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India v West Indies, 1st ODI, Nagpur

Dravid shows no sign of crisis

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

January 20, 2007

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'As far as I see it, the best players must go to the World Cup - in terms of form and fitness. It's not reputations that we need to go by' © AFP
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Nagpur is yet to produce a world-beating cricketer. Prashant Vaidya is the only international player from this city - CK Nayudu is from here, too, but made his fame in Indore - and his four one-dayers don't really qualify him for the moniker, 'Nagpur's most famous cricketing son'. But Nagpur has managed to snag a famous son-in-law.

And Rahul Dravid hasn't given his in-laws much reason to complain - he averages 110.33 in four ODIs at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Ground, including one century and three fifties. Around 15 months ago, he started his captaincy stint here, a game when India surprised Sri Lanka and began a roll.

Now he returns, with his plans somewhat in disarray after watching India stutter in the last few months. His own form has been patchy and his team-building plans would have received a jolt after the 4-0 thrashing in South Africa. The sprightly youngsters didn't seem to have the wherewithal to handle the heat; the battle-scarred seniors who've returned can't inject any youthful zest.

He has six matches to figure out the World Cup jigsaw, before the final 14 are selected; he can't afford to lose too many games, and he is going to be facing a side that has the "psychological edge".

Amid all this confusion, with everyone expecting the usual diplomatic talk at the press conference, he revealed a forthright side. First up, he announced the 12 for tomorrow; next he named the openers, something he's rarely disclosed in the past; then he explained why; later, he candidly argued for Virender Sehwag's exclusion, stating that being out of the side can have its benefits. No wishy-washiness, no verbal gymnastics, just a forthright session where he laid out his cards.

"When I've got runs, it's made a difference to the side," he said without a second thought when asked about his lean patch. "I was happy with my form till I broke my finger in South Africa. But it was a strange tour for me. It's not easy to miss four weeks in the middle of the tour and then to come back. Things didn't go as well as I would have liked in the Tests as well. In a close series, one key innings can change the series. It's not about the number of runs or averages. It's about getting the critical innings when it matters. It didn't happen but we need to pull up our socks and move on."

We're very close to identifying key players for the World Cup squad. You got to have a key group and we've identified them a while back. There have been a few form blips, a few fitness issues but we have a good idea of our plans

The Virender Sehwag question wasn't avoided. Did it make sense to not play Sehwag, when it was almost certain he'd make the World Cup squad? "Veeru [Sehwag] when playing well, when he's in a good state of mind mentally and physically, is an asset," said Dravid. "Sometimes, playing games helps but sometimes a bit of time off - switching off mentally - can be beneficial as well. The selectors have taken a decision and we need to respect that.

"Veeru's been playing quite a bit of cricket," he continued, "and sometimes being away from the game can do you a world of good. As far as I see it, the best players must go to the World Cup - in terms of form and fitness. It's not reputations that we need to go by. We're very close to identifying key players for the World Cup squad. You must have a key group and we've identified them a while back. There have been a few form blips, a few fitness issues - obviously some spots available for selection - but we have a good idea of our plans."

He admitted that Robin Uthappa was unlucky to miss out, adding "Gautam's been on the South Africa tour recently and did well. We thought he deserved an opportunity first." He accepted that there were only two options with the bowling department - either five specialist bowlers or four bowlers and three part-timers in Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Suresh Raina. Listening to Dravid, it was tough to imagine that here was a captain in need of urgent solutions, trying to rediscover a consistent winning formula. But this was Nagpur after all.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo

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