Time: The 2006 Series against (and in) the West Indies
The 4-1 loss in the one-day series hurt and what hurt more was the close margins in a couple of games. So as India took on the West Indies in the test series in June, the Windies held the upper head and the psychological edge. The Calypso music and beers were out and so was the sun. India had squandered two wonderful chances during their last two trips. Although, Lara was still around the West Indies team was much weaker than even the one India had visited in 2002. The bowling was piecemeal and Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chris Gayle and Chanderpaul still did not contribute enough to the West Indian batting cause. However, Indians too were without Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar and Ganguly having been deposited in the wilderness, Dravid and Laxman held the key. It was a war of attrition fought on flat pitches in the peak of summer between two teams, one on the way up and the other trying its desperate best to recapture some earlier magic.
The first three tests ended in draws though the Indian pace attack bowled its heart out with good assistance from Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble. With a 146 at Gros Islet and other half centuries in the series, the skipper Dravid was in good form when the teams arrived in the Jamaican capital for the final test at the Sabina Park. On a pitch which Lara sarcastically applauded midway through his first innings – as it suited the Indian spinners more – Dravid contributed two masterful half-centuries. And despite Dinesh Ramdin’s late second innings flourish of 68, Kumble’s six-for gave Indians the game and with it a series win. Four tests and one result: India 1-0. If ever you wanted to watch a captain’s innings again, Dravid’s 81 and 68 would be top of the draw. On a pitch where sixteen wickets fell before his, “Dravid stood like a giant among pygmies,” wrote Siddhartha Vaidyanathan.
Another excerpt from Siddhartha Vaidyanathan’s report to cricinfo during the test sums Dravid’s efforts on a pitch with “landmines buried underneath” and Jerome Taylor steaming in – straight and fast: “The ball was dead straight and kept a bit low as well. Dhoni couldn't get down in time and was bowled.Two overs later, Dravid got a similar delivery, waited till the last moment, watched the ball all through and brought his bat down confidently. Taylor might as well have been bowling to the concrete structure behind Dravid; considering the effort he was putting in, he might have just been able to find a gap through it.” Beat that for technique, focus and resilience!
Along the way, Dravid joined an elite club of batsmen to get to 9000 runs. He was the Man of the Match and Man of the Series and nobody could grudge him that as he was streets ahead of the next best batsman in either team. The irony could not have been starker: it is crises which help distinguish men from boys. And the Indian captain was the tallest man standing at the end of the Jamaica test as India ended a 35 year series victory drought in the West Indies. From Adelaide to Headingley to Rawalpindi to Jamaica four of India’s five great wins abroad in the last three years all had Dravid’s name imprinted in bold. From a second fiddle to the chief artiste at the orchestra, Dravid had transformed himself from a good batsman to a great batsman to a captain leading from the front and with the undeniable force of on-field performance. And if at that point Dravid had thought the sky was the limit you would not have thought twice before nodding.