With India scheduled to play five Tests in England next month, here is my recollection of Rahul Dravid’s 148 in the Headingley Test of 2002.
In August 2002, as a Chennai lad living in a musty-smelling hostel in Bengaluru (then Bangalore), I had taken to wandering the old streets of the city, hoping somehow to find a slice of home that would, if only temporarily, press the ‘snooze button’ on my growing homesickness. During one of those walks, I stopped almost automatically in front of a shop selling new televisions, joining ten or twelve others gathered there to get a glimpse of the action from the second day of the Headingley Test between India and England.
The match was being shown only on a couple of TVs at the far end of the shop, but that did not deter my standing companions from straining their eyes to find out who was batting and what the score was. A few minutes after I joined them, a left-arm spinner delivered one that drifted in beautifully and broke away sharply, beating the advancing batsman by the proverbial country mile, and allowing the wicketkeeper to complete a good stumping. I would learn from the newspaper the next day that the bowler was Ashley Giles, the batsman Rahul Dravid, and the stumper Alec Stewart.
Three days – and two newspaper reports – later I would come to know that Dravid was awarded the Man of the Match for his 148, though his captain Sourav Ganguly had pummelled a far more entertaining – and heads beware! – hundred, and Sachin Tendulkar, being Sachin Tendulkar, had stroked 194 silken runs before being bowled by a big-spinning off-break from Michael Vaughan’s golden arm.
Nearly nineteen further years have passed since the Test in question – and more than nine since Dravid retired from international cricket – but the Headingley 148 remains my favourite hundred from Rahul Dravid’s bat; more memorable than his sublimely stroke-filled 233 against Australia at Adelaide and his series-winning career-best 270 against Pakistan.
The knock was undoubtedly champagne stuff—and it had to be after Sourav Ganguly, his team trailing 1-0 in the series, had won the toss and chosen to bat on a decidedly bowl-first pitch and day. It distilled the essence of Rahul Dravid’s batting: mind over matter and substance over style, though there was something of the latter on view as well.
The fact that the knock – which has been mentioned alongside other fine innings played by Asian batsmen abroad, including MAK Pataudi’s own 148, also made at Headingley – cajoled resolve and austerity from Sanjay Bangar, who batted for a better part of four hours in the unfamiliar opening position, makes it special. That it was at the vanguard of a rare innings victory for India outside Asia underlines its importance in the context of Indian cricket. There is something else though that makes it my favourite Dravid century: the fact I did not watch much of it live.
I have written elsewhere about the mystique that comes to envelop great batting innings one has never watched. The same, I suppose, can be said about knocks one has not seen live. Kapil Dev’s barnstorming 175 against Zimbabwe at the 1983 World Cup and Michael Atherton backs-to-the-wall 185* against South Africa at Johannesburg, for instance, are stuff of legend in my mind because I have only been told how magnificent they were! Analogously, I look at Dravid’s 148 at Headingley with more awe than I might have because I have heard far more about it than highlight reels or Youtube clips can ever tell me.
After all, there is more to a Test match batting innings than cover drives played with a neat flourish, or flicks timed beautifully into the gaps: the pauses between deliveries that keep registering the slowly changing context of the game, for instance. Whenever I think of Dravid’s batting, I think of those pauses because his batting tempo blended seamlessly with them. As regards his Headingley tour de force, those pauses only speak louder than usual because they do not have to compete with the memories of a mind which watched the knock as it unfolded.