An issue of primary concern

IT is not often you see an error as elementary as this at the international level. But then, you cannot blame Rahul Dravid for it. After all, he is not a specialist wicket-keeper.

IT is not often you see an error as elementary as this at the international level. But then, you cannot blame Rahul Dravid for it. After all, he is not a specialist wicket-keeper. When Dravid positioned himself between the stumps and substitute L. Balaji to collect the latter's throw from short third-man in the Asia Cup final in Colombo, it showed that the Indian vice-captain can at best be a useful wicket-keeper and definitely not a complete one.

However much the shorter version of the game is about all-rounders and `bits and pieces' cricketers to achieve a balance, there are some departments that are the preserve of the specialists. Wicket-keeping is one of them. A specialist wicket-keeper always collects the ball standing behind the stumps. By doing so, he allows every chance of a direct hit while also getting into the right position.

Kumara Sangakkara was halfway down the pitch, but Dravid was so wrongly positioned that he could not convert the chance which would have ended the crucial third-wicket association between Sangakkara and skipper Marvan Atapattu 32 runs short of their match-winning 116-run partnership. India eventually lost by 25 runs. There are some skills that come naturally. Like batting is to `The Wall'. You'll never see Dravid running a single with the bat in the wrong hand!

Dravid needs to be appreciated for doubling up behind the stumps to provide balance to the side. Typically, he has shown a high level of fitness and commitment. But it is important for India to find a wicket-keeper who can fit in as the No. 7 in the batting order.

India was in a fix during the Asia Cup when V.V.S. Laxman was injured and Ganguly found it difficult to slot Parthiv Patel in the batting order — the latter was the only one among the substitutes in the 14-member squad who could bat.

Parthiv is a sound wicket-keeper and a compact left hand batsman, but his style is not suited for the middle/lower-middle order in the one-day version.

In this context, Tamil Nadu's wicket-keeper-batsman Dinesh Kaarthick, who replaced Parthiv for the tri-series in Holland, the NatWest series and Champions Trophy in England, looks a better option.

Kaarthick is a busy player who made centuries in the Ranji Trophy semi-final and final last season. He was also dominant in the under-l9 World Cup in Dhaka earlier this year. While reacting quickly to Kaarthick's inclusion, Sourav Ganguly said that "he would persist with Dravid as wicket-keeper in the one-dayers and Parthiv in Tests".

Ganguly is a man of strong likes and dislikes. He is also one to make bold statements. But this one came as a surprise, for it has sent the wrong signals to a player who hasn't even been tried and one of optimism to Parthiv.

Parthiv is still only 19, and has a long career ahead. He made his one-day international debut in the fourth contest of the seven-match series against New Zealand, at Queenstown, on India's 2002-03 tour.

He has played in 14 one-dayers (132 runs, 12 catches and three stumpings) and has been in the squad in 34 other matches. Competition for a place in the side will certainly do him a world of good.

Where does this leave Dravid? The Karnataka batsman first kept wickets against Sri Lanka at Taunton during the 1999 World Cup. But it was after the NatWest series 2002, when India stumbled on the successful seven batsmen formula, that he got the role permanently.

One is not sure if he enjoys it. But, knowing Dravid and the team-man that he is, he will continue donning the dual role as long as the skipper and the team need him to. It began as a stop-gap arrangement, but Dravid has been behind the stumps in 67 one-dayers so far.

It must be remembered that a premier batsman is being risked in a role that is neither his primary or secondary talent.

Moreover, wicket-keeping has some injury risks. Does it make sense to expose Dravid to these risks? It is up to the team management to decide.

It is the side which takes the half chances that prevails in the end. The Asia Cup was India's 13th final under Ganguly in tournaments featuring three nations or more, but the Bengal cricketer has only one title (NatWest 2002) to show.

There are some gaps that need to be plugged if India has to surmount the `final' obstacle. The wicket-keeping issue is of primary concern.