In that gentle, serene manner that has been the hallmark of his career, Rahul Dravid took his aggregate past Sunil GavaskarÊ¼s in the Galle Test. In fact so gently and so serenely that it was barely noticed. We were told, breathlessly, that Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag became the first pair of Indian openers to make two half-centuries in the same Test abroad. Interesting trivia, of course, but hardly in the same league as a contemporary giant overtaking a legend of the game.
In that gentle, serene manner that has been the hallmark of his career, Rahul Dravid took his aggregate past Sunil Gavaskar's in the Galle Test. In fact, so gently and so serenely that it was barely noticed. We were told, breathlessly, that Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag became the first pair of Indian openers to make two half-centuries in the same Test abroad. Interesting trivia, of course, but hardly in the same league as a contemporary giant overtaking a legend of the game.
Yet, that has been Dravid's lot. He has played fewer Tests than Gavaskar, averages three runs per innings higher, and averages nearly 72 in 40 Indian victories (Gavaskar averaged 44 in the 23 wins he was involved with). Had it not been for the phenomenon called Sachin Tendulkar, the media would have been indulging in the Gavaskar versus Dravid debates. We don't need to get into such pointless arguments here; it needs to be said, however, that Dravid has seldom been given his due. For, he also has the second best catching record in history - 176 catches to Mark Waugh's 181.
He is beginning to climb out of a bad patch. One of the pleasures of watching the Test was to see how Dravid became more and more his old self with every ball he played - and did not play. In the first innings, he walked without realizing that the short leg fielder's juggling effort had touched the helmet and therefore he was not out. In the second, when he was batting well it was a decision that involved a percentage of the ball pitching on the edge of the 'mat'. When the review is reviewed, its efficacy in leg before decisions will be questioned. Camera positioning is crucial. Perhaps we will soon have umpires with a camera between their eyes to go with their earpieces. It is easier to make human beings robots than the reverse.
Only Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting - apart from Dravid - have got over ten thousand runs in both forms of the game. Dravid, the Test batsman had to adapt the one-dayer to his game rather than the other way around which has been the path taken by the rest. He continued to bat as before, except that he used his tools, the square cut, the pull, the on drive, more often. He had the intelligence to eliminate risk rather than borrow the big-hitting techniques of his colleagues.
Before the start of the Sri Lanka series, skipper Anil Kumble had said that mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis would hold no terror for the Indian batsmen since someone like Dravid would work him out. It has taken Dravid longer than expected to do that partly because he wants an answer through orthodox methods, and partly because his confidence after the England tour when he gave up the captaincy has been low.
But he is too good a player to stay out of touch for too long. If the near half-century at Galle is any indication, he is ready with the answers. Sehwag and Tendulkar have shown how Mendis can be conquered through attacking batsmanship. Dravid showed briefly how he too can go down that road; but he would be happier frustrating Mendis through a mixture of footwork and straight bat. Spinners know they have a chance when they are being hit. But when batsmen play them comfortably in defence, they worry. That is why India's great spin quartet are agreed that the batsman who played them best was not Viv Richards or Gary Sobers, but Engalnd's 'barn door' Ken Barrington.