The wonder of “The Wall”

Some batsmen have certain characteristics which define them. Tendulkar it is a touch of class with every stroke-particularly the cover drive. Kallis has a more bullish approach, a raw power which eminates with every hit, while Ponting is a tenacity akin to bloodymindedness which makes every stroke a sign that he will not be dominated.

While most opt for aggression, the one thing which you could say about Rahul Dravid is solidity. His game is not built for aggression, he hardly seems the sort who has an aggressive bone in his body. Even in his post-match interviews he comes across with the kind of non-confrontational, articulate air normally the preserve of politicians.

But for a man who plays a game which conjures up various metaphors about life and death, his game has always been about calmness and common sense, about survival before risk and almost always about total dedication to the cause.

Perhaps that is why I’ve always warmed to him. He’s never been flashy, not a showman or narcissist cravenly hogging the spotlight, he has always been the man for the lesser role, akin to that played by a straightman to a comedian.

Some batsmen go out seeking to make headlines, Dravid does anything but. While others in this Indian team, the Sehwags, the Tendulkars and the Laxmans, have flourished with greater style and to greater applause, Dravid’s role has always been about the greatest effort and the greatest effect for the team.

Hence why the news that filtered through about his latest century against New Zealand was so welcoming, not because of the runs that he scored but the confirmation that if anything “The Wall” as he is known was still intact, still capable of scaling heights which were once so easy.

For a man who makes every innings an effort, a struggle for survival, it can’t have been easy watching the very things you pride yourself on, solidity and doughty defence being so easily breached as he struggled scratchily for runs and any semblance of form.

But this innings, this century, was a throwback to those better days when even the finest could spend days on end driven to the point of despair in trying to penetrate his defences and provide a platform for another mighty Indian total.

More importantly though it was simply a riposte for all the critics, all those calling for his head, aiming to bring down the curtain on his long and distinguished career in favour of something new and exciting but unproven and untested.

Surely Dravid deserves better and will certainly get better as the critics have to wait a little while longer.

In truth, while India may not need him as much as they once did, it would surely be folly to discard him so quickly. Granted his age and recent form are against him, but the old maxim remains as true as ever: form is temporary, class is permanent.

In a team full of strokemakers, full of star names and attractive batsmen, Dravid’s role is often understated and devalued. As Frank Keating once described the great English batsmen Ken Barrington: he is “the solid trellis which allowed the Fancy Dans to parade their blooms”.

Dravid plays that role perfectly in this Indian side, opting for stoic defence to allow his partner to flourish at the other end as Dhoni did against the Indians.

In an era of Twenty20 cricket he is perhaps out of step with the needs of the modern generation, but then Dravid has always been an anachronism, a classical batsmen playing in a very modern world.

Perhaps that’s the brilliance of him. That in a cricketing world which values showmanship and image above all else, he has shown that age-old qualities can still thrive in the modern game.

That is his gift, the wonder of “The Wall” encapsulated. His values are ancient, but they are indisputably important in Test cricket-a game which remains remarkably unchanged despite all that has gone on around it-and something which India continue to value and rely upon.

It is this which makes him unique and important to this Indian team. While tougher challenges may lay ahead for him with South Africa around the corner, if anyone can deal with a challenge it is the man who will forever go down in cricketing folklore as Rahul Dravid, “The Wall”.

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Two Indians, Two Innings, Two very different centuries….

As the old adage goes, variety is the spice of life. For India, the full variety of their top order’s ability was on display against New Zealand in Ahmadabad, as two of their senior players carved out centuries of contrasting importance, style and effort.

New Zealand will have felt mighty tired after being run ragged for a day in the field, and figures of 329-3 after Day 1 tell their own story.

But this was more than just a hammering, it was at times an onslaught, led particularly by Virender Sehwag, who was at his imperious best.

Sehwag’s ability is well-known, as his capacity to destroy any attack on any given day. Sadly for New Zealand, this was their day.

The full array of his strokes, the placement, the power. One day, a brighter man than I may eventually come up with a word which can describe such a brilliant effort and Sehwag’s ability. In fact someone may just decide to add the word ‘Sehwag’ to the English language, simply as something which is so destructively brilliant, that it cannot be contained.

Here is a man who rips up the rulebook. If there are two types of openers, the rather passive sort and the aggressive sort, then Sehwag possibly signifies what a politician would call “a third way”.

The amazing thing about him is how still he can stay, how calm, yet he wreaks such destruction. Making run-a-ball hundreds appear almost a norm, when for almost 90% of other batsmen it would be an ideal.

Moreover he scores big scores consistently, this was his 22nd Test century, and his 14th score of over 150 in Test matches-all bar one with a strike-rate over 70. These are the statistics of a great, a phenomenon, a sheer cricket freak, or whatever word you choose to use. Though the one I’d probably choose, once they finally invent it, is: of a Sehwag.

But if Sehwag’s innings was the highlight, then Dravid’s was probably the most important.

‘The Wall’ has been decidedly porous in recent times, this was only his second score of over 50 in 10 innings, and there were plenty of contenders in the running for his position-notably Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay who recently starred against Australia.

And for a time his innings betrayed these struggles, scoring only 17 runs off his first 105 balls, and struggling to pierce the field as New Zealand made him struggle for his runs. He then got a slice of luck, after a drop from Gareth Hopkins, and from their he too found runs easy to come.

His next 83 runs came off just 111 balls, bringing up his 29th Test match hundred-taking him past Sir Don Bradman’s record-and relieving plenty of the pressure which had been building on him.

They were two very different innings, but each in their own unique way was special.

Sehwag’s was one of style and power; Dravid’s more about patience and effort. These are contrasting elements, which each bring something different qualities to India’s top order. And when they face tougher challenges than those posed by New Zealand today, they will be equally delighted to have those elements back in form once again.