'You can't just blindly play your bowlers' - Dravid
Having spent most of the current season practicing while game after game got rained off, Rahul Dravid was eager for the series to get underway after Sunday's washout at the Wanderers. And while their record against South Africa at Durban is abysmal, both in Tests and one-day games games, Dravid preferred to focus on the halcyon days of 2003, when victories over England and Kenya at this venue were important milestones in the surge to the final.
"We have got pretty good wickets the last time we played in the World Cup, a lot of our batsmen got a lot of runs," he said, speaking to the media before a practice session on Tuesday afternoon. "We have taken the confidence from that. The support too has been good here. The atmosphere too is always good here with a packed stadium."
Dravid was part of the side that was annihilated in a Test match in 1996, tallying 100 and 66 in the face of fearsome fast bowling on a lively pitch. But when asked of Indian frailty against pace, he insisted that there were enough experienced hands on board to get the job done. "There have been guys who have put their hands up and played pace all across the world," he said. "Every time India travels here, you get this and every time South Africa travels to India, you hear about how they can't play spin bowling. These are just strengths and weakness of each team and the challenge is to counter that when you go away and play in conditions that are not similar to the ones at home."
The Kingsmead pitch was likely to prompt a rethink in team strategy, with an additional batsman an insurance option. "We'd like to get into a situation where we can play five bowlers; it's the long term goal," he said. "But that has to be viewed against the kind of personnel we have. You can't just blindly play your bowlers. The ball seams and swings a lot in the evening here and the conditions have to be taken into consideration."
He said that there was every likelihood of Sachin Tendulkar's gentle medium pace coming into play at some stage during the series. "We want to get Sachin bowling 10 overs by the time World Cup comes along, and don't want to rush that process," he said. "We'll keep bowling him, get a few overs out of him and slowly increase the workload leading into the World Cup. He's up to about 40 and 50 balls in the nets and that's a good sign."
Virender Sehwag was certainly in contention after getting two extra days to recover from a gashed hand, and Dravid added that he had felt no discomfort during batting sessions in the nets. "He is being monitored since this is a pretty long tour and we cannot risk him."
The indifferent form of the batsmen had been the main cause for the downturn in Indian fortunes since the one-day series in the West Indies, but Dravid said that there was no additional pressure on him or any of the seniors. "There should always be pressure on you to perform as an international player," he said. "I'm pretty keen to do well, as are Sachin, Kaif, Raina or anyone else. The pressure which comes with expectations is something that inspires you at the end of the day.
"You expect consistent performance from players all the time. There will be five or six critical players in any team who need to perform consistently if we are to beat the good teams. But in our side, there have been a lot of people winning the Man of the Match awards, which means everyone has been contributing."
And on the day when a genius named Brian Charles Lara drew alongside Sunil Gavaskar on 34 centuries, Dravid was fulsome in his praise for an individual who he reckoned few could emulate. "Brian and Sachin have been the two best batsmen of my generation and just to watch them play has been fantastic," he said. "To have watched one from close quarters and to have seen the other play some memorable knocks has been great. I think Brian is showing that he is getting better and better as he gets older. The way he handled the spinners today was just sensational."
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo