The Hypothesis: If you repeat a lie often enough, enough people will believe it. Several politicians make it big solely on this premise and call it strategy! My first dalliance with this was when the ‘Rahul Dravid is not a fit for One Day Cricket (ODI)’ meme started doing the rounds in 1998. An honorary body of selectors working with the most parochial of goals in an environment where they were accountable to no one decided that Rahul Dravid’s mastery of his craft was not a fit for limited overs cricket. A compliant and ridiculously incestuous media kept telling the public that Rahul Dravid was too slow and hence the selectors were correct. The theme stuck and to this day there’s no gathering of desi cricket fans where this is not regurgitated like it was taught in IIT class. Sin/Cos is Tan and Rahul Dravid is a technically sound player but not a good fit for ODIs. A pity that this was also the most common thing I heard on the day of his last one-dayer. Writer after writer crafted epitaphs on the lost opportunities and the inability for Dravid to do more than play second fiddle!
The truth: Let me try to unravel this myth by seeking refuge in first principles.
The goal of a team in the broadest terms of limited overs cricket is to score more runs than the opposition does. At the crudest level, this extrapolates to maximizing the runs scored in every legal delivery. If batsman X has a lower run rate (runs/balls) than batsman Y it does seem intuitive and logical to the mind that Y is a better fit for limited overs cricket. This is what is most commonly represented in assertive statements such as “Dravid is too slow and as good a fit for ODIs as Yuvraj and Sehwag.”
The dissonance here though is in that each team can only afford 10 dismissals during these 300 legal deliveries. With each dismissal, the marginal value of every remaining delivery increases. Batsmen 1-11 of team ‘SLOG’ could have a higher run rate than batsmen 1-11 of team ‘FORWARD DEFENSE’ while scoring fewer runs and losing the game. An ability to play out as many of the 300 deliveries as possible while scoring as many runs in a consistent repeatable basis is a better way to represent a team’s goal in limited overs cricket.
With me, so far? Thanks to the amazing STATSGURU resource offered up for free by the wonderfully generous people at Cricinfo, we know that Rahul Dravid averaged 48 balls per outing. So on average, the Indian team could confidently and realistically expect Rahul Dravid to face a sixth of the total number of deliveries in an ODI inning while scoring 34 runs himself. This ability to maintain a career average of nearly 40 while facing eight overs himself is what Dravid brought to the table, year after year. This is the ability that manifests itself in several huge partnerships. This is the skill that is subjectively referred to as ‘playing second fiddle’.
To put in perspective how difficult and unique this skill is, there are 60 batsmen who have scored more than 5000 runs in ODIs. Removing those who played the bulk of their cricket in the 70’s and 80’s, the only batsmen who faced as many deliveries per inning are Matthew Hayden, Marvan Atapattu, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Gary Kirsten, Jacques Kallis and Saurav Ganguly. Only two of them had ODI careers as long as Dravid’s and none of them have a strike rate that is significantly higher than Dravid’s 39.16 (Ganguly has the highest strike rate of 73.7).
Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina are treated as ODI specialists and have dazzled audiences en route to a World cup triumph. They are all talented batsmen in their own right, but between them they average 33 balls an outing! A batting order of seven Sehwags will score 245 runs and will never survive into the 40’Th over. Someone needs to ensure the team sticks it out for 50 overs and maximizes its chances at the biggest possible score. For fifteen years Rahul Dravid has done that! And he did all this while being shunted up and down the order like an elevator operator. Also, he selflessly kept wickets for over 70 games so that less talented sloggers like Mohammed Kaif, Amay Khurasia and Dinesh Mongia could get in to the side as the seventh batsman!
Related but tangential rant:
We all have sucky lives made suckier by incompetent middle managers and clueless bosses. Rahul Dravid has had his fair share in nincompoops like Narendra Hirwani and Krishnamachari Srikanth. These gifted cricketers of yore decided at various points that Dravid could not play well in ODIs anymore. Someone who did so much for Indian cricket could not partake in the country’s greatest moment in a generation (World Cup 2011).? Him not being a part of that will always rankle me and is one of the great injustices of Indian cricket. You know who was the highest run scorer for India in the 1999, 2007 world cups? Dravid. If you exclude games against Kenya, Namibia, you know who was the highest run scorer for India in the 2003 world cup? Dravid! And yet he was conveniently forgotten on the eve of the 2011 world cup!
Beyond the numbers:
Cricket at its core is about memorable moments. And Rahul Dravid has provided me with many memorable knocks and moments. When numbers fade, I will forever remember this knock against Pakistan. Too often in the past India had choked away great Sachin starts. I will always tell the world that the only thing that day that prevented a Chetan Sharma like generation-long scar was Dravid’s calm and skill.
I will forever remember him doing the dirty work and handling testing conditions so others could feast off the old ball like in this game and this game and this game ! I will never forget how he steered India to victory at Lord’s here! The win set the tone for one of the most memorable tours an Indian team would ever have. And when all else fails in a Dravid vs. X argument, I will play this card on my way out – the record for the second fastest Indian 50 in ODIs.
No one thinks a baseball team with 8 home run hitters is a recipe for success. But somehow a naked number known as strike rate has defined the concept of an ODI batsman to a passionate public. The lack of nuanced analysis/understanding on what constitutes a good ODI player has made a fan base remember a legendary cricketer for precisely the wrong reasons. With improvements in conditioning and access to the sport, it is likely that there will be batsmen who play for as long as Dravid did while achieving similar success. It is my hope that with nuanced analysis Dravid’s ODI career be measured and valued appropriately for the successful team player he was. To call him a slow player unsuited to the format does a great deal of disservice to the man and the sport.
Thanks for the memories Dravid,