Rahul Dravid had already given a few fine performances in his Test career. From his debut at Lord’s in 1996 till the end of the first Test against Australia in Mumbai in 2001, The Wall had scored 3370 runs in 41 matches at an average of 52.65 including 8 hundreds. While that is a splendid record it does not reveal the full story. Dravid had produced some memorable knocks in the first five years of his career but he was still considered India’s number two batsman in Test cricket behind Sachin Tendulkar. He had produced a support act against Australia in Chennai in 1998 but that big series-defining performance was still missing from his Test career.
India were bowled out for 171 in response to Australia’s massive 445 in the first innings. The home team, already 0-1 down after the 10-wicket loss in Mumbai, gave a better show in the second innings but were in deep trouble and facing the prospect of a humiliating series loss when Dravid, batting at number 6, joined VVS Laxman with the score at 232 for the loss of four wickets. India still trailed Australia by 42 runs with just six wickets left in the innings.
At the close of play on Day 3 – the 13th of March, 2001, India were 254 for 4 in 75 overs. with Laxman unbeaten on 109 and Dravid undefeated on 7.
What transpired on Day 4 is the stuff of legends! Laxman and Dravid batted through the entire day keeping the great Australian bowling attack at bay. They defied whatever the quartet of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz and Shane Warne threw at them batting together for 90 overs scoring 335 runs on a single day. Interestingly, Dravid outscored Laxman on the day and contributed 173 of the total runs registered on Day 4.
It was an innings full of concentration and class and a testimony as much of Dravid’s immaculate defence and technical prowess as his mental toughness and temperament. When the chips were down with India in the doldrums following on facing a crushing home series defeat, Dravid raised his game to a level not many have in India’s Test cricket history and scored a magnificent 180 off 353 deliveries spending a colossal 446 minutes at the crease before he was run-out.
The rest is history. India declared at 657 and then it was the Harbhajan Singh show for the remainder of the series. India went on to win the series 2-1 – their greatest triumph in Test cricket and one of the most stunning series wins in the history of the game. It was only the third win after following-on in Test cricket history!
The 376-run stand between Dravid and Laxman remains the third-highest partnership for India in Test cricket. Indian cricket changed forever. Something changed in Dravid too. He took over the mantle of India’s leading batsman in Test cricket producing several series-defining performances thereafter in his career. The 180 in Kolkata unleashed the big-match player in Dravid. He rose on the biggest stages for India in Test cricket when most others around him failed and delivered consistently. He produced most of his great Test performances – under pressure with the team in trouble against the best attacks all over the world – post Eden Gardens 2001.
148 on a demon of a pitch at Leeds in 2002 helping India drawing the series from behind, 233 and 72 in one of India’s finest wins Down Under in Adelaide in 2003, 270 vs Pakistan at Rawalpindi in 2004, 80 and 47 not out against South Africa in Kolkata in 2004, 81 and 68 against the West Indies at Kingston in 2006 – all these series-defining performances were produced by Dravid post Eden Gardens 2001.
In fact, post March 2001 for the next 5 years till 2006, Dravid was the second-highest impact batsman in the world after Inzamam-ul-Haq and repeatedly produced the leading performances for India in Test cricket. He was India’s number one batsman in the format ahead of Sachin Tendulkar.
From March 2001 till the end of 2006, Dravid aggregated 5728 runs in 65 Tests (109 innings) at an average of 60.93. His exploits included 15 hundreds and 29 fifties. He was the highest scorer for India and the third-highest scorer in the world after Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting during this period.