Air India Red v India Cements, BCCI Corporate Trophy, Bangalore September 3, 2009

Dravid v Raina

How a senior player and team-mate looked to exploit a younger batsman's weakness against the short ball

It was, ultimately, a sideshow yet for a brief while Rahul Dravid's attempts to unsettle Suresh Raina with a bouncer attack on a very slow wicket created a palpable buzz in the arena.

Raina's short-ball woes are well-known. Dravid's ruthlessness is less well-known but it does exist - witness his declaration with Sachin Tendulkar on 194. So when Raina walked in after Sudeep Tyagi had just bounced out Robin Uthappa one sensed it was game on.

Prior to this tournament, Raina had spoken confidently about the problem: "Just watch what happens when the next bouncer is bowled." The first bouncer he got in the first match of the tournament, he pulled to left of square leg where Joginder Singh, the BSNL fielder, couldn't hold on to the catch.

Today Raina walked in with some breathing space; he was at the non-striker's end as Naman Ojha had crossed over during the dismissal. When his chance came to bat, L Balaji lured him into a comfort zone with four gentle length deliveries. Then the fun started.

Balaji fired in a well-directed bouncer. A surprised Raina hopped to fend it off but at the last minute, perhaps due to the lack of sharp pace from Balaji, swayed away. That sign of weakness was enough for Dravid.

Next over, with the quicker Tyagi, Dravid waited till Raina took strike before making his moves. He brought a short square leg and moved a man into leg gully. All this was done within Raina's line of sight. Tyagi kept Raina waiting with full deliveries. Raina played most of them off the back foot as if he was expecting a bouncer any moment. Then the bouncer came but it was outside off and Raina got the width to allow it to pass him by.

Even before the over ended, Dravid signalled for the helmets to be brought in. Next over, he moved a man in on the leg side, backed him with a man at square leg and deep square-leg. Raina's problem against the short ball is that he doesn't quite know how to leave it. He doesn't have a defensive option against it. He either goes for an unconvincing pull or hops to defend it even when it climbs to uncomfortable height where the best option would be sway away or duck. Dravid knew that and placed the fielders on leg for that precise reason.

Balaji fired in a bouncer just outside leg stump and Raina shuffled across to push at it and the ball went close past the gloves. Dravid held his head in frustration. The next ball was a bouncer but it was played in front of the wicket.

Before the next over, Dravid spoke to Tyagi at length. The first ball was full and was lashed through the covers. Tyagi tried three short deliveries in the over but none climbed at an uncomfortable height to trouble Raina. He then lifted P Amarnath, who replaced Balaji, for a lovely straight six. The threat had passed, Raina had got out of jail and went on to play a stroke-filled innings.

The exchange evoked memories of the Irani Trophy game in 2003 when Tendulkar tried to attack Virender Sehwag, who had a few problems against the bouncer then, with similar ruthlessness. His weapon then was Ajit Agarkar who, like Tyagi today, couldn't get his radar working and drew only a few weak swats from Sehwag that fell short of the close-in fielders.

What made today's contest the more fascinating was Raina's revelation at the end of the game that Dravid was one of the people, along with Gary Kirsten and Sachin Tendulkar, who'd helped him tackle the short ball in the camp before this tournament. What was he thinking when he saw Dravid attack him with bouncers? Raina smiled and said, "He was trying to see how I'd cope with the bouncers now and I wanted to show him how I have shaped up."

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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