He gets going when the going gets tough

Published : Nov 28, 2009 00:00 IST



Rahul Dravid has steel in his bones. He is one of those rare cricketers who actually relishes playing in adverse situations. They appear to stoke his combative instincts, writes S. Dinakar.

The subtle technical change he made reflected his analytical mind. Rahul Dravid had opened up his stance as he took on the English pacemen in Mohali. Ahead of the final Test against England last season, he had been bothered by deliveries leaving him. He was not certain about his off-stump.

But Dravid thought his way out of troubled times. A two-eyed stance enables a batsman to have a good look at deliveries on and outside the off-stump.

The in-coming ball is a threat to a batsman with such a stance but Dravid was getting his left foot across and covering the movement. The batsmen with two-eyed stance are well-placed for the pull or the flick but their driving, particularly the full-flowing ones, on the off-side can be limited. Perhaps, Dravid wanted to limit his shots on the off-side.

His game plan was simple: follow closely the ball on or outside the off-stump and take out the extravagant drives on the off-side.

This was a phase, ahead of India’s tour of New Zealand, when Dravid’s place in the Indian team was seemingly on the line. He was short of runs and needed to make a substantial contribution to the team and for himself. The conditions were overcast and the English pacemen had struck early on the first morning. And in walked Dravid.

His new stance was immediately obvious. And his technical switch worked. He was more certain of himself in the corridor, was fluent on the on-side and judiciously scored with firm pushes and checked drives on the off-side. The big drives through covers were out. He made a fighting 136 in difficult conditions. Dravid’s Test career was back on track.

Later in the season, when India visited New Zealand, Dravid, his confidence and rhythm back, reverted to his old side-on stance.

Dravid’s batsmanship is not only about temperament, determination or a one-dimensional technique. It’s a lot about a mind that can make tactical switches.

Now, the runs are flowing from the 36-year-old’s blade. Dravid’s run of scores in the three Tests in New Zealand were 66 and 8 not out (in Hamilton), 83 and 62 (Napier) and 35 and 60 (Wellington).

When India resumed Test cricket after a gap of seven months, Dravid’s 177 in the first Test in Ahmedabad — constructed in difficult circumstances after India, with the new ball darting around, was reduced to 32 for four on the first morning — was typical of the man. The conditions for batting were demanding during the opening session of the first Test against Sri Lanka and Dravid was on the ball. He was water-tight around the off-stump, played close to the ball and put away the loose deliveries ruthlessly on either side of the wicket.

Dravid can blunt pace attacks with a rock-solid defence off either foot and when the frustrated fast bowler attempts something different, he can be severe with his response as he was with his positive hundred at Motera. Not for nothing is he amongst the world’s most successful No. 3 batsmen ever.

During his big hundred, Dravid reached the 11,000-run mark in Tests; he is only the fifth batsman to achieve the feat.

Dravid has 11038 runs in 135 Tests at 53.06 with 27 hundreds and 57 half-centuries. His away record — 6430 runs in 75 Tests at 56.90 with 16 hundreds — compares favourably with his home record — 4608 runs in 60 Tests at 48.50 with 11 centuries.

Apart from Sachin Tendulkar, no other Indian batsman handles the combination of lateral movement and bounce better than Dravid. And Dravid bats at No. 3 when the ball is likely to be new and hard, when the pacemen will run in and hustle the batsmen with bounce.

The batsman from Karnataka plays the short ball particularly well, never ducking too early, keeping his eyes on the ball to sway away from the line and playing on his toes with soft hands and a vertical blade, or pulling and hooking.

A glimpse at his records in major cricketing nations outside the sub-continent reveals his stature. Dravid has 972 runs in 12 Tests in Australia (average: 48.60), 915 in nine Tests in England (65.35), 766 in seven Tests in New Zealand (63.83), 1260 runs in 14 Tests in the West Indies (70.00). It is only in South Africa that he has been less consistent by his lofty standards — 504 runs in eight Tests at 33.60.

And he remains one of India’s foremost match-winners in crunch Tests, particularly on foreign soil. Dravid’s 148 under a cloud cover at Leeds in 2002 was a masterpiece. India went on to nail the Test.

His 233 and 72 not out in Adelaide guided India to a sensational victory over Australia in 2003. And Dravid’s inspiring 270 in the decider in Rawalpindi — the mentally tough Dravid has 550 runs in six Tests in Pakistan at 78.57 — was largely instrumental in India registering a historic Test series win across the border.

The studious right-hander’s efforts of 81 and 68 on a wicked Kingston track in 2006 provided India a memorable away Test series triumph in the West Indies.

Even when he was not in best of form, Dravid willed himself to a priceless innings of 93 in Perth in 2008. India ambushed the Aussies on a lively track. The man’s got steel in his bones. He is one of those rare cricketers who actually relishes playing in adverse situations. They appear to stoke his combative instincts. Crucially, he remains calm in the cauldron.

If his effort in Ahmedabad is any indication, there is a lot more cricket left in Dravid. Apart from playing the pacemen with composure and craft, he uses the depth of the crease wonderfully well against the spinners for those old-fashioned shots behind point. Dravid’s commitment continues to glitter. And he is back among big runs.

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