'This tour is a great opportunity for the young players'
Rahul Dravid laughed off suggestions of a tiff with Greg Chappell in Durban, and emphasised that his team were trying their very best to get back on track ahead of the Cape Town ODI on Sunday. Reiterating that there was little he could do about the strident criticism emanating from India, he reposed faith in the inexperienced players who have struggled to find any semblance of form in recent times.
"You must understand that some of these guys are on their first tour here and they have never experienced such conditions," he said. "For them, it's going to take some time. I see this tour as a great opportunity for the young players. If you can come away from this tour with high marks, it can set you up for your whole career.
"I think they are keen and really want to do well. And those are the players who you want - to view this tour not as a threat but an opportunity to raise their own profile in the game. We [captain, coach and senior players] have spoken to them a lot about it. But it is not easy. Experience does not always come from listening to people. You have to go through some of this yourself. We are all celebrating [Ricky] Ponting today but I remember Ponting coming to India [in 2001] and going through a phase where he had to struggle and learn how to play in the subcontinent. When you have players of the calibre of Ponting having to go through a tough period, it is going to happen to a lot of people."
He admitted though that India's failure to bat out 50 overs in several recent matches was a cause for concern. "One of our goals is to get into the last 10 overs with six wickets in hand," he said. "It's something we have to achieve. We have not batted as well as we would have liked. It's a question of guys putting up runs on the board and spending time at the wicket, as simple as that."
The likely return of Virender Sehwag was discussed, but Dravid wouldn't state categorically whether he would play on Sunday, having missed the Durban game with soreness in his injured right hand. "Viru batted in the nets yesterday, and looked very good," he said. "Like I said last time, we are hopeful that he will be fit for selection. Obviously, it's important to see how people are on the morning of the game. But he is improving constantly and a lot better than he was in the last game."
With Yuvraj Singh missing, and Sehwag injured, there had been renewed calls for Dravid to move up to the No.3 slot, but he insisted that Mohammad Kaif would continue to occupy that position. "We have been trying to give Kaif a consistent run in the one-day game," he said. "Kaif is one of our more experienced one-day players, and we have tried to give him a consistent run in a position where he can play for a longer time. It suits his style as well. He has been around for six years, so it's just to see if he can do well at No. 3. If it doesn't work out, we can always go back to me and move him back to four or five."
The loss of Munaf Patel was a blow, but Dravid said that there was no question of taking a chance on his fitness during such a long tour. "We're monitoring his progress at the moment and we'll see after a couple of practice sessions in Port Elizabeth whether he's fit for that game."
He was happy with the pitch prepared for the game, but added that the toss might once again play a pivotal role in proceedings. "It will be interesting to see how this wicket will play right through the day," he said. "It might do a bit initially but as the day goes on it can be a good wicket to bat on." The dryness of the surface also meant that Anil Kumble came into the picture. "It's something we'll look at and assess," he said. "With Munaf's injury, we'll have to look at our bowling combination a little bit. Depending on the conditions, we'll look to play our best combination."
If that combination doesn't work, it will give parliament more material to debate. It will allow the honourable members to be distracted from far more intractable issues.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo