Tailor-made for Dravid
There wasn’t much of a change in mood as the Indian team went about their practice today, given the news that Gautam Gambhir was out of the series. If it had affected them in any way, they didn’t show it. MS Dhoni, at a press conference, said the team had dealt with such losses before and had always stepped up.
Gambhir’s departure has deprived India of a player able to score quickly and bat through the innings. Gambhir is also an excellent player of spin. After Sachin Tendulkar at the top, the man most capable of playing the anchor role is Rahul Dravid.
Dravid was a surprise inclusion in the one-day side, but his need was justified. India’s middle order had their share of problems against the short ball, highlighted by several teams during the ICC World Twenty20, and the selectors called on someone reliable.
Virender Sehwag was not an option before the team was announced, Gambhir was today ruled out. Dravid will bat ahead of Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan, a quartet that provides India with big-hitting early, during the middle overs, and late on. On these pitches, against skillful slow bowlers who know more about choking than the average serial killer, whether setting or chasing, you need something special. Thilan Samaraweera showed that.
Dravid has always appeared to construct his innings in a thorough manner. He runs hard between the wickets, he drops the ball gently here and there, and manages to find the boundary ropes with deftness as opposed to power. His two most productive regions to collect boundaries when batting at the end of an innings are the arc between point and gully and the area behind square, just wide of short fine leg. Shots played there are mostly down to astute placement than belligerence.
Today he played shots that appeared like they’d perforate those gaps. Watching a batsman at the nets can offer you insights into his mental and physical state: how did he read the ball, move into position in time? Did he play his shots with ease to wherever he wanted? Today, outdoors at the nets against his bowling team-mates, Dravid batted without any noticeable flourish, but that sturdiness and approach was unmistakable. They are two traits Dravid possesses that can quickly deflate a bowling side.
He was in a rhythm today. It’s only practice, but if you have an eye for the techniques of batting it can be beneficial. Dravid stood still until the bowler delivered; his feet and hands moved with speed and precision. His head was still. Raina and Dinesh Karthik, batting at adjacent nets, moved much more at the crease.
A couple drives off the quick bowlers and two late-cuts from off stump off Amit Mishra – the shots were placed with the accuracy of a surgeon – was ample proof that Dravid is in good nick.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo