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Was Rahul Dravid a better Test player than Sachin Tendulkar?

Rahul Dravid (right) was a vital cog in the Indian Test team, along with Sachin Tendulkar (right).
Rahul Dravid (right) was a vital cog in the Indian Test team, along with Sachin Tendulkar (right).

Was Rahul Dravid a better player in Tests than Sachin Tendulkar? A recent poll conducted by Wisden India saw The Wall, Rahul Dravid emerge as India’s greatest Test batsman ahead of the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Virat Kohli and even the legendary Sachin Tendulkar.

Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid are the very few players in the history of Test cricket to have achieved close to batting perfection. Since cricket fans are always curious about rating batsmen, we will try to look at all the aspects before rating these two legends of the game. Rahul Dravid, in fact, is still serving Indian cricket from the backstage with India A and U19 - as has always been the case with him.

Who has the better numbers in Tests - Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid?

With Rahul Dravid in the side, India have won 15 Tests abroad- the most by any Indian.
With Rahul Dravid in the side, India have won 15 Tests abroad- the most by any Indian.

In terms of absolute numbers, Sachin Tendulkar seems to be the better batsman of the two. Sachin Tendulkar has more 100s and a better average and strike-rate in both formats of the game than Rahul Dravid. But are we missing something here? Do numbers justify everything?

If averages were the sole criteria to rate someone, we have many who have had better averages and strike-rates than Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. There are other factors beyond averages, 100s and strike rates that need to be considered while comparing any two players.

Before analysing any further, we need to know that Sachin Tendulkar debuted in Test cricket sven years before Rahul Dravid did and retired two years later than the Karnataka player.

Irrespective of their numbers, both players were epitomes of consistency, which is a great achievement. Many a time, we don’t realise the amount of energy and mental preparation that goes behind playing a Test match over 5 days.

So for Sachin Tendulkar to do it over and over again on 200 occasions is more than praiseworthy.

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The other aspects of the Rahul Dravid vs Sachin Tendulkar comparison

Sachin Tendulkar (left) and Rahul Dravid (right)
Sachin Tendulkar (left) and Rahul Dravid (right)

It is common knowledge that Rahul Dravid’s overseas average is better than that of Sachin Tendulkar's, and it has been discussed in the past as a tool to compare both the legends. But let's dig further and look into this aspect from a different perspective.

We all agree that India started winning overseas Tests in the 2000s and the credit ffor the same must be given to Saurav Ganguly for building a team that learned to fight overseas. But we forget Rahul Dravid’s role as the vice-captain of the team and also as a batsman in this transformation in the team's overseas performances.

Rahul Dravid has played a major role in all of India's major overseas victories in the 21st century. From Headingly- 2002, Adelaide-2003, Kingston-2006 to Perth in 2008 (We aren’t even going to Rawalpindi, Napier, Kolkata), Rahul Dravid had a crucial role to play for India under Ganguly’s tenure.

Rahul Dravid piled up a stunning 2,571 runs at a stunning average of 102.84 in India's 21 Test wins under Ganguly - the highest by any other Indian Test player. During these Tests, Rahul Dravid scored nine 100s that also included three double hundreds.

In 11 Tests, Rahul Dravid has been the Man-of-the-Match, he has done so on a record eight occasions in Test cricket - the most by any Indian player. In comparison, Sachin Tendulkar won 5 of his 14 Man-of-the-Match awards in Tests away from home and only one in a win (excluding Bangladesh).

Furthermore, with Rahul Dravid in the side, India won 15 Tests abroad (excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) - again the most by any Indian players. He aggregated and averaged more than Sachin Tendulkar in these 15 matches.

We usually highlight the averages and filter down statistics to winning games because it indicates how much of a role a particular player plays when his/her team wins. It is often an accurate marker of the impact a person has in a win for their team.

In other words, for India to win a Test away from home, Rahul Dravid had to score well. And when he didn’t do so, India seldom emerged victorious.

One can argue that Sachin Tendulkar didn’t have enough support before Rahul Dravid made his Test debut. But it is no coincidence that India started winning more Tests away from home after Rahul Dravid arrived on the scene, and that proves our point in explaining the importance of the right-hander in the Indian Test team.

The Wall, as he was affectionately called, stood between India and the opposition like an obdurate immovable rock. Batting in the crucial number three position, Rahul Dravid often set the stage for the other batsmen to thrive.

Thus, Sachin Tendulkar’s Test average of 57 while playing with Rahul Dravid (and 50 without Rahul Dravid) is probably an indicator of how the Karnataka batsman helped Tendulkar improve his game. Dravid battled in the middle during difficult phases of Test matches, and it allowed Sachin Tendulkar to come out and play his natural game.

One could argue in this regard that the period in which Rahul Dravid played was Sachin Tendulkar’s prime and has got little to do about Dravid batting at number three. But convesely, we can also say that without Rahul Dravid we don’t know what Sachin Tendulkar’s numbers would have looked like. We don’t know how India would have fared in away Tests in the 2000s.

All we can say is that having Rahul Dravid bat at number three helped everyone including Tendulkar and that is undoubtedly worthy of the highest praise.

Rahul Dravid often had to go to the middle during the initial overs and had to see off the new ball and battle out the difficult conditions, providing a platform for other batsmen to flourish. The number of balls faced by Rahul Dravid in Tests (31258) is almost 2000 more than that of Tendulkar’s, and this was despite the Karnataka batsman playing 36 fewer Tests than Tendulkar.

This is an indelible testament to Rahul Dravid’s contribution to the Indian Test team. Number three is a critical position in the longest format of the game, and only a technically correct batsman with the right mindset like Rahul Dravid could succeed in this position. Incidentally, Rahul Dravid was the first player to score 10,000 Test runs at number three, and till date remains the only player to do so.

Sachin Tendulkar may have been the better batsman of the two in Test cricket, but Rahul Dravid had the greater impact. As a side note, Rahul Dravid even scored 10,000 ODI runs, playing in all 11 positions, but that is a discussion for another day

Moreover, a few other statistics support the fact that Rahul Dravid was the more impact player in Test matches than Sachin Tendulkar:

#1: With Rahul Dravid at the crease, the Indian team scored 32,039 Test runs. Given that the entire Indian team scored 89,668 runs, it means 35.6 percent of the total runs that India made in Tests involving Rahul Dravid were scored when the Karnataka player was at the crease. It is the highest % for any Test player. The corresponding percentage for Tendulkar is 29.9.

#2: Rahul Dravid has been involved in 88 century stands - the most by any Test player. He has also been a part of 700 partnerships in the longest format of the game. No other batsman has even crossed 650.

#3: Rahul Dravid is also the only Test batsman to have 10 or more century stands with four other players; no one else has even managed three.

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Edited by Bhargav
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