India v England, 3rd Test, Mumbai, 2nd day

Driving with two flat tyres

India's effervescent bowling display was negated by another diffident batting performance

Dileep Premachandran in Mumbai

March 19, 2006

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Just how much responsibility can Rahul Dravid take? © Getty Images
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India's effervescent bowling display - spearheaded by two men with a combined experience of two Tests - was negated by another diffident batting performance that raised uncomfortable questions about the form and durability of those who were once indispensable. Yet again, Rahul Dravid had to dig a trench and climb in, while Yuvraj Singh struck some magnificent shots to illustrate how good the pitch still was once you came to grips with the bounce and subtle movement.

India's dependence on Dravid is eerily reminiscent of the days when it was a case of "Get Tendulkar, and sew up the game". When he fails, as at Karachi last month, India have no chance. But as long as he's around - as was the case during the innings of 95 at Mohali - the reservoir of hope never runs dry. His solidity emboldens the new faces to express themselves and play their shots, secure in the knowledge that cricket's immovable object will ride the punches and hold up one end.

Sehwag's travails against the short ball in recent times have heaped even more pressure on Dravid, and the very obvious technical flaw that England have zeroed in on clearly needs addressing. After being subjected to a leathering in Lahore, Pakistan got him thrice with deliveries that lifted on or outside off stump, prompting either an ungainly flail or the hesitant poke. England have refined that strategy, aiming the ball at the sternum or throat to telling effect.

With no effective pull or hook shot in his repertoire, Sehwag's response to short-pitched deliveries on middle and leg has been what can politely be called the trampoline technique. Twice now, he has been airborne while fending the ball behind off either bat handle or splice - the same deliveries that Dravid sways out of the way of with scarcely a second thought. With tours of the West Indies and South Africa on the horizon, you can be sure that Messrs Edwards, Nel and Ntini will be watching with great interest.

The Tendulkar trough is just as worrying. Since that epochal 35th century in Delhi, he has managed just 170 runs in 10 innings, and frequently played himself in only to give it away. Most of them have been scratchy, disjointed efforts, where he failed to impose himself on the proceedings in any way.

What makes the struggle bewildering to watch has been his form in the one-day game. At times during the one-day series in Pakistan, especially in the crucial third encounter at Lahore, his batting was just resplendent, characterised by impeccable judgement of length, superb shot selection and a positive approach that allowed no bowler to establish any sort of mastery over him.

The stunned silence, punctuated by the isolated boo, that accompanied his trudge back to the pavilion this afternoon spoke as much of a longing for times gone by, as it did of frustration at a master's current predicament. The Wankhede attracts its fair share of anoraks and it won't have escaped their attention that India haven't managed to score more than 225 in their last six innings - four against Australia, two against South Africa - against quality opposition at this venue. But even in those atrocious displays, Tendulkar was often a class apart, making 97 (South Africa, 2000), 76, 65 (Australia, 2001) and 55 (Australia, 2004) - a stark contrast to his 21-ball stutter today.

With Sehwag and Tendulkar struggling so, Dravid's task has become akin to driving a car with two flat tyres. Irfan Pathan and the tail came to the rescue at Mohali, but if Matthew Hoggard and Flintoff can cause another puncture early tomorrow morning, India's stop-start series may still run into a brick wall. Luckily for them, the redoubtable Dravid is still at the wheel.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo

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Dileep Premachandran Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.
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Players/Officials: Rahul Dravid | Virender Sehwag
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