They have been the batting twins, the leading lights of the golden generation of Indian cricket and batting. As Sachin Tendulkar bids adieu to the game, Rahul Dravid looks back in admiration at what it meant to share the dressing room though a remarkable era. The former India skipper spoke to Rajdeep Sardesai in this interview aired as part of CNN-IBN's special programme on Tendulkar.
Q: Statistics show you have more century partnerships in Tests than any other pair, 20. Is there anything that stands out when you think about Sachin and batting with him?
A: To be able to bat in those partnerships with Sachin for as long as I did and to have that opportunity to have those partnerships, some of them match-defining ones, was special. It was sometimes incredible to bat with him, the way he was able to manipulate bowlers, fields the way he wanted to.
Were players of your age-group in awe of him?
Awestruck would be a wrong word. I would say I was inspired in some ways because Sachin was, though he was my age or younger to me by a few months, actually seven years my senior as an India cricketer. And in my second or third Test, he was my captain. He was 19 in Australia, I was struggling to get into my Ranji team when he was taking on Whitney and McDermott and their likes in Perth. It was phenomenal.
He was part of that golden age of Indian batting. It was almost like the Bradman era -- you, Sehwag, Ganguly, Laxman and Sachin. Was he the inspiration or the pivot around which Indian batting evolved?
He was the one that all of us would say that in some ways were inspired by, set our benchmarks against. Not just us everyone around the world started to set their benchmarks against what Tendulkar achieved. It allowed us, in some ways, also to play and build our games relatively away from the limelight. Sachin I think took a lot of the limelight, especially in the late 90s when we were still growing. Fortunately, we were able to raise our games and match our games and become a really strong batting line-up in that decade from 2000-2001 onwards.
I am trying to locate him within the pantheon of India's great batsmen. For a long time we defined Indian batsmanship through a Gavaskar, just in terms of technical brilliance. Do you believe Sachin, in a sense, changed that?
It is very unfair to compare eras and look at averages and strike rates. Gavaskar grew up playing with completely different facilities, different set of circumstances. He was an incredible cricketer in his generation who inspired so many people and Sachin has done the same. There is going to be a generation coming in, someone is going to make you look back at the video of the way Sachin batted and see some young kid bat four-five-six years down the line. You look at Virat and some of the shots he plays and you think, 'wow, this is incredible'. This is even taking what Sachin did to another level … in terms of stroke-making. And Sachin built on those foundations Gavaskar had built and took that ability of attacking stroke-making cricket to a completely new level. So that will keep happening.
When did you first come across Sachin? And did you say, "My god, this guy is special"?
I first came across Sachin when I was playing an under-15 zonal tournament in Cuttack. We were playing west zone. I was not picked in the 11 and I was scoring; … and I remember scoring to him. He had this Slazenger bat, and he came out to bat and he was a kid of your age, and he must have scored 60-65, and south won. I saw this boy bat and thought, I was scoring runs in school cricket in Bangalore and was like one of the better players in Karnataka and I was 14 and for that under-15 team I was still young, I had a year of U-15 cricket. I thought I was a hot-shot. And I came back and said, "Wow, I have a long way to go".
What was it about him that stood out?
Just the way he constructed the innings, the maturity with which he played, some of the shots he played. Still remember him cover driving or being able to play the pull shot. One of our guys, very quick at that level, pitched short and he just pulled him for six. At that stage your aim is to play under-17 India or under-19 India, you are not even thinking of playing for India, and you are saying even to play U-19 India this is the standard I need to set.
But few child prodigies go on to become anything remotely close to Tendulkar…
It was like a perfect storm, so to speak. You have talent, temperament, desire, that hunger for runs which is unmatched, you have that technique, ability, physical fitness, that ability to manage your life outside of this fame and all that it brings. If you do it for 24 years, you need that. He had that combination of everything. People have bits and pieces of it. He was almost born to be able to do all of these things perfectly.
As we entered that late 90s, there were tough times too. The match-fixing scandal, did that bring a lot of you closer together?
When we first started we were quite young and lost a few series badly. And Sachin at that stage was a lone warrior. But it was the desire to be a part of a really good team -- I don't think (it was) the match-fixing thing -- that brought us together. Maybe it did in a subconscious way, the fact that we suddenly found ourselves, all these young kids, in a leadership position. Sourav became captain and Sachin had just become captain and I was vice-captain at relatively young ages. We wanted to be respected as a team, we wanted that respect.
