Having discussed legends like Sachin, Lara and Inzamam as modern cricket’s most technically equipped batsmen, one moves on to names like Ricky Ponting, Mark Waugh and the undisputable Mr. Dependable, Rahul Dravid.
The debate would be far from its conclusion if we just go by numbers, as it can never explain what goes inside a player’s mind and how these batsmen prepare themselves for different situations. Be it ducking on a bouncer or leaving it by swaying away, is a decision taken in split second.
The key components which determine the batting approach along with the technical skills may be termed as, mental frame, emotional & psychosomatic toughness, concentration, visualization, research and management which enables a batsman while playing spin, playing swing, opening in different formats, or controlling the pace of the game in middle overs and so on.
Many might differ on the inclusion of these variables as determinant of modern cricket’s greatest technician, but believe me, a perfect technique can only be achieved by mastering these qualities.
This shifts the spotlight of the debate on two names that have taken Australian cricket ahead in modern era and re-defined the batting approach. They are Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting, the batsmen who had contrasting styles but their technical competency often frustrated bowlers world-wide.
There has never been a better sight than to watch a tall lanky fast bowler being smashed across the park with utter disdain on a true bouncy pitch when Mark Waugh batted. Though less known than his much famed twin brother Steve Waugh, Junior Waugh had strokes which are not normally associated with a player from Down Under. His bisecting leg side glance was proof enough of his open yet compact batting.
Being used to bouncier tracks, Australian batsmen find it difficult to dance down the pitch to a spinner or flick a ball from inches outside off-stump to long-on or mid-wicket four- a shot which Mohammed Azharuddin owned for quite some time. Waugh’s three centuries during the 1996 Cricket World Cup in Indian subcontinent stamps his supremacy among the peers, much beyond Ponting’s charisma, who as of now has failed to prove his authority on the sub-continental pitches.
This in no way is to undermine Ponting’s brilliance, which finds itself placed in a catch up act with Sachin Tendulkar. The record suggests that Ponting has crafted more Test wins for his team than even the legendary and demi-god like Tendulkar. His innate ability to milk runs on both sides of the wicket makes him a delight to watch. A perfect Ponting innings can be a brilliant coaching lesson to youngsters across the globe. Many critics believe he is the best batsman Kangaroos have ever had after the great Sir Donald Bradman. He can hook and pull better than any one in world cricket, but often seems struggling on pitches of the sub-continent where ball grips the surface and turns prodigiously. Harbhajan Singh’s success against Ponting leaves the Australian captain just behind one man, at least for me, in technique Rahul Dravid should come right at the top.
Be it a gutsy 180 run knock at Eden Gardens along with VVS Laxman’s epic 281, or his 95-run debut innings at Lord’s where Ganguly stole the show with a century, Rahul ‘The Wall’ Dravid has been the backbone of Indian middle order which has often boasted of having flamboyant dashing batsmen in the ranks.
Rahul Dravid – the technician, was also dropped from the ODIs for not showing enough improvisation, but he persisted with his solid technique and became one of the toughest blokes to be dislodged in modern international circuit.
Some of the finest Indian victories in the past decade or so- be it Eden Gardens, Christ Church, Adelaide, Port of Spain or South Africa, there was one thing in common - a faultless temperament soaked with world’s best technique.
Bowlers hate to be bowling at Rahul Dravid for his sheer patience and perfection. There are players like Ganguly who often got more applause for their sheer ability to step down the track and whack bowlers out of the park for a six, or more gifted player like Sachin Tendulkar who managed to dictate terms when he got going, but there was always a silent wall standing amidst crisis and tumbling wickets or when it rained sixes and fours, and on that count alone, Dravid remains the unsung hero of Indian cricket.
His ability to sway away from the bouncer, or take in some nasty body blows is just what any budding cricketer across the globe might love to have. His ability to just grasp the situation makes him one of the keenest students of the game. You could watch Dravid often falling back to his coach’s lap-top after being dismissed rather than shaking his head back in the dressing room.
He has Inzy’s time, Sachin’s straight drive, Ponting’s pull and Lara’s footwork against spin, all in one, and hence Rahul Dravid – The Technician would come right at the top.