November 5, 2008

Dravid runs dry

He was once the architect of some of India's finest wins; now he's in the middle of a lean patch that has lasted alarmingly long

In his last 41 innings Dravid has made just seven fifties and two hundreds; in the 154 innings before that he made 69 scores of over 50 © AFP

Those who watched it reckoned they were in the presence of a master. One man harked back to a calypso written about Sunil Gavaskar more than three decades earlier. On a pitch where no other batsman really looked at ease, Rahul Dravid batted ten hours for innings of 81 and 68. Sabina Park had seen some great innings from legends like George Headley and Lawrence Rowe, but Dravid's twin salvo, which decided a Test match and series, was right up there with anything played by greats of the past.

At the end of that game Dravid's average stood at an imposing 58.75 after 104 Tests. He wasn't merely accepted as one of India's batting trinity - Tendulkar and Gavaskar being the others - but recognised the world over as an all-time great. The runs had come on slow subcontinent pitches, bouncier ones in Australia, seaming tracks in England and challenging surfaces like those in South Africa.

A few months later India went to the highveld. Though he played a crucial little cameo at the Wanderers, Dravid finished with 125 runs for the series. A temporary blip, you thought. There was a century in Bangladesh, but the fallow run continued in England. He got a start on an Oval flatbed, but uncharacteristically threw it away after getting to 50. When that failure was followed by a moderate series against a poor Pakistan side, the whispers started to gather some momentum.

When he abdicated from the captaincy after the England tour, there was obviously more focus on his batting. And apart from a sterling innings of 93 that was instrumental in the Indian victory at the WACA last January, the scrutinising eyes found plenty of faults. He had never been the sort of player to get the scoreboard racing, but the first few innings in Australia were tortuous affairs, when even middling the ball off the square appeared an ordeal.

Perth wasn't to herald a renaissance. There was a century against South Africa in Chennai, but the pitch was so placid that even a Ranji Trophy journeyman might have fancied his chances on it. The rest of the series was again a tribulation, with starts squandered and atypical dismissals. A few months later, in Sri Lanka, he was put through the wringer by the freakishly talented Ajantha Mendis. Only a last-innings 68 salvaged anything from the wreckage of an abysmal series.

The numbers tell you clearly enough what's been going wrong. In 41 completed innings over the past two years, Dravid has been dismissed 21 times before getting to 20. Eight of those dismissals have been bowled or leg-before. Some were terrific deliveries, but more often than not hesitant footwork was to blame. Most batsmen are vulnerable early in an innings, though in Dravid's case the crisis went deeper.

Even when he got starts, he couldn't carry on. In those 41 innings, there have been just seven fifties to go with the two hundreds. Contrast that with 69 scores of over 50 in 154 knocks prior to that, and you can see why the concerns are justified. "There's no secret to it," says Dravid himself. "I have to go out and score big runs again. There's no getting away from that."

Perth wasn't to herald a renaissance. There was a century against South Africa in Chennai, but the pitch was so placid that even a Ranji Trophy journeyman might have fancied his chances on it

Some would say he's been given a long enough rope. In those last 24 Tests, a significant number, he averages just 32.04, far lower than what others in the middle order have managed. Once the man you'd bet your house on, he's now seen as the most likely to go the Lehman Brothers way. Headline-writers these days can make a decent living from variations on "The Wall is Crumbling."

The lapses in concentration are just as worrying as the mediocre numbers. In the current series he has been out playing on twice. In the second innings in Bangalore, he clipped a half-volley to Ricky Ponting at short midwicket, and the first-innings stint in Delhi was ended when he chased a fairly wide delivery from Mitchell Johnson.

On the surface he appears more relaxed than he did in Australia and Sri Lanka, but the mistakes continue to creep into what was once a hermetically sealed game. He says he no longer worries or obsesses about his batting as he once did, but with Indian cricket going through a season of change, it's natural that the spotlight shines ever brighter on his failings.

For more than a decade Dravid was India's best batsman after Tendulkar, but after two years of underwhelming performances, the wellspring of goodwill and patience is slowly running dry. With just 117 runs in the series, another failure will increase the calls for someone like Rohit Sharma to come into the squad.

For the moment, though, Dravid can ill afford to think of such matters. The dependable legend of 2006 is now a faltering veteran. If he needs any inspiration he can just look across at the opposition dressing room. Since a slump that left his place in jeopardy heading into The Oval Test of 2005, Matthew Hayden has scored ten centuries from 26 games. Last week in Delhi, a couple of days after his 37th birthday, he showed that he had no intention of fading away quietly.

Dravid, the architect of India's most memorable Test victories, must compose a similar autumn sonata. Otherwise the team that takes the field in Karachi in the new year will look vastly different from that which took Indian cricket to unprecedented heights in the new millennium. After 128 Tests and 12 seasons, it would be a real pity if it ended with glib lines about walls coming tumbling down.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shruti on November 8, 2008, 15:07 GMT

    Dravid is a liability on the field.His reflexes have ,understandably,slowed down.He has started spilling catches regularly at that position.He ,like Kumble,is playing on entitlement and not form.Kumble has retired and wisely so.Dravid has got to make way for some one else may be badrinath,vijay or rohit sharma.How long will these guys hang around?But what can you expect from a Selection Committee headed by mediocre ex -cricketers.All gutless and enjoying post retirement benefits which they could not have dreamt in their playing days.

  • Praveen on November 7, 2008, 17:20 GMT

    I agree with tusharkardile , who are we to decide the retirement policies or who has to be in or out of the team.Apart from suresh raina and virat kohli, no other youngster looks good to fit the bill..rohit sharma is inconsistent, so are the pathan brothers.I would love to see the FAB Four for another 4 years.They do have the capabilities and the fitness.The current set of youngsters cant handle the test scenario...look at yuvraj singh, even after 7 years of international cricket,he still does not find a place in the test team.First, throw the BCCI management out as these are bunch of lazy politicians.The Fab Four were great, are great and will remain great.

  • Dilip on November 6, 2008, 20:35 GMT

    Lets not forget that dravid has been the chief architect of all of india's famousvictories overseas (233 and 72* in sydney , 148 in headingley in seaming conditions, 2 half centuries against WI, 93 in recent win at perth, 270 against pakistan ) .. the list goes on. I think its fair to say he has been out of form a bit and knowing dravid, he will be bounce pack. Me being a hard core dravid fan, i find it hard to say this. But i think he should take a sabbatical and be back after a series(just like dhoni did)

  • Hari on November 6, 2008, 14:19 GMT

    Dravid has been one of the finest batsmen in Indian and world cricket, but his performances over the last 2 years have been deplorably substandard. He has produced just 6 50s in the last 6 test series, that is averaging one 50 per series. We cannot count the "20s or 30s" and give the excuse "he has been getting starts", No, for a player of Dravid's caliber we have too see how many match impacting innings he has played and that is just one solitary 90 in Perth in the last 20 tests, he has averaged less than 28 over 25 tests, and has been occupying a crucial spot in the lineup purely courtesy Kumble the captain, from Melbourne till now, keeping out much more deserving and in form youngsters. High time he is dropped, should have been dropped after SL tour itself and that would have been ideal. He should immediately announce his retirement and at least leave with some dignity, on a cricket field rather than read about his axing in the papers.

  • Sam on November 6, 2008, 13:52 GMT

    Thanks Dileep for this pre-emptive piece. I'd rather read a piece like this, written by a knowledgeable person than something refering childishly to a crumbling wall. Hadn't realised the possibility till you mentioned it. Absolutely spot on in pointing to Haydin for inspiration; and in doing so, pointing to CA and the Australian selectors for their patience and maturity. Champions and loyal warriors deserve that. Rahul more than anyone. The wall is far from crumbling. It's merely showing a few cracks. Probably needs some maintenance and a lick of paint. We owe that to Rahul.

  • nithin on November 6, 2008, 12:41 GMT

    Sachins Dravids gangulys Laxmans who have served India for more than a decade. Let me make clear that the media is creating the lot of pressure on the players. So it will be difficult for the players to regain their lost form under pressure. I read the article headline "Focus shifts to Dravid amidst fourth test" "Kumble tested in third test against Australia". This media wants to hype each and every small thing and put pressure even before the match starts. They display the stat of every players which make them more nervous. So please let the players alone.

  • amaresh on November 6, 2008, 12:09 GMT

    wall would be soon ready for another great innings of his life.after such a long carrier of india s burden in many matches he must be given his free rein to decide his retirment.he has nothing else to prove.he had shown wonders with the would be a disgrace to such a gr8 talent if he was not given his time to make his decision.

  • Prasanna on November 6, 2008, 12:08 GMT

    Dravid,Ganguly,Sachin,Laxman are players, with different way of playing a game can't be comparable.Dravid is a Wall.All players had bad days took break in between because of injury for ex:Sachin,Ganguly,Sehwag and Laxman.But observe Dravid he never went out of team from start he was serving for country.All have come back from bad days and Dravid has bad time now.He was forced to come down from captaincy after he captained in England and none of the players did support him.It's not like team spirit.Ganguly,Dravid,Ganguly are pressurized to leave but not Sachin.Here we all Indians can see this clearly that when Sharad Pawar,Dilip Vengsarkar took hold of BCCI from then onwards Dravid,Ganguly are downed in one or the other way.I believe Replacement of Dravid is not possible in future also.He was downed long back in 1998 as he is not good for one days but he has crossed 10000 Runs in both the games.It's something like "Hurt a person's leg and tell him run".He will come back.............

  • Raj on November 6, 2008, 11:24 GMT

    Wall has collapsed, records gone into history, after getting dropped from Captaincy then 2020 followed by One day, followed by IPL disaster...time to give the spot to young talent no point of being white elephant anymore...agreed in those days he was a champ..better to step down before he gets dropped from Test

  • Tushar on November 6, 2008, 10:51 GMT

    So what if he averages 31 in last 25 (TWENTY-FIVE) test matches, 28.75 if you ignore his heroics against mighty Bangladesh? So what if he is 36 years old? So what if another player can now actually win games for India? Dravid was a great batsman and deserves life membership. He will hang his boots only when he is stretchered off the field. Who are we to expect him to retire gracefully?

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