Dravid returns to reliable ways
South Zone 329 and 345 for 6 (Dravid 118, Karthik 103*, Yadav 68) lead Central Zone 326 by 348 runs
Rahul Dravid played the sort of knock that made him the world's most bankable batsman a few years ago, displaying the confidence, ease and solidity that were once second nature to him. Though he asserted that the immediate context - shutting Central Zone out of the Duleep Trophy - was top of his mind, the innings augurs well for greater trials in the weeks ahead.
South Zone's top order had crumbled, his captain and one of the team's main batsmen, VVS Laxman, had twisted his ankle, and Rajasthan fast bowler Pankaj Singh was in the middle of an incisive spell with the new ball - with figures of 5-4-1-2. Just the sort of crisis Dravid would routinely defuse with his pragmatic batting during his glory days.
He made a tentative start today, nearly dismissed on 2 when he was caught at cover point by substitute Faiz Fazal, but it was off a no-ball. He was particularly troubled by Bhuvneshwar Kumar's exaggerated inswing; even when he was well set, on 45, there was a moment of concern when he did not offer a stroke to an incutter from Bhuvneshwar, surviving a close lbw call as he was well struck outside off.
At the other end Pankaj was testing him with steepling bounce and by getting the ball to straighten. Dravid was cautious against him, but once nearly edged to slip, escaping because he played with soft hands which ensured the ball landed short of the fielder.
Once the ball got older and the new-ball bowlers were taken off, batting became less hazardous, especially with the third seamer, Umesh Yadav, having an off day. "There was a bit in the track today early on with the new ball," Dravid said. "Once you get set there is full value for shots and it is a good and fast outfield."
What stood out about Dravid's innings today was his back-foot play against the fast bowlers. They were punished by an array of square cuts and cover drives, through which he scored the bulk of his runs, every time they offered anything short.
Against the spinners, he was quick to get on the front foot and drive them either side of mid-off. Their leg-stump line was countered with sweeps, both conventional and the paddle, and once by advancing down the track to launch Piyush Chawla near the sightscreen.
The century came on the back of one of his toughest years in international cricket. Already cast aside from the national side in the limited-over formats, there is a talented bunch of youngsters queuing up for a middle-order slot in the Test line-up. It required a century in the Mohali Test against England last month, to quieten calls for the 36-year-old Dravid to exit.
Today's reprise of the patented Dravid rescue act will hearten Indian fans, especially with a testing tour of New Zealand next month. Dravid, though, insisted he was only focussed on the Duleep Trophy and that the innings should not be 'looked at from any other angle'. "New Zealand is a fair way away," he said. "This is important because it is important for South Zone to go to the next phase. We have put our self in a really good position."
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo