India should raise the roof for The Wall
Rahul Dravid's second fine century of the series showed how valuable he is to the tourists' cause
How a man with the thick end of 13,000 Test runs to his name can slip under the radar is a mystery almost beyond explanation. Rahul Dravid keeps on managing it, though, and the chances are he will continue to do so for however long he and Sachin Tendulkar have left in the game.
So far as India's batting was concerned, all the talk before this series began a week or so ago centred on whether Tendulkar would finally score a Test century at Lord's. He didn't, of course, and many of us had to be reminded that the same landmark had also eluded the second-most prolific Test batsman of all time. Eluded him, that is, until the third day's play in St John's Wood, when he hit an undefeated 103.
There was plenty of praise for, and no little interest in, an innings that clearly gave Dravid a great deal of pleasure. But the attention he received was nothing compared with the outpouring of superlatives that would have a followed a Tendulkar century. And that is the way it has been for 15 years, ever since the pair first played together in a Test team.
Even their nicknames suggest that one (The Little Master) is a craftsman while the other (The Wall) spends his life as a labourer: the architect and the hod carrier, if you like. But that is monstrously unfair on the hugely talented Dravid and there is not a team in the world that wouldn't welcome this 38-year-old into their line-up. It is India who are lucky enough to have him, however, and while he may have played all his career in Tendulkar's shadow, this tour is shaping up as a triumph for the great man's mate.
Someone worked out the other day that Dravid has spent almost a month of his life batting in Test cricket. For most of yesterday it looked as though it would take England a month of Saturdays to shift him as he first blunted the attack with VVS Laxman, then repelled a fresh onslaught following the fall of three wickets (Tendulkar's included) in quick succession, and then made a little hay with Yuvraj Singh before ball once again dominated bat.
This is Dravid's 11th Test in England, spread over four tours and 15 years, and now he has five hundreds and an average above 75 to show for his visits. That is some going – and even Tendulkar would be proud of such a record – but it was the manner of this latest innings that impressed, much more than the mere figures.
Batting has not been straightforward for anyone in the first half of this match (and it looked downright impossible when Dravid was standing at the non-striker's end and Stuart Broad took his hat-trick). But even on Friday evening, when the new ball was swinging and seaming, and again in yesterday's early stages, The Wall looked as solid as a rock.
Dravid is at his most comfortable at No 3. But here the fact that he was opening, in the absence of the elbow-injury victim Gautam Gambhir, made only the most minor difference, given that Abhinav Mukund fell to the first ball of the innings. Having taken guard, Mr Reliable remained on duty for another six hours until – having almost run out of partners – he carved a catch to third man.
He does most things without a flourish, finding the gaps with precise strokes off either foot and defending like a man whose life depends on not letting the ball beat him. But the two fours that took him deep into the 90s and then through to three figures were just about as carefree as Dravid gets.
First, he went back and cut the spinner Graeme Swann, late and true. Then, a couple of overs later, a delightful paddle sweep against the same bowler completed a century that another full-house crowd applauded long and hard.
Just how important Dravid's innings of 117 will prove to be in the context of this series, never mind the second Test, is anyone's guess right now. But of India's three veteran batsmen, he is the only one to have made a real mark on England's attack. So far.
Tendulkar is still looking for his first fifty and while Laxman has two half-centuries, neither of them have done very much to alter the impression that here is a player who may retire from the game without ever having done himself justice on English soil.
Overall, Laxman averages 47 in Test cricket and he has scored 16 hundreds. But this is his third tour here and the 74 he made at Lord's nine years ago remains his best effort. Rather like Tendulkar's lack of success in St John's Wood, Laxman's relatively poor record in England may remain easier to trot out than to explain.
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