December 15, 2008

Michael Jeh

Defending The Wall

Michael Jeh



I write this piece on the morning of the last day of an absorbing Test in Chennai. Rahul Dravid, the focus of this essay, is not out overnight and possibly facing the last great challenge in an admirable career. The scene is set for a Dravid epic – obdurate, unflinching and the perfect time to live up to his nickname of The Wall.

I have to wonder though if the modern game will allow someone like Dravid the opportunity to defend his way back into form. With high scoring rates and an expectation that batsmen will always play shots, Dravid may not have the arsenal to be able to fight back with a big score at this late stage of his career. His game is largely built around a rock solid defensive technique and the ability to concentrate for long periods of time, wearing down opposition bowlers. He may not have the luxury of time to resurrect his career unless the selectors can see beyond the strokemakers and recognise an old fashioned jewel in the new Indian crown.

When Dravid really shone in the 2003/04 series in Australia, he did that by being much more aggressive than the Aussies expected him to be. All of a sudden, the longer he remained at the crease, not only was he occupying time but the scoreboard was scooting along too. With Sehwag, Tendulkar and Laxman at the other end, Dravid’s batting was now a real threat because the bowlers could not block up one end by bowling short of a length to him.

On the other side of the world, Matthew Hayden faces a similar minor slump. His style of batting though seems more likely to emerge from that low period for the simple reason that he has the capacity to play big shots. Which brings me to my question: is it easier to hit your way out of a form slump in the modern game (Hayden) than to graft (Dravid)?

For what it’s worth, I don’t think international cricket will allow someone like Dravid to find form again with a slow, painstaking century. He will need to play shots and be bold if he is to survive this series. Even if he saves this Test in Chennai!

Virender Sehwag epitomises this modern trend of hitting your way back into form. Left out of the Indian side 12 months ago, he is again arguably the most feared opening batsman in world cricket because of his ability to score runs quickly. Most batsmen who resurrect their careers in contemporary cricket are almost forced to do it in an aggressive fashion. Justin Langer’s second coming was a far cry from his early days as a tough, no-nonsense accumulator. Langer Mark II often out-scored Hayden in those opening partnerships.

Mahela Jayawardene had a dreadful period during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa but he crafted his renaissance on getting big scores and getting them quickly. Saurav Ganguly and VVS Laxman fought their way back into the Indian team by backing their attacking instincts. Andrew Symonds, on the verge of being dropped when the South Africans were here last, launched a spectacular counter-offensive (in partnership with Hayden) to hang on to his spot, a feat he repeated a year later against England when his form was again a bit patchy, once more in partnership with Hayden. In contrast, Andrew Strauss seems to have saved his career by sticking to his steady game plan, accumulating rather than thrashing away frenetically.

Ironically Hayden himself adopted a much more conservative, disciplined approach when he saved his career in the Oval Test of the 2005 Ashes Series but he soon returned to his swashbuckling best once the axe had stopped hovering. I can’t see him repeating this conservatism against South Africa though – if he goes down, it will be in flames!

I’ve always been a big fan of Dravid, not just for his perfect batting technique but also for the absolute gentleman that he has always been throughout a long career. Here is a cricketer who has developed a reputation for being tough without having to resort to being boorish. I daresay he is widely respected and well-liked by most of his opponents. Whether he is now feared by them, in a cricketing sense, I doubt.

As soon as a player loses the ability to win a Test match and relies on being selected solely for his ability to save one, I suspect the modern game will spit him out. I hope Dravid can find an extra gear today and play the sort of innings that will convince the selectors that this Rolls Royce is not yet ready for the museum. Sadly, I can’t see it happening.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by Mohsin Khan on (December 24, 2008, 7:36 GMT)

The best defensive player of this century is Dravid and the beauty of his game is that he is more effective at opponents' homes as compare to his country. He scored 10 centuries in his country as well it means that he is also effective at his home too. He has such a major slump in his career and now he is recovering from it. He has a problem of form only otherwise his reflexes are ok even at this age where players are thinking of retirement. In my opinion he has two more years left in him and he is one of the best batsman among his contemporaries like Lara, Tendulkar, Ponting and others. He should try to reach 30 centuries in test matches for which he needs only four more hundreds. He can easily score 12000 or more runs in test cricket as currently he has scored 10509 runs. This year he has scored more than 800 runs which is also good but not according to his class. One more record that he has in test cricket is that he has scored double hundreds against five different test countries.

Posted by Omair Siddiqui on (December 19, 2008, 12:07 GMT)

Today he has scored another fifty after this major slump in his career. His class is permanent, no doubt about it as his defense is marvellous. He scored 50 or more 79th times in his career it shows that he is consistent batsman. We may easily include him in the best five batsmen of this decade. Although his average was near to 60 and it is now just more than 50, but still he has a potential to prove himself in test cricket. I think he has two or more years remaining in him for this big version. Their batting line comprises of Tendulkar, Sehwag, Laxman and also Dravid make them best batting line among all others team in recent years. Emerging of Gambhir in test is also another plus point for them. Dravid is defensive player and Sehwag is aggressive and Tendulkar according to situation build variation (different talents in same team) in their batting.

