Dravid digs in
Posted in England in India 2008
What a difference a day makes.
Rahul Dravid’s Test career was seemingly in jeopardy this time yesterday. Debates raged about his position in the order, TV chat shows discussed his right to a place in the side, and some observers were even claiming he should never play for India again.
Fast-forward 24 hours and Dravid is the proud owner of another half-century his 54th in Tests, which served not only to silence the doubters but also helped India establish a commanding advantage in the final Test against England in Mohali.
Though Dravid’s unbeaten 65 on the opening day was statistically inferior to Gautam Gambhir’s 106 not out - and, it must be said, significantly less entertaining - there is little doubt which innings carried the greater significance.
Having scored just 32 runs in his last three matches, and one century in 40 innings stretching back to July last year, Dravid went into this game under considerable pressure from an Indian public and media hardly renowned for their patience.
The burden was greater still given his remarkable Test record, but as Dravid accumulated unfussily during almost five hours hours at the crease, it seemed almost inconceivable that a man with more than 10,000 runs to his name and such a lofty reputation should have had his credentials questioned at all this week.
Memories are famously short in the world of professional sport, yet Dravid - among the most rounded of cricketers - refused to discard the method that has served him so well during more than a decade at the top.
Hardly an expansive player at his best, Dravid was especially cautious early in his innings, although that had almost as much to do with India’s plight when he came to the crease - the scoreboard read six for one - as his woeful form of late.
A miscued pull off James Anderson that landed safely behind square-leg betrayed his initial nerves, and the remainder of the first session was filled largely with dead-bat defensive strokes as Dravid shuffled into line on off stump.
He played the ball impeccably late, his hands never far from his body, and the odd scampered single edged him slowly into double figures as his partner scored relatively freely at the other end.
It took him an hour and a quarter to register his first boundary - a better executed pull off Anderson this time - but it is safe to assume that England, so often on the receiving end of huge Dravid scores in the past, were far more concerned with his continued presence rather than a lack of runs.
The runs flowed more freely after lunch and, while the aesthetics left something to be desired as Dravid, closing the face of the bat as is his wont, shovelled Andrew Flintoff back past mid-on or tucked singles off his hips, there can be no doubting the effectiveness of his batting.
He showed glimpses of his wristy best by whipping Stuart Broad emphatically through midwicket, but they were notable exceptions during an innings in which substance comfortable outweighed style.
Dravid’s contribution also served to justify India’s decision not to demote him to number five - there was talk of VVS Laxman stepping up to number three - and his return to form contrasted sharply with the fate of Virender Sehwag.
Sehwag, too, can be left to rue the fickle hands of cricketing fate, having followed up his blistering 83 and the man-of-the-match award in Chennai with a three-ball duck that contained two play-and-misses and an edge behind.
He spent the remainder of the day in the pavilion watching Dravid and Gambhir studiously compile an unbroken second-wicket stand which is currently worth 173 and could feasibly put the series beyond England’s reach.
If Sehwag and Dravid have enjoyed mixed fortunes in the past week, Gambhir has been a model of consistency since his recall to the Test side in July.
He has failed to reach 20 only once in 15 innings, and now boasts a century against England to go with the hundred and double hundred he made against Australia in the recent home series triumph.
A remarkable 963 runs at an average approaching 70 in the second half of the year has removed any semblance of doubt over whether India have finally found the solution to the longstanding problem of who should partner Sehwag at the top of the order.
Indians - none more so more than Dravid himself - will be equally pleased that the debate over the number three position has also been put to bed.