The Euclid of batting

Was the recent 191 against New Zealand Rahul Dravid's last Test innings on Indian soil? Such things matter when you are on the cusp of 38 and the youngsters have been making their knocks heard. For the moment, however, there is the tour of South Africa to come. Dravid might think further ahead. To England, where it all began in 1996, with a near-century at Lord's. For someone whose batting evokes geometry, that would be a perfect circle, writes Suresh Menon.

Much has been written about Sachin Tendulkar's Second Coming but a similar revival by Rahul Dravid has been pushed into the background. It is unlikely that Dravid will mind. He is too much the team man, too much the professional to worry about perceptions. Tendulkar found his salvation after a brief dalliance with near-ordinariness by becoming more Tendulkarine. He reconnected with his best years with batting that married the exuberance of youth with the calmness of maturity.

Dravid did something similar, becoming more Dravid-like. His 77 in the first Test against Australia suggested that he was striking the ball with the assurance of his best years, but the uncertainties rose to the surface in the opener against New Zealand.

Yet by the time the teams left Nagpur after a win in the final Test, Dravid had worked it out. The essential difference between India's two greatest batsmen has been the manner in which they have reacted to personal crises at the crease.

While Tendulkar has been instinctive, trusting his natural ball sense and ability to be creative under pressure, Dravid has been Euclidean, bringing to his responses the mathematical efficiency of straight lines and arcs.

Dravid worked it out in his mind, Tendulkar on the field of play, and that is why these two have been the Apollo and Dionysius of Indian batsmanship; the intellectual Dravid and the instinctive Tendulkar.

The seeds of Dravid's immaculate 191 in the third Test were sown in that innings of 104 in the first Test. The pressure on him is always greater than on most Indian batsmen simply because he thinks too much. It is not quite the golfer's paralysis by analysis, but it is close. While a Virender Sehwag works out the percentages in striking to different parts of the field, Dravid understands the odds on failure better. Others don't know enough to be worried, Dravid does. Sehwag makes it look easy because he knows no other way to bat; Dravid, when struggling, makes it look difficult because he is always conscious of other ways to bat.

Dravid agonises after being dismissed for 191 in the Nagpur Test. He has the curse of remembering. In a recent conversation, he revealed how he remembers every single dismissal of his in international cricket. That is a small matter of 253 Test innings.-PTI

Dravid will never tell himself while struggling that it is one of those days. That he is doing everything right, and yet not scoring because that is the nature of sport. He will rationalise every breath he takes, every move he makes. Is his bottom hand gripping the bat too hard? Are his feet immobile? Is he jabbing at the ball? Is it the angle of the delivery, the bounce, the pressure that comes from long periods of scorelessness?

No wonder Dravid — who has a fine line in self-deprecatory humour — says he wants to be reborn as Sehwag. The opener does not clutter his mind, and he has the greatest ability any sportsman can have — the gift of forgetting. Dravid has the curse of remembering. In a recent conversation, he revealed how he remembers every single dismissal of his in international cricket. That is a small matter of 253 Test innings.

And when you get out to left arm medium pace in six innings (Chamaka Welegedara thrice, Doug Bollinger twice, Mitchell Johnson once), you see patterns. Dravid averaged under 35 this year before the New Zealand series; two centuries later, it had risen to 49.

In some ways, that knock of 104 revealed something deeper in Dravid than the 191. To score a century while struggling, to stymie all efforts by the bowler without any overt aggression speaks of rare strength of character. It was an important century — statistically it took him past Don Bradman and into the company of those with 30 Test centuries.

Understanding the geometry of batsmanship meant, however, that he knew where every ball was meant to go if played by the book. The flip side of this philosophy is that a fielding captain can block the runs by having his fielders in the right positions to Dravid. The batsman will not hit himself out of trouble; he prefers to frustrate the bowler into bowling loose deliveries. And when shots go straight to the fielder, he is willing to wait it out.

He wasn't allowed to play his favourite square cut. There is a thumb rule for gauging the mood of the Indian batsmen. Watch their early strokes. If Tendulkar push-drives one past the bowler, or V. V. S. Laxman turns either to square leg or between mid on and midwicket, then it is likely to be their day. There is an element of Browning's ‘God's in his heaven, all's right with the world' about these batsmen playing their signature strokes.

In Dravid's case, it is the square cut. When he leans back, sometimes waiting for the ball and then you see the swish of the bat, you know all is well. If he plays the cut off the front foot it might even be a sign of early over-confidence! All is well. Perhaps too well.

The square cut wasn't employed much in the innings of 191, but there was something else — a sense of calm. Dravid's self-possession had returned, as had his on drive in an innings 27 minutes short of 10 hours.

Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar have been the Apollo and Dionysius of Indian batsmanship; the intellectual Dravid and the instinctive Tendulkar. Here, in September 2008, both are before The Wall — a massive structure with 10000 bricks — erected at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in honour of Dravid's exploits in Test cricket. Tendulkar had unveiled it.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

The sub-text of a Dravid innings was in place too. The amazing fitness, the concentration, the ability to ignore all temptation. And then he suddenly steps out and mis-hits Kane Williamson, against the run of play, to end it all. Homer nods.

Was that Dravid's last Test innings on Indian soil? Such things matter when you are on the cusp of 38 and the youngsters have been making their knocks heard.

Figuring out the last innings of the famed Indian middle order has been a cottage industry for some time now. Sourav Ganguly surprised everybody by announcing his retirement at the start of a series two years ago. Since then the rest have given the impression that if this is the twilight of their careers, then night time is a long way off.

For the moment, however, there is the tour of South Africa to come. Dravid might think further ahead. To England, where it all began in 1996, with a near-century at Lord's. For someone whose batting evokes geometry, that would be a perfect circle.