Australia v India, 1st Test, Melbourne, 2nd day December 27, 2007

Dravid symbolised India's diffidence

Rahul Dravid, opening in a Test for the first time in close to two years, was suffocated to such an extent that it was 40 balls before he scored his first run



Rahul Dravid took 15 overs to get to the other end of the pitch © Getty Images

Sixteen years ago Sanjay Manjrekar came to Australia as India's best batsman. He had enjoyed a wonderful series in Pakistan and possessed the technique to counter any kind of bowling. He ended the five Tests without a single half-century and was never the same force since.

Four years back he revisited that trip. "I spent quite a lot of time at the crease, and never once felt uncomfortable," he wrote in Wisden Asia Cricket. "My weakness was that I didn't have the game to score off good balls. So I'd spend two hours scoring 30 before a good ball would get me. If I had managed to hit a few more fours, I could perhaps have got 60 in that time. The wait-and-watch approach is never going to be profitable in Australia. To succeed as a batsman, you should be able to create scoring opportunities, because there is little point in waiting for loose balls which never come."

India's top order learnt the harsh lesson today. Rahul Dravid, opening in a Test for the first time in close to two years, was suffocated to such an extent that it was 40 balls before he scored his first run. His 66-ball 5 was a tedious effort, reminiscent of his painstaking 12 at The Oval earlier in the year. Mitchell Johnson bowled maiden after maiden, while Dravid blocked, missed and edged. Behind him was the Great Southern Stand. Neither would budge.

Conditions weren't easy. In the first 20 overs Brett Lee was hostile and Johnson was miserly. The first single was scored off the 19th over, for whatever came earlier was in twos. A slow start is understandable if the two batsmen are rotating the strike. But Dravid took 15 overs to get to the other end. He didn't face Lee for a single ball.

Before getting off the mark, he tried to force four shots through the off side. Two were intercepted by the fielders while the other two were edged. One of those nicks, a tough chance, flew wide of Phil Jaques at fourth slip. The one-handed attempt was grassed. The other nestled into Matthew Hayden's hands at first slip but it didn't matter because Johnson had overstepped the popping crease.

His partners must cop some blame as well. Neither Wasim Jaffer nor VVS Laxman were swift enough to convert twos into threes and the much-needed energy was missing from the first ball. Just a few minutes later, Sachin Tendulkar showed the value of displaying some urgency, both with his shots and between the wickets. Hayden and Jaques were up against more challenging conditions yesterday but didn't compromise on their positive approach. They ran hard, went for their shots and made the most of their luck. The 111 they added before lunch eventually made all the difference.

Dravid isn't new to this situation. Seven years earlier he endured a torrid time here with a 109-ball 14, choosing to withdraw into a shell. He struck three fours spread over three Tests and, despite spending time at the crease, was bogged down. He cleared the cobwebs, quite spectacularly, in the next two series against Australia, playing a vital part in all the victories.

He has been off colour for the last year and a half. Since his match-winning twin half-centuries in Jamaica, in a series-winning cause, he hasn't registered a century against top-class opposition. He's looked comfortable enough but been out at the wrong times. He's had some poor umpiring decisions and fallen trap to both an attacking (Bangalore) and defensive mindset (The Oval and here). Just when he looked like turning a corner, he has turned back again. It's been a strange Dravid of late.

 
 
His 66-ball 5 was a tedious effort, reminiscent of his painstaking 12 at The Oval earlier in the year. Mitchell Johnson bowled maiden after maiden, while Dravid blocked, missed and edged. Behind him was the Great Southern Stand. Neither would budge
 

Were India justified in asking him to open the innings? It's a job he doesn't really enjoy and one that requires a completely different mindset to going in at No. 3. People might wonder what the fuss is all about, for he often comes in early anyway, but it requires a completely different kind of mental preparation. First he's under pressure to regain form, suddenly he's under pressure, however little, to retain his spot.

The other batting shift, VVS Laxman moving to No. 3, was looking good until Lee unleashed a brute of a bouncer. Laxman was positive from the moment he entered, clipped a few delectably off his pads and eased the pressure by finding the gaps. It's his favourite position and India will take consolation from his confident stint. What will worry them is Yuvraj Singh's duck at No. 6. It was the one inclusion for which the rest of the furniture was re-arranged. You don't want a new rocking chair to crack just when you have shifted other precious sofas around to accommodate it.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

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