Dravid brings the feel of a detective

THERE is something about England that brings the best out of Rahul Dravid. It couldn't be the pathetic, damp days that pass off for summer here. It couldn't be the motorways for in spite of miles of beautiful road flanked by miles of relaxed countryside, they can get dreary. Beauty is often defined by those that set eyes on it and a tired body rushing to get somewhere else rarely has the time to feast on nature's desserts. It couldn't be the small county hotels where you tiptoe on your kit bag to reach the minuscule toilets.

Yet, there is something that enchants him for he even enjoyed the grind of county cricket, only earning a small minus from his colleagues for his work on the road. He insists he is a better driver than he is made out to be and he defends his record with the same belligerence with which he defends his Indian side.

Maybe, then, it is the pace of the cricket that he relishes. The one-day game is played at a more relaxed pace here even if a couple of weeks ago more than 900 were made in a day. That was an aberration, almost as unthinkable as a quiet afternoon at the soccer ground at Old Trafford. Largely, one-day cricket is a more measured exercise in England, the bowlers find the odd friend in the pitch and the batsmen have options other than slamming the ball past the poor bowlers nostrils. You could almost call it more discerning and that is the kind of cricket Rahul Dravid revels in.

On the sub-continent where four quiet deliveries can raise the temperature in drawing rooms a few degrees, he looks a bit lost, like fine wine in a Pepsi market. Dravid is a builder, not a scrambler and you need builders in England; studious determined fellows who will gauge the bowler's offering and present the best riposte. One-day cricket in India can be thrilling as bat after flaying bat makes a frantic dash to the 300 run mark. It needs a different kind of skill, a dare-devilry that he sometimes seems hesitant to be part of.

In England, 300 is rare and that means the bowler must be negotiated, not bludgeoned. That is straight down Dravid's street for he brings to cricket the feel of a detective, not a swordsman. Both have their place and while he has looked for a starring role in both, it is here in England that his craft truly finds a home.

And yet, the swordsman has clearly made inroads into the style of the detective. He is more positive in his quest for run-getting here. True, he feels his way for a while but having gauged the opposition, he thrusts more often than before. The lofted drive over cover and over the bowler's head has arrived and is played with greater comfort than before. There is even the occasional hoick over mid-wicket, the purist allowing himself a little bit of slang.

You might say that Rahul Dravid has given himself a more modern edge and while he would contest that, and contest that with energy and authority, you would not be too wrong. You can see that in the way he drops the ball at his toes for a single or steers it just between point and cover for another. Occasionally he will lean back and play the classic cut behind point to remind us that shots rich on the palate have a place in this game.

One-day cricket has always been a young man's game, and it seeks even younger men as the years go on. An Alec Stewart at 39, interestingly the same age as David Seaman, is an oddity. Few countries would have either wicket-keeper or goalkeeper that age and it says a thing or two that they are both still the best in their country. Even 30-year-olds need to pretend they are 24 and Dravid knows that. Even a wise head needs swift legs and you can see the effort at marrying the two in this series.

It has been suggested that the story behind the increasingly positive Dravid is the threat from a younger, faster, adrenalin-pumping generation. If that is indeed true, then it is worthy of applause for it shows that a man is willing to embrace a threat to rise above it. It will be interesting now to see if Dravid can carry this extra edge into the Tests where he has often been forced by poor starts into extreme self-denial. Players can feed off one form of the game into another.

He has also been a revelation as a wicket-keeper and I can say in all honesty, that I did not think it would work. It is still early days into that role but he has given it everything he has. He caught a batsman standing up to Sourav Ganguly, stumped another of Yuveraj and even though the odd ball bounces embarrassingly out of his gloves, he takes it in his stride. In theory he was going to give the balance of the team a huge boost by keeping wickets and happily he has managed that so far. India's win at The Oval with Mohammad Kaif batting alongside Yuveraj Singh was a result of the depth the batting got because Dravid was keeping wickets.

He seems to have found a nice niche at number five, another position few believed he could have made his own. He has always batted well with Tendulkar who is rising to the challenge of number four himself. But he also acts as a nice buffer to the aggression of younger men below him. Certainly Yuveraj Singh seems to benefit from having Dravid at the non-striker's end and two very different men have fashioned two high quality run-chases.

Twenty nine is a great age to be batting in international cricket for you know yourself better than when your hormones are flaring in the early twenties. In the relaxed environment of England, at twenty nine, Rahul Dravid is playing the best one-day cricket of his career.