Eternal go-to man

Cricket

Eternal go-to man

Mr perfect: Rahul Dravid has handled every hurdle in his life with tact and skill. AFP

The third day of the second Test at Trent Bridge had begun on a sour note. Former England captain Michael Vaughan had suggested in his tweet that Indian batsmen were applying Vaseline on the edges of their bats to hoodwink the Hot Spot cameras.

Mischievous as the comment was, things only got worse as the day wore on. Ian Bell’s freak run-out had all the signs of precipitating into a major controversy before his subsequent recall by India; as mediamen waited at the post-match press do, expecting either coach Duncan Fletcher or skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni to appear, Rahul Dravid walked in. For a moment, it was surprising, but then you realised it wasn’t.

He is the man for all seasons and situations. You need a makeshift opener, ask Dravid to pad up. You require a replacement wicket-keeper, call up Dravid. And if you want someone to handle a sensitive issue, let Dravid deal with it. Even when he was going through one of his worst phases as a batsman on the tour of Australia in 2008, he agreed to open so that India could accommodate an in-form Yuvraj Singh.

No Indian cricketer has been as accommodative as Dravid. If there’s an award for selfless cricket, then the 38-year-old has little challenge. That’s not to cast aspersions on the others. But where the rest are happy disposing of the normal duties, Dravid has often been asked to step out of his comfort zone to meet the requirements of the team.

“There are not many who will agree to keep wickets, and there are fewer people who agree to open. But Dravid has always done that for us without any complaints. We are lucky that we have somebody like him in our side,” said Dhoni, acknowledging his former captain’s commitment to the  team’s cause.
     
Even someone like VVS Laxman has steadfastly refused to open the innings after some bitter experiences doing so at the beginning of his career. “That’s one thing I’ll not agree to,” noted the Hyderabadi when asked if he would open in the absence of Virender Sehwag at the beginning of India’s current tour of England. Often in his career, Dravid has had to walk in to face the second ball of an innings but he knows the opener’s is a specialist job, something he will do only if there is a necessity.

“There is for me,” admitted Dravid when asked if there is any different way of preparing while opening an innings. “I have always grown up as a middle-order batsman, all my routines have been set for so many years in being one-drop or two-drop batsman for Karnataka. One of the things (while opening) I find is when there is a 10-minute period, you have to rush back in, change and quickly run out. That’s the thing I have not done often enough. 

“Sometimes I feel I have been rushed to the middle, when I have been asked to open. As a one-down, I get a little bit more time. Sometimes I could be in after the first ball, but at least I would get some breathing space, maybe 15-20 minutes. So everything I have done is set around those routines. At Lord’s (in the second innings), I felt really rushed into bat as I was keeping and running up and down the stairs to change the gears. So this time (at Trent Bridge), I was really determined not to get bothered by such things. I gave a little more time for myself. You learn these kinds of things as you do it more and more,” he reflected.

How about bowling as well, then? “Not at this age yaar... The shoulder will come out of my back,” Dravid said, eliciting light laughter. His defiant century on the second day at Trent Bridge, however, had drawn only applause pregnant with deep appreciation of his technique and temperament, patience and perseverance. He isn’t a stroke-maker like Laxman or Sachin Tendulkar but his strength lies in the deep understanding of his own game.
“I have been lucky with my temperament when it comes to batting,” he pointed out. “I recognise I have to bat for a long time in the middle if I have to score runs as I know I can’t score boundaries like Sehwag, Sachin or Laxman. Over the years, I have practiced it. Every time I do it, I have got better at it. So it’s a learning experience. Over the years, I have got my routine going before every ball; sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” he explained.

Notwithstanding his staggering numbers in one-dayres, Dravid has always been a fan of Test cricket. He enjoys the challenge the format throws up over five days and loves to see how his contribution shapes the course of a game. The two centuries, at Lord’s and Trent Bridge, on this current tour have given him immense pleasure because he had to work hard them.

“Test cricket is tough, both physically and mentally,” Dravid noted. “There is a physical side to Test cricket, but there is also a mental and emotional side to it. Once you leave after the day’s play in the evening, it’s how you take cricket away from your mind. Over the years, I have got better at that, managing the high and low emotions of a Test match. Tests are tough, you can never really enjoy it till five days are up and (you have) won it or lost it,” he elaborated.

Now, if only India had ended up winning or at least drawing those matches. Only once on 32 occasions before this tour had a Dravid century had come in a losing cause. Now, his last two centuries, the second of which tied him with Sunil Gavaskar and Brian Lara at 34 tons, haven’t bailed India out. A rare occurrence, but his efforts were a connoisseur’s delight. Where some of his younger colleagues struggled against bouncers, he swayed away with effortless ease. His ability to leave the ball outside off-stump at once exemplified unwavering concentration and unqualified skill. He was, though, modest enough to suggest that he had been lucky in both innings. 

“When you come to England, you know that leaving the ball is an important art,” the former India captain reasoned. “You got to watch the ball. I have watched foreign players play on their wickets, standing in the slips, seeing what kind of length balls they leave. And obviously you practice that.

“When you are in form and when playing well, your judgement is better and confident. I played and missed a lot, I could have nicked the first ball and people would have said he is not leaving well. That’s cricket. But when you have survived, it’s important to tell yourself that you got to fight back and make it count, have that fortitude and discipline and not make anything silly,” observed Dravid, the second highest run-getter in Tests behind Tendulkar.

The little master from Mumbai may be receiving standing ovations each time he steps out to bat at every English venue, but it’s Dravid who is getting them as he returns to the pavilion.

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