A touch of swagger to India's crisis man

A touch of swagger to India's crisis man

cool customer:  Dravid’s approach to batting during the ongoing Test series  against Sri Lanka has been refreshing. AP

The routine when he strides in purposefully at the fall of the first wicket is still the same. A little skip over the boundary ropes, a couple of shadow drives down the ground, glove-punching with his partner before taking guard. There is, though, an unmistakable swagger about Rahul Dravid these days that is hard to miss.

It’s a swagger not born out of arrogance. If anything, it is a reflection of his positive mindset, a by-product of confidence and security, of the knowledge that he is batting beautifully. Indeed, as well as he has ever done in his illustrious career.

Dravid has always been associated with strength of mind. A water-tight technique helped too, but mostly, in difficult circumstances, the man who will forever be associated with the number three spot in Indian cricket willed himself to steer the team out of trouble.

He did so with a calm assurance that totally masked whatever storm might have been brewing in his mind. Day in and day out, he waged wearying mental battles against the best in the world and, even if he was allowed only one mistake, came out on top more often than not.

At some stage, one felt, all that would take its toll, a price would have to be paid. It was, briefly, last year. Strange as it might sound, it was also perhaps the best thing that happened to Rahul Dravid.

Great achievers are without exception victims of their own lofty standards. When they slip a little bit off their own hectic pace, they are judged more harshly than regular, average performers. Dravid’s patchy run-scoring ways of 2008 evoked unsurprising scrutiny; no one dared question aloud his presence in the Test line-up, but the whispers were gathering.

Through it all, the Bangalorean remained outwardly calm. He was striking the ball beautifully and looking in good touch – at nets and in matches – but the one turnaround innings everyone was waiting for just wasn’t materialising.

If there were any gremlins of self-doubt, they must have quickly disappeared when words of support and appreciation came from unexpected quarters last November – from the likes of Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting. Then, Mohali – and 136 – against England happened, a comprehensive tide-turning effort if there was one.
Dravid is the quintessential ‘thinking cricketer’. Meticulous, supremely attentive to detail and extremely self-critical, he could have allowed himself to be bogged down by the lack of runs. Instead, while he recognised that all wasn’t going swimmingly well with his batting, he didn’t brood or fret, withdraw into his shell or shut the rest of the world out.

His work ethics remained unaltered, his preparation was as immaculate as ever. Dravid decided he would stick by the basic tenets that had stood him in great stead for so long but most importantly, he never panicked.

“One of the things that in some ways surprised me was how calm I was about the whole thing,” Dravid told Deccan Herald not so long back. “I was going through some very difficult times but I thought I was pretty relaxed, at least internally.”

In superb form

Post Mohali, Dravid has been in superb form. In New Zealand, without touching three-figures, he made more than 300 runs in three Tests. A brief reunion with one-day cricket later, the 36-year-old has wowed the cricketing world with his approach and intent in the Test series against Sri Lanka.

It’s almost a given, in some ways, that for India to recover substantially from 32 for four on day one of a Test series, Dravid has to play a significant role. He did, in Ahmedabad, but in a manner that simply took one’s breath away.

Dancing down the track and depositing a left-arm spinner over long-on in the first session of a series, especially from 32 for four? Dravid? You got to be kidding!
But he did that, and more. During a wonderfully constructed 177, the classy right-hander rolled the years back as the young man who took spinners apart in domestic cricket more than a decade back dramatically resurfaced. Rangana Herath and Muttiah Muralitharan weren’t treated on reputation or record; every ball was judged on its merit and tackled accordingly, and Dravid’s judgement has seldom been anything but impeccable.

That spectacular 177 was followed by an equally brilliant 144 in Kanpur, terminated in the only manner possible – a freak run-out at the bowler’s end, backing up. The hunger for runs remains unsated, the aura undiminished.

Without being dismissive, Dravid has been matter-of-fact about his climb up the run-scoring charts. In Ahmedabad, he became only the fifth batsman to score 11,000 Test runs. At Green Park, he eased past Allan Border to establish himself as the fourth highest run-getter of all time, just reward for years of diligence and determination, for class and quality. In all humility, Dravid pointed out that if anyone played for as long as and in as many Tests as he has, the numbers were bound to stack up. Not everyone, of course, can survive this long without certain special qualities because longevity doesn’t come easily or effortlessly.
More than 11,000 runs and 28 Test hundreds, an impressive one-day record, one of India’s more successful captains with series wins in the West Indies and England, among other accomplishments. For some, Rahul Dravid might still be the nearly man. Not, however, for the men who matter --  his team-mates .

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