Posted by Nikhil Sud on (December 19, 2008, 10:59 GMT)

Interesting to read all above. Most who have commented negetively -- it seems don't know first hand what batting at No:3 is all about and what Rahul brings to Indian team. Sure all detractors have been proved wrong with his 1st innings at Mohali . But world as it is today with media whipping up emotions and silly politics alike Rahuls fans and cricket connosuiers alike will always be proud of a gentleman and perfect cricketer to have graced our team and look forward to more from his bat. Hopefully likes of former chairman of selectors Vengsarkar and his friends will regret speaking about such great cricketers too early. Else they can take shelter saying media forced them to say it.

Posted by Zeeshan Ahmed on (December 19, 2008, 6:02 GMT)

At this stage of his career, he has such a major slump in it as his batting average is decreasing day by day from 58.75 to 52.12. Among his contempraries, he is one of the best batsman. He is one of the best defensive player as he played near to 25000 balls in test cricket. His first class career is also excellent as he scored near to 20,000 with batting average 55.21. His team is very lucky as they have Tendulkar, Dravid, Sehwag and Laxman in their batting line and now one more addition of Gambhir as well. Only three Asian players have scored 10,000 or more in test cricket and he is also included in them. His overall performance against all test playing nation is very good like his combine average against West Indies, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh is 75.9 and against S. Africa only little bit soft that is 36.51 which is even not bad. He should take rest for few months and try to regain his form and then come back to build any massive inning for his full confidence.

Posted by Zara Khan on (December 18, 2008, 11:48 GMT)

I think he should take some rest and regain his form in first class cricket and then come back to big version. He is out of form but his class is permanent as form is temporary. In Gavaskar, Tendulkar and Dravid who is the no. 1 batsmen of them. It is a question which mostly people ask. In my opinion, no. 1 is Gavaskar then Tendulkar and then Dravid. Gavaskar is classical batsman with perfect front foot as well as back foot. He scored 13 centuries against W. Indies and also his batting average is near to 60 in 4th inning with highest score 221. Any how give some rest to Dravid as he has only scored 25 century yet now and I think that he should score 30 century in test matches with eight double hundreds. His batting average is more at opponents' homes as compare to his own country that is 56.62 as compare to 46.78. One more solution is that take rest and then re-start again any weak team so that he can improve his confidence by building any massive inning against them.

Posted by mahesh on (December 18, 2008, 2:00 GMT)

In test or ODI number 3 spot is so crutial. If first wicket falls early, it is responsibility of one down batsman to stabilise the innings but not to take off the momentum of the innings. In any form of cricket top three positions are important. In the first innings of chennai test we see the batting collapsed when first wicket fall early. It would be better an inform batsman like laxman or dhoni or perhaps sachin can come in one down. The pressure mounts when first wicket falls early and a batman like dravid is in the crease running poor form. Perhaps he can come at 5 0r 6th spot.

Posted by Zeeshan Ahmed Siddiqui on (December 17, 2008, 21:31 GMT)

I think give two or three more series to him before his retirement as he one of the best player of his time. If again he will not perform then he should take rest for four to five months and after that then re-start. He batting average is still more than 50 but it is decreasing day by day. Only four players in the world score more than 10,000 runs in both form of cricket and he is also included in them. He has also scored near to 20,000 runs in first class cricket as well with batting average more than 55 and more than 50 hundreds and with more than 100 half centuries. He is one of the best defensive player that we have ever seen. He is like a wall. In previous years, he achieved too much that's why he is now not performing well. From last two years, his performance is not good as he proved in previous years. He scored 8553 runs in 100 test matches and Tendulkar scored 8405 runs in same test matches. At that time mostly people were thinking that he is even better than Tendulkar.

Posted by Sandeep D. on (December 17, 2008, 18:45 GMT)

It is easy to get lost in the batting carnage that Shewag, Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh regularly put up on the Indian pitches. Batting certainly looks easy. Dravid IS and will always be a rock in this Indian team. Overseas, in conditions where you do require a very good technique and patience is a great virtue to have, batsmen like Dravid are priceless. Definately he is going through a slump right now but I dont' believe agression is the answer. Any Batsman has to rely on the basics that makes up his batting. Gavaskar always had the hook shot in his armour it is just that he decided to use it against the Windies. Shewag always has been an agressive cricketer. I am sure there are other cricketers who got out of their slump in a normal way. You have to rely on the shots that make up your batting. Spending as much time as possible in the middle without putting pressure on oneself is one answer. Maybe taking some time off and re-discovering the fun part of playing Cricket is another option.

Posted by mahesh on (December 17, 2008, 12:09 GMT)

Whenever it is the right moment for a right decision, hero worship and emotionalism interfers in loads in India. Why is dravid having to open a big sacrifice? Sehwag had never opened before, when he took up test opening and flourished. If dravid is the greatest, why is it a burden for him? And what pressure is he in at no.3 now? the daredevils have been giving india solid starts innings after innings ..100+ at 5+ RR ..what pressure is he walking into at no.3 ??????

Posted by mahesh on (December 17, 2008, 12:02 GMT)

For a batsman defence and attack are two weapons like. Both are essential to survive as a batsman. dravid too much relies on defence, even when it is not working for him. Perhaps he should try to attack the ball a bit which surely gets him confidence. The batting order even is not suiting him. He is playing in one down where a batsman needs to attack a bit. He is allowing the opposition bowlers to get on top with his "negative" approach. I can see the batsman at the other end also feel pressure when he bats.

He can come down the order where the batsmen can take time to frustrate the bowlers. He needs to play a bit more attacking cricket when he plays 1 down. It is not worth to stick around with his dismal form. If there is any cricket left in him, he should come up with a good knock. Otherwise he has to loose his place in the team.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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