India v England, 1st Test, Chennai, 2nd day December 12, 2008

Dravid's form beyond a slump

Rahul Dravid is a modern great but his goodwill account is depleting fast

Rahul Dravid's run of poor scores has gone far beyond a slump and has now reached a dangerous flashpoint © Getty Images

Margins always discriminate against batsmen struggling for form. Paul Collingwood, who didn't look like being able to buy a run yesterday, got a shocker from Billy Bowden, who must now rank as Collingwood's least favourite umpire. Rahul Dravid's case today was fuzzier. Daryl Harper wouldn't have been blamed had he adjudged him not-out leg before: Dravid was well forward, the ball was turning and it hit him around the knee roll. As David Lloyd, who has been a first-class umpire, said, quite likely it was out but could Harper be sure?

Dravid can look back to Sri Lanka, where he was twice given out to marginal lbw decisions by the review umpire and was once caught off the helmet of the fielder. But nothing, absolutely nothing, can hide the big picture: Dravid's run of poor scores has gone far beyond a slump and has now reached a dangerous flashpoint.

Dravid batted for 44 minutes and faced 24 balls today and, for academic interests, scored only three runs. Not once did he look secure and sure. Steve Harmison, all energy and vim, sped past his dangling bat; Andrew Flintoff hit the perfect length with his first ball and caught Dravid groping, then got him to poke at another short one a while later. The last one Dravid would have let go comfortably ten times out of ten. In between, he managed to tuck one behind square and tapped two more in front to squeeze out three furtive singles. There was neither a moment of authority nor a hint of promise.

Graeme Swann bowled him a good ball but who knows how Dravid would have played it had his feet been moving better and his mind been free of doubts. Another debutant offspinner had got him in the previous Test in Nagpur. Admittedly, it was the first ball Dravid was facing off Jason Krejza, but it was hardly a ripper and the edge was the consequence of a tentative prod.

When batsmen of great calibre hit a fallow spell, a turning point seems imminent. After all, skills don't run dry. In Dravid's case, there has been a sense of that for a while. Everyone has felt it - Dravid himself, his team-mates, his opponents, the selectors, and the fans - that it is merely a matter of one big innings. But what was once inevitable is now turning into desperate hope.

Dravid started the series against Australia with a half-century, a battling, Dravid-like effort on a slow pitch in Bangalore that kept alarmingly low on the third morning. But there followed a series of dismissals that were a combination of casualness and misfortune. In the second innings in Bangalore, he hit a full ball from Brett Lee to midwicket; in Mohali, where he looked confident and attractive, moments after chasing a wide ball, he aimed for another ambitious drive and ended up dragging the ball onto his stumps; in Delhi he chased a wide ball from Mitchell Johnson to slip and inside-edged a drive to the stumps. Only in the final innings in Nagpur did a deserving ball from Shane Watson - it swung in and deviated away off the pitch - get his edge.

Two inferences could be drawn from his performance against Australia, when he got in plenty of times and then got out. One, that he was batting well without the runs on the board (it happened to Sachin Tendulkar in Sri Lanka earlier this year). The other thought is more worrisome. The foundation of Dravid's batsmanship has been his immovability. Once he got in, it needed a great ball to get him out. Many of his recent dismissals have suggested a looseness, a certain wandering of the mind, traits not associated with Dravid. Stroke-players can sometimes fall prey to overconfidence but Dravid's career has been built on diligent adherence to the basics and an almost superhuman application of the mind. A deviation from these fundamentals can be inferred as a sign of decline.

Few other batsmen would have survived two successive poor years but it is right for Dravid to have been granted the allowance and the space. No one wants to see off a batsman of his pedigree and accomplishment in a hurry

And the decline can be traced to the tour of South Africa towards the end of 2006. Till then Dravid had scored more than 9000 runs at just under 59, an average that put him ahead of all his contemporaries. He then had 23 hundreds and 46 fifties, a ratio of 1:2. The 26 Tests since then have fetched him only 1320 runs at 30. Both his hundreds in this period have been nondescript, one against Bangladesh and other a 291-ball 111 against South Africa on a pitch where Virender Sehwag hit 319 off 304 balls.

In South Africa, Dravid batted hard and long - an 83-ball 32, a 58-ball 29 and a 134-ball 47 during which he was associated in a scoring freeze with Sachin Tendulkar that ultimately cost India the final Test and the series - without being able to make an impact, his first such failure in an away series in years. After this, the Dravid story has not been the same. Only one innings - a typically gritty 93 in Perth - could be said to have contributed substantially to a victory; there have been other odd contributions to partnerships but the security that India had been granted by him at No. 3 has not been available.

Few other batsmen would have survived two successive poor years but it is right for Dravid to have been granted the allowance and the space. No one wants to see off a batsman of his pedigree and accomplishment in a hurry.

Dravid has been a modern great: a colossal fighter, the hero of epic revivals and the architect of many famous triumphs. In the Indian batting pantheon, he stands firmly behind Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar. And more than that, he has been a man of commitment, a wonderful teamman, and a sporting hero of impeccable bearing and manners. Such men sport needs to hold on to for every extra second possible.

However, sportsmen must ultimately stand and fall on their performances. The second innings will present Dravid with an opportunity to help save or win a Test. There would be no better time for the innings that he has been waiting for. It would be familiar territory. And it could be his moment of truth.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Aishwarya on December 18, 2008, 8:04 GMT

    Ever since I knew what cricket even was, Dravid has been my favorite player. As Jammy, 'The Wall', he was perhaps the most amazing player ever. It is devastating that he is currently in such miserable form. Since, he is a player of such extraordinary class, I strongly suspect that Dravid's slump is a result of psychological low self confidence. Definitely, the countless articles and commentators that never fail to comment on Dravid's 'lack of form' and 'ongoing slump'do nothing to boost his morale. He has always been a relatively aloof through his batting tenure, but lately, he is outright lonely. I have always seen Dravid furious when he gets out, but he still bore an endearing smile at the most times if not a look of intense concentration. Dravid is still my favorite player in terms of both skill and attitude and I have long mainatined that despite his batting form decline that he would bounce back. I certainly hope he does so in the next test. Come on Dravid!! We miss You!!

  • Rajesh on December 16, 2008, 17:32 GMT

    Rahul Dravid is just fighting the demons in his own mind... Otherwise there isn't much wrong with him. His skills haven't waned. And he is still one of the fittest around. The technical flaws, like feet not moving / bat not coming down in the arc are all due to the mind.... He should come good soon. Some may say that he has been given a long rope, but the he has earned that right over the years & that's why we need to give him the long rope......... But one thing that I have been noticing for the past couple of years is that Rahul is looking increasingly lonely and aloof since Greg Chappell left. Perhaps it was because Dravid believed in Chappell so much that he blindly supported his coach, unknowingly at times at the cost of his relationship with his own colleagues in the team. Something seems to be going on in his mind. The sooner he clears that from his mind the better for India....... Team India needs the great Rahul Dravid. After all, he is a once in a lifetime player !!

  • Shankar on December 16, 2008, 5:34 GMT

    If recent performances are the judge, and India wants to retain its winning momentum, Dravid will do well to consult a sports psychologist, work hard in the nets, go back to Domestic cricket and County cricket, watch his videos, change his body language, sharpen his mind, and then come back. He is not so arrogant a player that he doesn't realise his slump in form. And he is made of sterner stuff than what his bat recently has shown. If his bat doesn't talk, whose does?

  • Chandra on December 13, 2008, 22:41 GMT

    Yes,Dravid is in a bad slump. Sambit Bal makes a nicely balanced analysis without judging a great player. Consider this: when Dravid stepped down from his successful stint as captain-which would guarantee his position in the team-to concentrate on batting, he was honest. But he did not foresee the inexplicable hostility from some media;The Times of India ran an article "The wall crumbles" for weeks on end. Vengsarkar,piqued at Dravid's proceedurally right decision to convey his stepping down to Pawar, took him out of the ODI team. Then,in IPL, Mallya publicly humiliated Dravid with his brashness instead of talking to him. Now we are questioning his place, while Ponting, Ganguly, Dhoni & Pieterson strongly back him. I suggest:leave it to experts like the Selectors & Dhoni, instead of stomping all over Dravid, demoralising him further, and destroying him for ever. How can we be so cruel as to force such a tragic end to such a classy player who has given us so many wins & so much joy?

  • Rakesh on December 13, 2008, 17:28 GMT

    Regarding your comment "he stands firmly behind Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar"...Dravid may be behind Sunil Gavaskar but certainly he is ahead of Sachin amongst Indian batting greats. His contribution to victories is much more than Sachin. He had a big role in almost all Indian overseas victories - Australia (233,72*, 93), England (148), West Indies (91, 68), Pakistan (270). Sachin does not have any such role in victories.

    As captain too, he managed away series victories against two decent sides - England and WI, something Ganguly could not do during his tenure. In fact Ganguly's away record as captain is 5 wins and 9 losses (if we exclude Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) and Dravid is 4 wins, 4 losses. And, we always say, Ganguly is India's best captain.

    But, all said, he should announce his retirement sooner than later as it is embarrassing to watch him struggle against poor bowling attacks these days.

  • sreekumar on December 13, 2008, 13:44 GMT

    What next? as much i have, like every1 else enjoyed Jammy become the Wall and in the process carve his name into the list of the greatest of indian batsman if not in the list of the greatest batsmen ever. The time has come to look towards is replacement at one down. For money it has to be a right hander for various reasons. it also needs to be some1 who can grind out an innings. in short v need some one exactly like the dravid of the old. as that wld take time i suggest kaif b given a chance. he has proved that he is resilent.

    It is painfull to watch a great suffer like this and i think rather than be dropped he should call it a day as for us v wil always have memories like the innings in a low scorer in windies or facing upto donald. a double at oval...the list ofcourse goes on....

  • srinivasan on December 13, 2008, 13:38 GMT

    Believe it or not sometimes players do forget their basics! When a player score runs he will try to improvise to be more effective. In the process, he will succeed but the time when the player's momentum gets disturbed, everything will start going wrong for the one & the team. I've experienced it personally. The same is going on for One of the best batsman in the world i've ever seen. Actually, he needs a break from International cricket but unfortunately he doesn't have much time left in him to take a break & come back. Dada's superior performance after his one year break & Zak's return is the best example i could produce. But both, Dada & Zak, had time with them to come back, which Dravid doesn't have with him. Dravid has got a daunting task ahead. First, he has to get his basics right and the momentum with which he can score runs. Second, he has to sync with the momentum required by the New team India, which expects its team to score aggresively and win every match they play!!!

  • Naman on December 13, 2008, 11:18 GMT

    I find it quiet sad to see a player of calibre of Rahul Dravid going through such a long slump of form.His body language,interest level,confidence has come down all of asudden he relinquished captaincy.He shold retire gracefully from cricket like Ganguly and allow the likes of badrinaths,vijays,pujaras,rainas,sharmas,kaifs to take over his place.

  • devarajan on December 13, 2008, 11:10 GMT

    This is about Dravid fine but I was really wondering about some of the comments stating that he needs a break. In reality he is 36 so better retire after this series at least he will have a farewell. He is at his very worst for the last 2 years he has been given opportunity for 27 tests who will get that luxury? Can the previous managements shown any mercy to Ganguly not at all even when Dada's was firing for the last two years(barring Srilanka series) he was over looked by the selectors and Dravid was given again opportunity. He was certainly a great player no doubt but not anymore and I am not agreeing that he is a gentleman because he has yet to open his mouth about Chappell vs Ganguly issue because after all he was capataining India.

  • Shruti on December 13, 2008, 11:08 GMT

    If Dravid is struggling then he better be allowed to find form in domestic games instead of Test matches.Comments like one big innings from Dravid will change everything are laughable.He has been given a longer run than he deserves.What can you expect from mediocre cricketers turned selectors?Dravid will play till he is pushed out of the team.

  • No featured comments at the moment.