Batting at three and four, was there a lot of chat?
I don't think we talked too much. When I was at three and Sachin had just come in, for a little bit of time there would be a little bit more chat. One of the great things of Sachin was this incredible ability to actually want to learn. So, even when he came in, and sometimes when I was young I found it a little intimidating because you had this guy who had all these achievements and scored so many runs and was this great player, to come and say, "What do you think? What is happening? And what is this bowler bowling?" But as the innings went on we never really felt, unless something came up, that we needed to talk a lot.
Is there any one partnership that you recall with fondness?
The century partnership in Chennai in the first innings. We won the Test in Kolkata in 2001 in that series and Laxman got 281.
We went to Chennai with the series on the line. And Australia put up a pretty decent score, 390, and we needed to set a (lead), because we knew the fourth day was going to turn and so it is not going to be easy chasing a lot of runs in the fourth innings. Sachin had not got a hundred in that series so far. That partnership, the way we built it up against a really good attack, is something I remember very fondly.
What is your favourite shot of Sachin?
The one shot I knew, if he got, if he was really playing well, was that flick off the stumps. He had that incredible ability. The ball was straight in the line of stumps and he had the ability to hit behind square leg at pace. It is an incredibly difficult shot to play if you are not well balanced.
Was he better against pace than spin?
Very tough to say. Because he was so good against pace and we value playing well against fast bowling so much, being Indians. There is almost an expectation that Indian batsmen will play spin well. When here comes along a kid who can dominate fast bowling, you value that so much you forget he could be a really good player of spin.
Locate him for us in the history of Indian batting.
It is unfair to compare generations. Gavaskar is a great hero of mine and to do what he did without helmet against those kinds of bowlers is an incredible achievement. Sachin is incredible in his own right. He is the Gavaskar of this generation.
Did you ever feel under the shadow of Tendulkar?
The very fact that you are talking about some of us in that particular way means we were able to, there is no doubt Sachin is the premier batsman of our generation, but each of us in our way were able to carve a place for ourselves in the history of Indian cricket.
Locate him among the world greats. This generation itself, you have had Kallis, Ponting and Lara…
All four of them would be the greatest batsmen. You have got it spot on. You have probably picked the four greatest batsmen of my generation in different ways. Lara was probably the most exciting to watch. Ponting was the winningest. Kallis was probably the greatest all-rounder of this generation, without doubt. And Sachin was probably in some ways the most consistent, the guy whom you would set all your benchmarks against. I mean 100 hundreds, 200 Test matches that he will play, most one day runs, most Test hundreds, the list is endless.
If you had to choose one batsman to bat for your life?
To bat for my life, I would probably choose Sachin; and if I had a ticket and if I had enough money to watch one, I would choose Lara.
There is no triple century in Sachin's career, not even in first-class cricket. And the two of you missed out there. Is that a gap?
It had to do a lot with the rate of scoring. Tendulkar's strike rate is probably slightly lower than say Sehwag's, or when Lara was at his pomp and going really well. So, if you want to score 300, you have to play at a much quicker strike rate. Because you have to be able to get that 300, and you are going to get out at some stage, so before you get out you have to score those runs, which is what Sehwag does brilliantly, or did brilliantly in those two games he did. Sachin I don't think was so obsessed with the 300 whereas accumulating runs and scoring runs was a really important factor for him.
Should he have retired after the 2011 World Cup win?
I don't think so. It is very hard to look into a crystal ball. If Sachin could have looked into the future and seen what the next two years would have unfolded for him and for Indian cricket in some ways, maybe he might have made a different decision. Who knows? But at that stage in 2011, he was going through a golden run, it was like second wind. And to ask someone to quit when he is having that kind of a performance behind him is unrealistic.
There was that one incident. You were captain and declared with Sachin on 194. Do want to set the record straight?
The dust has settled and we have sorted it out and I have had a conversation with him regarding that. What was said was a very personal thing between us and we need to keep it that way. But I will say that definitely there has been a huge amount of respect even after that. And it has continued to be there. I don't think that incident has soured it. At least I would like to believe not and I would be right in saying that.
READ: Sobers to miss Sachin's Eden Test
READ: Unlike Don, Master pads up amid unflinching loyalty
READ: Ad slots for Tendulkar's final Test going for a premium
READ: A debut of contrasting coincidences in Karachi