disastrous tour of England in August 2011, scoring 69.

Dravid earned the nickname "The Wall", after he emerged on top in fiery contests during India's tour of South Africa in 1997 against the likes of Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener. He struck his first test match hundred at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg during that series, left a mark and announced himself as a quality batsman on the world stage. In January 1999, Dravid struck two hundreds in the same test match against New Zealand at Hamilton, a feat he would repeat again during a test match against Pakistan in 2005. But perhaps, Dravid's brightest and most prolific phase during his career was during the 2003-04 season, when he struck two-match winning double centuries in test matches away from home, and helped India draw and win overseas test series against Australia and Pakistan respectively. Dravid's 233 in the first innings and then his 72* during a tense run chase of the Adelaide Test Match still counts as among the finest displays of batsmanship in Test Cricket, and virtually single handedly, helped India win a test match in Australia after 22 years. Dravid's highest individual test score though was 270, which he struck against Pakistan at Rawalpindi a couple of months later; a knock which helped India win both the match and series. His glorious run of form right through 2004 earned him the ICC Cricketer and ICC Test Cricketer of the Year Awards at the inaugural ICC Awards function in London.

In March 2004, Dravid, who was standing in as captain for Sourav Ganguly, found himself in the middle of a controversy over the declaration of India's first innings of the Multan Test Match. Dravid declared the Indian innings and called back the batsmen at the crease, including Sachin Tendulkar who was batting on 194 at the time . It was not the only controversial low that Dravid would encounter as a captain though. Dravid led India at the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, a campaign which saw India eliminated after only 3 games and in the very first round of the tournament. The elimination resulted in widespread anger and subsequently stoning of players' homes back in India. Dravid though, did lead India to a test series victory over England in England in the summer of 2007. It was India's first victory on English soil in a test series in 21 years. Later in his career, Dravid stepped down from the captaincy role the following One Day series that summer, though he did have another stint at captaincy in the 2012 edition of the Indian Premier League, when he captained the Rajasthan Royals.

Besides his brilliant records with the bat, Dravid is also a fine slip fielder, probably one of the best the game has ever seen. He holds the record for the most catches taken by any fielder (not a wicket-keeper) in test match cricket, with 210 catches from 164 Test Matches, and has taken a further 194 catches in ODI cricket, (and affected 16 stumpings).

Dravid has also been the brand ambassador for numerous brands over his career, including Reebok, Pepsi and Gillete; featuring in a commercial alongside tennis legend Roger Federer and football star Thierry Henry once for Gillette. Dravid has been awarded numerous civilian awards by the Indian government, including the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, India's third highest civilan award. But perhaps his greatest honour as a cricket player was being called upon to deliver the 10th Sir Donald Bradman Oration in Sydney. It capped off a great year for Dravid, a year in which he stood out head and shoulders above the rest of his team-mates during India's disastrous tour of England; a year when he played the last of his 344 ODI games and his only ever International T-20 game for India. Dravid struck 3 centuries during the Test series against England, including a 103* at Lords' in the first test to see his name finally make it to the Honours Board. He was given a warm reception by fans across England and by players from the opposition, who acknowledged and commended Dravid for his solid and gritty performances, albeit in a losing cause.

But if one were to understand the character and value of Dravid in a cricket side, a great example would be to look at the fourth test match of India's tour to the West Indies in 2006. Dravid was skippering the Indian side, which was missing Tendulkar (due to the tennis elbow injury) and Ganguly (left out by Greg Chappell over his poor fitness). The previous three games of the series had ended in a draw, and the groundsman at the Sabina Park in Kingston, Jamica prepared a surface for the ball to turn square. In a match where no one team managed to cross 219 in four innings, Dravid took the shoulder of the responsibility and gutsed it out at the Sabina Park. He struck 81 and 68 in the two innings, and then captained the side with lots of resolve and purpose. In the end, it was those two knocks that towered out above everything else in the test match, and made all the difference to the final outcome of the match and the series.

India won the fourth test by 49 runs, and thus won their first test series in the West Indies, after 35 years. It was one of the highlights of Dravid's career as a player. But above all, it was a reflection of the self-less yet brilliant touch that the great man carried with him and demonstrated why Dravid was the player he was, a player who was willing to put a price on his wicket, each and every time he walked out to bat.