India v New Zealand, 1st Test, Ahmedabad, Day 2 October 9, 2003

Batting lessons from the masters show the way ahead

Rahul Dravid: an outstanding display of batsmanship © AFP

Two of the most consistent batsmen in the world at the moment demonstrated the virtues of batsmanship in different conditions today - Rahul Dravid in the low, slow conditions of India, and Matthew Hayden in the much faster conditions of Perth in Australia. They were a reminder that no matter how much cricket may be said to have changed, the requirements of run-accumulation have never changed. Concentration, application and determination are worth just as much now as they ever have been.

Young New Zealand cricketers, and several of their more senior representatives, can never complain that they don't see the skills demonstrated often enough. They only need to sit at a ground, or watch on television, whenever Dravid comes out to bat. He has played some of his finest cricket against the New Zealanders, and his double-century in Ahmedabad is only the latest example of his skill, technique and desire.

In the case of the New Zealand top order, it appeared the lesson was lost after five-and-a-half sessions sweating in the field. The care and assurance that Dravid had about all his batting was noticeably absent as Zaheer Khan demonstrated just how much he had advanced during, and beyond, last year's tour of New Zealand.

At 17 for 3, with Mark Richardson, Lou Vincent and Stephen Fleming all back in the pavilion, the pre-match confidence and talk of plans was hanging by a thread. The follow-on target of 301 is a long way off. But then a search of New Zealand's history in India and Pakistan shows what has happened is not an uncommon event.

Having to field for such long periods puts the team batting second at much greater risk. The most recent example was in Pakistan last year, in the match which preceded the bombing in Karachi that ended New Zealand's tour prematurely. Then, NZ endured an innings of 329 by Inzamam-ul-Haq in a team total of 643, and were then dismissed for 73 as Shoaib Akhtar ran amok with 6 for 11, and the New Zealanders suffered a record defeat by an innings and 324 runs.

That can be no excuse for them, however. That same history which points out how often this has happened before demanded that players be aware of just what could happen. The hope for New Zealand, and for this Test match, has to be that the skills of Dravid have been appreciated by the remaining batsmen.

The side is not without batting depth. And it wouldn't be the first time that Nathan Astle had been involved in a recovery action. Nasser Hussain's England team of 2001-02 at Christchurch, when Astle scored his doublecentury in world-record time, would recall that. The same goes for Scott Styris, who only a few weeks later scored his maiden Test century in his first Test, to help New Zealand out of a sticky situation.

But in all reality, the cards are in India's hands. They made the most of their opportunities while batting, and apart from Dravid's demonstration of outstanding class, there was also the meaningful century scored by Sourav Ganguly. There are times when the weight of captaincy can be excessive under public expectation, and Ganguly knows that more than most. However, the scoring of a century has the potential to ease the pressure. And Ganguly has done that.

The facts at the end of the second day are that the prospect of victory before the end of this match will reduce the burden on him even more. That is not to underestimate the New Zealanders' propensity to survive and keep their hopes alive. But to do that they face one of the more significant battles of their recent Test history.