Australia v India, 3rd Test, Perth, 1st day January 16, 2008

The power of three

Years from now Perth might be remembered as the city where Rahul Dravid recovered from his toughest phase in Test cricket. Back to his favourite No. 3 position, his value as the side's cushion was evident



Rahul Dravid looked in good touch batting at his customary
No. 3 position © Getty Images
 
Years from now Perth might be remembered as the city where Rahul Dravid recovered from his toughest phase in Test cricket. Back to his favourite No. 3 position, his value as the side's cushion was evident. The compact defence was back, as were the long strides to meet the ball on the full. Unfortunately the innings might be temporarily remembered for the way it ended. It shouldn't.

After opening in the first two Tests, today when Dravid entered, in the 17th over, India had already had their best opening stand of the series. He began with some controlled trickles past the slips, endured a good spell of bowling from Brett Lee and survived a dropped catch on 11, before flowing freely. The second half of his innings was played with as much freedom as his innings were in mid 2006, the last time he made a hundred against top-class opposition.

"It's nice to be back in a familiar position," he said, "and the openers got us off to a good start. They played positively, took their chances and put fifty on the board. It gives you a psychological advantage when you walk in then. I've done well and badly at No. 3. I wouldn't want to attribute scoring runs to my batting position. There's a lot of hard work that went into it, not just the position."

Then why does he distinctly prefer the No. 3 position? "It's tough to explain," he said. "It's maybe because I've never really done well as an opener. I haven't found an answer to it. I just feel different. It doesn't feel the same in the two positions."

When in form he could adjust to any position. He reeled off hundreds while opening against Pakistan in early 2006 and settled into the No. 4 slot later in the year in West Indies. Since then, though, he's struggled at home and away. He went through an entire tour of South Africa without a half-century and didn't hit the high notes against England as well. He turned in some crucial innings against Pakistan at home but kept getting out at the wrong time. He didn't seem out of form, just out of luck.

Things have been different on this tour, though. He's waded through the turbulent times with a bit of luck, both in Sydney and here. "This was a good pitch with better bounce and pace," he said of his comfort factor. "The ball came on to the bat. In fact I've been moving my feet well through the series. I felt comfortable in the second innings in Sydney and did well in the practice game as well. It's slowly coming together."

It came together all right, especially after he raised his bat to bring up his half-century. He doubled his run-rate and bisected the field perfectly with his cover-drives. Seven short of his hundred, Dravid attempted to slog-sweep Andrew Symonds' offspin, only to lob a catch to the covers. The force with which he swung the bat after that indicated the disappointment.

"The shot was on," he later said, "and I had played it earlier as well. The ball was tossed up. When it comes off, it looks great, otherwise it looks stupid. There's a fine line to being positive and throwing it away. People accused us of being negative in the first Test and we've been trying to be positive throughout. It's a little disappointing but there's a lot of cricket left in this game yet."

Would his side have settled for this position at the start of the day? "Maybe four down for 300. But we're happy overall. There were a lot of fighting performances and a lot of guys showed character. If the lower order does well we have a chance of getting to 400. And that's a score we would have settled for at the start."

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo