He is the anchorman

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

THE waves lash the shore violently. It is high tide. But the horizon is peaceful as it presents a pretty picture with the sun seeking leave. We sit on the rocks, reflecting on his exceptional Test hundred at Bourda.

Rahul Dravid is soaking in the atmosphere, at ease with himself. The breeze carries a pleasant chill and the weather is perfect to relax. He can afford this rare luxury.

-V. V. KRISHNAN

In this team of stroke players, Dravid is the anchorman. One who believes in hanging in. It is not that he curbs himself. His game is to grind the attack and he does not pretend either. He does not try some shots because he cannot play them confidently. "There's no point in trying to play shots like Laxman or Sachin or Sourav. There a good chance that I'll get out."

The swelling on his left jaw is a reminder of that dreadful moment at Bourda when Mervyn Dillon hurt his pride. The ball crashed into the grill of the helmet and Dravid sank. This incident threatened the Indian camp as much as the man who suffered the blow.

And then he rose. His self-pride driving him to pick up his bat and gloves and carry on. The team prayed to a man because Dravid's presence in the middle alone can prevent disaster at that moment. He knew it too. He felt groggy, jaded and then was worried for his jaw. He held the key to this Test, and the series. But Dravid did not relent and simply put a new helmet on, took guard and produced an innings which spoke for the man's resilience and honour.

He was very honest when discussing that incident. "It was a misjudgements (ducking into the bouncer). We all make errors. It was the first time in my career that I was hit on the helmet. I think I'm entitled to make a few mistakes. This was one. The ball wasn't short enough to duck."

Dravid has just finished reading Wings Of Fire, the superb autobiography of A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. He gushes "its a great book. I enjoyed reading it immensely and it's a big source of motivation for anyone who reads it.

We were Soldiers Once, And Young is the title of the new book that he is reading. "It's about the Vietnam war," Dravid informs. His interests are diverse and vision singular. Nothing can shake his resolve and that is his forte. His batting has evolved on this strong self-belief that he was born to serve Indian cricket for long, and with distinction.

For Dravid it meant a lot to be counted. "As a senior player, I've certain responsibilities to carry." So, this knock at Bourda was one emphatic demonstration of the man's progress as a batsman when faced with a situation. I would say it was a strong statement confirming his commitment to the team.

Dravid has his priorities right. He does not aim to bat like others. And rightly so. People want to watch Tendulkar or Lara because they are entertaining and dominating. But Dravid admitted "I cant bat like them. I know I won't be successful if I tried to ape them. Let us accept that it's better to bat according to your limitations."

He has made a promise to himself that he shall not imitate anyone. "It's important that you bat in a manner which is comfortable to you. Don't bat like others simply because someone says or writes or comments that you should. You have to look at yourself first."

Dravid did not rate the 144 not out at Bourda as his best. "The 190 (at Hamilton against New Zealand) was better because I felt in control all the way. I was in good touch throughout the innings and hardly made any mistakes. In terms of results, the 180 at Eden Gardens was special. The 95 at Lord's (on debut) was memorable because it was a great start to my career and a huge boost."

But what about the Bourda act? "This one was special too because I've always valued scoring in the West Indies. I've always looked at the positive aspects of all my innings. There is a lesson always in failures."

His batting has evolved quite steadily in the last one year. He agreed that he had learnt a lot from the time he played that innings at Kolkata. It taught him to understand his game a lot better. "I think I've a tighter all-round game now and better defence. It has certainly made me tougher mentally."

Dravid's game has never been about robust shots. He does not hit the ball hard but likes to use the pace and bounce to get his shots going. He enjoys his batting. "Actually my motivation comes from my batting, from scoring runs. Nothing inspires me more than playing for my country. It's a great honour. We carry the hopes of millions of people and need to set examples for youngsters to emulate. That's where my motivation comes from."

Is technique an obsession for him? Dravid was quick "it's not. For me good technique comes from devotion and it is worth only if it helps you get runs. When I'm in the middle my job is not to concentrate just on my technique but on ways to get runs."

Another pleasant aspect of having someone like Dravid is his ability to infuse confidence among his partners. "I like to work in tandem because it gives me lot of satisfaction to see that my partner also gets runs. It doesn't matter who scores more. With Laxman I've enjoyed some partnerships. Sachin and Sourav have been great. Sachin is such a fantastic player. He's such a good runner between the wickets. Laxman and Sourav sort of complement my style. What is common among us is the desire to score runs and ensure that the team gets a big total."

Dravid made a valid point when he spoke of concentration after reaching a century. "Generally a lot of batsmen get out after getting a century.

But I've consciously tried to avoid such mistakes. I've tried to build on my hundreds. It's best to get going after a hundred because you have been there enough to judge the situation. Why throw away your wicket just because you have reached a hundred.

Dravid, 29, has at times been accused of not being able to dominate; of curbing his strokes, much in contrast to his potential. It cannot be deliberate. It happens because Dravid is that kind of player. Someone from the old school. But he conceded "it's one area I need to improve upon." In Tests, I think this opinion is unwarranted because Dravid needs to ensure that he occupies the crease for a long time and find the right balance of grafters and stroke makers.

What then was style worth in his approach to batting? "Team doesn't want style. Team wants runs. And that is what I remember when I bat. Forget the style and look at the substance, look at what you have contributed." Just the philosophy that Steve Waugh has followed. No wonder Dravid admires Steve. "He may not be the prettiest but is willing to fight it out. That's what counts." It holds true for Dravid too!