Dravid bridges the old and the new
Rahul Dravid leaned on the railing of one of the training cages. Padded up, hands folded across his chest, he studiously turned his head to the left to watch Sachin Tendulkar face throwdowns. In the next instant, he tilted his neck to the opposite side to watch Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma bat in the other nets.
As Dravid shifted his attention, his mind would have gleaned as much as possible from observing both the old and the new. From Tendulkar's trademark punched drives to Kohli's reverse sweeps; from Tendulkar's wrist flick when tucking the ball to the leg side to Rohit's hoicked flick over square-leg. Dravid watched it all attentively.
Tomorrow he will play his first and last Twenty20 international. With injuries ruling out Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, and now Gautam Gambhir, and with Sachin Tendulkar opting not to play Twenty20 internationals, India have been forced to turn to Dravid to bolster their batting, which suddenly seems less formidable than the World Cup-winning line-up.
Dravid himself was surprised at his selection in the limited-overs squad. Perhaps he was a little bit hurt, too; about being kept in the dark, about not being consulted beforehand, about not being given due respect. On the same evening he announced his retirement from the shorter formats at the end of the England tour.
Just as they did in the Tests, India somehow find reassurance in Dravid's presence. Perhaps it is because he tends to be fluid, flexible, dynamic. The Twenty20 format is not alien to Dravid; he has played in all four editions of the IPL, and the two seasons of the Champions League. But how do you teach a renaissance painter abstract expressionism?
So Dravid continues to try and hit hard, run as fast as he can, play cross-batted strokes. In the nets today, he tried to slog sweep, but could not bring himself to do it convincingly and settled on a few occasions to play the paddle sweep. Dravid's method of playing flight is to lunge at and smother the spin elegantly with his wrists. Not for slog sweeps or hitting inside out over cover or mid-off.
After playing with hard hands during his brief innings at Hove in the rain-affected practice match against Sussex, Dravid improvised to produce a much calmer, more fluent 29 in the victory against Leicester in the Twenty20 on Monday.
He will be joined by Tendulkar during the one-day series. If the world champions are to avoid defeat in the ODIs, the success of this pair could be crucial. But how long can India rely on their old guard? At a time when teams like England are investing in specialist teams comprising youngsters and three different captains, the Indian board has stuck to the policy of milking its important players across all formats.
MS Dhoni has agreed that rotation would not be a bad idea for India and its players in the long term. "We will have to [adopt rotation] because the schedule looks quite cramped up," Dhoni said. "It is important to give some players the rest. It has more to do with the mental aspect than the physical one. A bit of good rest in between helps you to keep away the injuries that may happen if you keep on playing [without the break]."
But at the same time the BCCI has reiterated its stance about giving players the choice to opt out if and when they want to take a break. So if a Suresh Raina thinks he is exhausted after playing for months on the road, and needs a break, why does he not take one?
Raina is being groomed as a potential future captain, yet he has never been really assertive or consistent as a batsman. Despite having played 120 one-dayers, Raina perpetually struggles to perfect his technique.
Every coach who has managed India has had nothing but praise for Raina, from his work ethic to his talent. And yet he has found it difficult to take over the middle-order reins convincingly from the likes of Dravid and Tendulkar.
Raina's position in the team was questioned after each defeat in the Test series. The England fast bowlers put him to task in every innings and he was found susceptible to the short delivery on many occasions. He did not make much noise in the tour matches either. But Dhoni has always been of the firm belief that a player needs to be given the longest possible rope.
Fair enough. But India need the likes of Raina, Gambhir, Kohli and Rohit to calibrate their careers and not to exhaust themselves by playing too much cricket. The first three have been identified by some of best cricketing brains as potential leadership material. It is that much more important, then, that they be more responsible with their careers.
Dravid is a shining example. He paid attention to what was important and was not distracted by that which was not. Like today. As Kohli reverse-swept successfully and then Rohit failed attempting the same stroke, Dravid just looked away, slung his kit back across his shoulder, put his head down and walked out of the training. Tomorrow he will return, to do what he can.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo