England v India, only Twenty20, Old Trafford August 30, 2011

Dravid bridges the old and the new

Sachin Tendulkar batted at one net. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma had a hit at the others. India's go-to man stood in between, watching it all attentively

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on September 2, 2011, 6:27 GMT

    straight hit , bro plz take into consideration the youngsters ,they can barely make runs , ofcourse dravids selection wasent wise but we need to show some fight which sadly the youngsters dont show, as far the performance he did fairly well.

  • Martin on August 31, 2011, 18:01 GMT

    @rchandar1 & @Mandavya; very very nicely put. I applaud you both.

  • Milind on August 31, 2011, 17:01 GMT

    India has been trying several youngsters since the last couple of years...so far nobody has come good! Dont' know what the problem is...maybe the expectations are high after having guys like Sachin, Dravid, Sehwag etc. They just have to keep on trying, I guess!

  • Steve on August 31, 2011, 16:58 GMT

    I absolutely see no justification for playing Dravid in T20. Is this supposed to be a 'Thank You' parting gift for him who already announced he is 'retiring' from ODIs and never played a T20 international until today?. What happens if he scores a quick 40/50 today?. Will he become the future then?. Ind think tank is clearly running on empty goals.

  • Sachin on August 31, 2011, 16:46 GMT

    @ Wacco: Good prediction, I agree.... we gave in too easily, it was really surprising to see this side of Indian cricket after a long long time, but beware of brushing our side so easily my friend. Every dog has its Day, it just happened to be England's summer.

  • Ranil on August 31, 2011, 16:10 GMT

    This is like lambs to slaughter,England will thump India with this team.I thought they would come here,with their No. one tag to outdo Jayasuriya's 5-0 drubbing to England but all the signs are things will go the opposite way. Ranil Herath - Kent

  • Amjad on August 31, 2011, 16:03 GMT

    yea young guns whatever i seriously think there is still a chance BCCI can still make an excuse and hush hush their boys off English soil in one piece.

  • kan on August 31, 2011, 15:34 GMT

    indian players like Dhoni, Tendulkar, Gambhir, Sehwag, Zaheer, Bhajji, Ishant who are integral part of Indias test and OD team, should not play IPL, they should utilize that time to refresh their body, rather they are looking for quick short term money and ruining their long term career, they should skip IPL and CL

  • kan on August 31, 2011, 15:31 GMT

    their ought to be bigger salary for Test players than IPL, and it doesn't make any sense to pay such big money to indian domestic players in IPL, as they would play anyway regardless, such big money from IPL is spoiling indian young starts, all of them want to take the easy way and become good T20 player, noone is interested to take the hard way to become a great test player, IPL is profitable for BCCI but it is spoiling Indias future cricketers, IPL has to stop.

  • Dummy4 on August 31, 2011, 15:29 GMT

    @Wacco: Eng is going to be white watched in T20 and ODIs. So your fear comes out and you are showering mud on India to hide that. You know India are the world champions in 50 over cricket. Despite you have T20 WC, you still fear India's T20 young brigade. We will take number 1 rank in test this year itself at any cost. Let see who will carry ICC test champions trophy this year.

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