The No. 3 mutual admiration society
When the whole world - it seemed so at the time - was asking Ricky Ponting to retire, the man who had just overtaken him to become the second-highest run-getter in Test cricket was rooting for him to do well against South Africa. Rahul Dravid relates to what Ponting has been going through. Admittedly Ponting's lean run has been longer - 22 months without a Test century - but Dravid has been in that boat, in 2007 and 2008, when he felt the pressure to just hold on to his spot in the side.
"In some ways, having gone through it myself, I found myself cheering for him, wishing for him to do well in South Africa this time," Dravid told ESPNcricinfo before departing for Australia, where he will surely have more notes to exchange with the man himself. Dravid is one of the seven members of the squad to leave before the rest of the side, in order to get acclimatised to the conditions better. "I have been through all that myself, and can easily relate to him. I was watching those Test matches and was in some way hoping that he would score runs. I hoped he would score runs in this next Test match and then take a bit of a break against us."
Interestingly, Ponting himself had asked Dravid to shut out his critics and stay put when he was struggling. "I actually went and found him at the end of the series and said 'don't you even think about retiring' because I just saw some stuff in a few of his innings that suggested he was still a very, very good player," Ponting had said of his meeting with the opposition's No. 3 before the series in India last year. "I just said 'don't let them wear you down, don't let them get you down'."
Dravid faced similar calls for retirement during his struggle - Tony Greig famously and rhetorically asked on live TV if Dravid's final dismissal on the Sri Lanka tour last year was his last. However, he has fought through the period and has scored the small matter of five Test centuries since his 38th birthday, numbers that are a throwback to the era of Graham Gooch if not Jack Hobbs.
Like Dravid, Ponting hasn't looked completely out of sorts. He was in pretty good form on that tour to India, only failing to convert fifties into hundreds. India is a country Ponting has never truly mastered as a batsman but he threatened to do so in Mohali and Bangalore. Dravid agrees. "I think he is still a great player," Dravid said. "He showed in the couple of Test matches that he played against us in India that he is still - I'd say he is still - the best Australian batsman. And when you read his name on the sheet he is still one of the most feared. There is no doubt about it."
Ponting's slump has in a way been similar, albeit longer, in that Dravid used to get starts in those two years but get out before converting them. Ponting has had a rope longer than any other former Australian captain of similar age could have expected. In fact captains hardly get to stay on just as players in Australia. While it says a lot about the quality of replacements available, it also points to how much Ponting is still in love with the game. He is willing to risk getting dropped as opposed to "letting them wear him down".
What Dravid has to say about his period of struggle could just as easily apply to Ponting. "Sometimes it is a confidence thing," Dravid said. "Sometimes things don't go for you. You get a bit of a bad run, you get a couple of good balls, and then you lose a bit of confidence. Maybe your mindset changes.
"However much you know you need to change it, sometimes it just doesn't happen until you can get confirmation through actual scores on the ground. As much as you can hit the ball in the nets and say you are feeling good - and it was the case, I felt really good in the nets a lot of times or even at the start of an innings and I would get out - until you get that confirmation with actual runs on the board, even if it is an ugly hundred, an ugly big score, you can't turn it around."
Except that Dravid is hoping that the confirmation, that big score - ugly or otherwise - doesn't come Ponting's way this summer. "From our perspective I hope he can start a golden run after our series."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo