'It's one of the best innings I have seen' - Dravid
That Mahendra Singh Dhoni shredded a bowling attack is no surprise; that he did so in just his fourth Test against the ferocity of Shoaib Akhtar, with his side skidding into disaster-zone, was what caught Pakistan unaware. Rahul Dravid had no qualms in admitting that Dhoni's was "one of the best counterattacking innings" he had seen in a long time, and warned that he could only get better after this.
"It's one of the best innings I have seen under pressure," he said while speaking to the media at the end of the day. "He had to face the new ball and he attacked the bowlers." Dravid also stressed that this wasn't just a crash-bang-wallop sort of knock but one executed with a lot of planning. Having reached his fifty in a 34-ball blaze, he settled into a relatively sedate mood in the second half, taking 59 balls for the second fifty. "It was a very sensible innings," he added. "He played his shots initially but later controlled the innings along with Irfan Pathan. It was a great innings and I am confident that he will play much better after this. He would have gained a lot of confidence."
Watching Dhoni get even better is surely a mouth-watering prospect. Having seen him pound one-day hundreds against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and then play the way he did today, one wonders what lies in store if he in fact does get better. Dravid revealed that he hadn't sent out any instructions and hailed Dhoni for the character he showed. "There were no instructions," he added, "I just told him to go out and play his game and do what he knows best. And he attacked brilliantly. It's one of the best counterattacking innings I have seen in a long, long time. Considering the situation of the game when he came in, to play the way he did showed a lot of character, it showed courage and ability."
Struggling at 281 for 5, India might have been concerned not only about their relatively inexperienced lower order, but also with the fact that they were a batsman short in this game. Dravid explained their thinking before the game and was happy that their selection was vindicated. "We went in with five specialist bowlers knowing that Dhoni and Irfan can bat really well. Both are top quality players with minimal experience at this level, especially Dhoni, but we were confident that they could do well. We knew that we've got a bit of back up if we go wrong."
Dravid wasn't too perturbed with Yuvraj Singh's dismissal, pulling despite two fielders stationed in the deep. "We've entrusted faith in Yuvraj Singh because he's a very good cricketer. He's got two 70s in crucial situations in the last two Test matches to help us win them. He was the Man of the Series in the one-day competition leading up to this series so we have entrusted him with responsibility and confidence because he's a proven performer. We all make mistakes, and it's not the first one he'll make in his career. He's a kind of cricketer who'll learn from it. If there's talent we have to give them the opportunities."
On a day that one batsman overshadowed most, it was the Dravid-Laxman combine that had warded off the early danger. "My partnership with Laxman was very important just from the point of view of calming the nerves," he added, "Chasing 588, to go in there and have a big second-wicket partnership sort of calmed everyone down in the dressing-room. It settled the nerves. It's unfortunate that both of us got out just before the new ball came on. One of our goals was to be there when the new ball was taken."
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo