March 14, 2012

Was Rahul Dravid better than Sachin Tendulkar?

No, but he was more beloved in England

I saw Rahul Dravid get his 12 at The Oval, in 2007. It took 96 balls and lasted 140 painful, horrible, scratchy minutes.

In its sheer bloody-minded refusal to admit defeat or give in to his own lack of timing and form, it was a masterpiece; a sight both grim to behold and ghoulishly compelling, like watching Darren Gough in a pink leotard on that Wipeout gameshow.

A lesser man would have just thrown the bat at a wide one and nicked off to lick his wounds and wait for better days to come. But Rahul kept at it, mistiming and clunking and missing and edging. For over two hours. It was, in its own way, brave and inspiring. He stuck it out until the bitter end, when he was finally dismissed – in an exquisite little eff-you from the universe – by Paul Collingwood.

I’d gone to the match with a friend, who had not been to a Test match before but had got free posh seats from his work. I think my friend’s previous exposure to cricket constituted of highlights of Freddie’s Ashes, and maybe a corporate jolly to a Twenty20. It would be like preparing to join the Foreign Legion by going to Club 18-30 in Faliraki. Perhaps nothing could have readied the neophyte watcher for the prospect of Rahul’s 96-ball 12, but it’s fair to say that my mate hasn’t been near a cricket match since.

I felt at the time that Test cricket at The Oval would somehow stagger on without my friend’s interest or patronage, and sure enough, Rahul was back at that ground in 2011, promoted to open and scoring a magnificent unbeaten hundred in the first innings. He barely had time to change Suresh Raina’s nappy before trudging out to open the innings again, following on.

Rahul had to move up the order in both digs. Gautam Gambhir, one of several of the younger Indian cricketers whose reputation in England will never recover from that spineless, flabby, cowardly display on that tour, had hurt his head trying (and, naturally, failing) to take a catch and wasn’t up to batting before either innings was effectively over. Poor lamb. Even when Dravid was handed a tough decision for a bat-pad catch and given out, unluckily, for 13 in the second innings, he took it on the chin. He was a man amongst boys on that tour.

So two matches at The Oval that, I submit, encapsulate what Rahul has meant to English cricket lovers. While Sachin – perhaps distracted by the hoopla over breaking a record that nobody even knew existed until it was created for him, bespoke – floundered on that 2011 tour, Rahul’s reputation grew even greater in this country.

It is hard, sacrilegious I dare say, for Indian fans to consider, but I believe that in the UK at least, Rahul’s bravery, modesty, professionalism and courtly determination make him even more loved than Tendulkar. There is, to us non-fanatics, a machine-like efficiency to the run-compiling machine from Mumbai that makes him somehow less of a romantic figure than Rahul and, for that matter, VVS.

While Sachin and his lesser successors are bathed in the fierce gleam of the modern India, Rahul’s greatest moments seem to be shrouded in a dimming light, like the form of the game to which he was best suited. If it is to be retirement, he will be cherished in the hearts of English Test cricket fans for a very long time. Let's just hope he doesn't take Indian Test cricket with him.

- By Alan Tyers (The Telegraph, UK)

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