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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Apar on December 30, 2007, 0:19 GMT

    Well, Sachin went through periods batting like crap, Laxman did so, Ganguly only batted well in periods... it is the nature of the game that you have ups and downs... leave dravid alone.. he is smart enough and has enough class to sort out his problems on his own... he is probably the person who is most concerned about this than any of us can be... its not like he's not scored runs in Australia before... the comparison with Sanjay Manjrekar was valid till about 2000... since then, I think Dravid has done nough to be his own man... all the baloney about him getting stuck without an ability to rotate the strike is crap... Dravid's been the best finisher in the one-day game in the past few years!!! its a pity that stereotypes rule the roost, and Dravid's stuck in it... lean trots happen... do not add more pressure on him with unjustifiable stereotypical comparisons and comments... let him be and his class will come thru...

  • muthu on December 29, 2007, 6:51 GMT

    Excellent view. But I think Dravid has the responsibility to say no to this innings opening move. He should not allow himself to be humiliated so much by aussies. In 2nd innings also Dravit's batting moments were highly traumatic. What iam asking is why he should oblige to this opening option? Ricky Ponting putting umteem number of fields man around Dravid's bat. Sometimes the Fielding set up reminds me the tennis ball cricket field placement. However ponting didn't put a fielder in the centre of the pitch. Common mate start humiliating them!

  • ragarw on December 29, 2007, 6:24 GMT

    With the kind of preperation the India team had done for the Australia tour, playing against Pakistan on docile home pitches and just one tour game, it wasn't a surprise to see the way india team lost, though it was depressing and frustrating. The series is already over and Indian Cricket Board should take atleast part of the blame. In the last 2-3 series India was atleast able to compete against the autralians but now we are back to those days when we used to loose every test match timidly inside 4 days. i can see a 4-0 win for australia and atleast 2 of the "fab 4" should retire after the series.

  • SGBatsForever on December 29, 2007, 2:22 GMT

    Great article Siddharth. I see a few guys out there still trying to undermine Ganguly and have him bat at 6 or lower. To all the professional Ganguly-haters out there why not just ask that Saurav bat at 11, because according to you guys he still does not belong in the Inidan XI despite scoring over 1000 runs this year and being the best batsman in the team on current form. The same standards that you lot applied to Saurav Ganguly to justify his drop, now apply to your beloved Rahul Dravid, PERFORM or PERISH.

  • Neil on December 28, 2007, 19:23 GMT

    If Dravid is a good batsman, then lets see him win this one for India in a situation where he is clearly out of his comfort zone. Thats what makes great batsmen. If he does the job he may well request the management to never ask him to open again and Im sure it will be accepted. If he fails, then Im not so sure that the no3 position will still be available for him. And yes, he needs to be defensive which he does best but that does not mean coming to bat with the intent of not scoring runs and making an effort not to score any in singles.

  • Chetan on December 28, 2007, 12:57 GMT

    Dravid has been woefully out of form over the last 12 months. Yuvraj who has just battered the living daylights out of Pakistan, rectifying the damage done to India's score-card by Dravid's own lack of batting form. On cricketing merits alone, I fail to see how Dravid can be allowed into the Indian playing 11 ahead of Yuvraj.

    In terms of current batting performance, Lakshman, Sachin, Ganguly & Yuvraj have put themselves ahead of Dravid.

    Jugglery in the batting order by the Indian team management if any is to accomodate Dravid, not Yuvraj. Dravid owes it to the risk Kumble has taken by keeping him in the 11 at the expense of other openers to score some runs with his bat.

    The media should stop making a virtue out of personal necessacity in Dravid's case all the time.

  • Badrinarayanan on December 28, 2007, 8:28 GMT

    Dravid is the best indian batsman ever.he has made enough sacrifices for team india and i think its time he bats where he wants(no.3).sehwag should play instead of yuvraj and laxman should go back to no.6

    dravid will be back with a bang.

  • himanshu on December 28, 2007, 6:01 GMT

    dravid is a lucky fellow that he is an indian crickter. Such a disaster would never be spared in a country like bangladesh, which has much better performers than we Musrafee Murtaza and even Henry Olonga is a far better option than our dear and adulated Dravid. If he is scared of the swinging balls than maybe he should try swinging the bat next time. Atleast he would be able to come close to the blaster Sehwag...

  • MAKSOOD on December 28, 2007, 2:32 GMT

    I don't quite understand how at international level team management or the captian or even the individual player don't learn from mistakes quickly enough. Sanjay Manjrekar's comments above is prime example of the attitude and the game plan you go with into a match and particularly in a big serise like this. I am sure Sanjay must have shared his expertise with the current team about his own experiences. If you really want to challange the Aussies you need to have attacking intent. Openers in particular need to keep rotating the strike and upset the bowlers rhythm. Both Jaffer and Dravid possess the technique to deal with any type bowling attack. What they need is to create more run scoring opportunities and things would start falling into right places for the team. Not so long ago Jaffer played a gem of an innings against Pakistan, a double hundred where he played attacking strokes right from the word go. Getting even half of that score would contribute a great deal to the team. TBC...

  • Mah on December 28, 2007, 1:30 GMT

    Don't you feel that more hype has been created for yuvi and dhoni as far as test matches are concerned? Every one knows that dravid is out of form and to regain his confidence, should bat with the older ball, where he can also rotate strike..and australia is not a team in which we can the gamble with sehwag..why has he been picked for then? Hope that indian team wakes up on this and get to work atleast in the next 3 test matches and keep the series alive. Hope to see a good fight from India in this series, and that's what everyone expect to see. Wish good luck for Indian team.

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