India in South Africa / News

South Africa v India, 1st Test, Jo'burg, 4th day

'We showed fight, character' - Dravid

Dileep Premachandran at Johannesburg

December 18, 2006

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'We are celebrating appropriately' © Getty Images
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Listen to Rahul Dravid's press conference

Soon after the presentation ceremony, Rahul Dravid walked towards the boundary rope and gestured towards the crowd. His wife made her way through the throng and handed over little Samit, who was then carried across to the dressing room. Perhaps the celebrations were a little too much for a toddler to take and, by the time his father arrived for the press conferences, shirt soaked in spirits, Samit had gone back to a more child-friendly environment.

Sporting the biggest smile that he has in a long while, Dravid spoke in animated tones about the celebrations following a historic 123-run victory. "Everyone's going berserk and really enjoying it," he said". "It's a special moment for this group and we are celebrating appropriately."

In the build-up to the game, Dravid had emphasised that it would be dangerous to write India off, though he admitted that the no-hopers tag hadn't been entirely undeserved. "I don't blame the people for criticising us," he said. "South Africa were always going to be favourites heading into this Test, but I knew there was a lot of quality in this team. We showed that in the last few days. We had players who stood up and were counted."

Having been an integral part of epochal successes at Adelaide, Headingley and Multan, Dravid was cautious when asked where this triumph rated in the grand scheme of things. "This victory is great because this is the first time we have done it in South Africa in four visits over the past 14 years. As a cricketer, your special moments are the ones that you share with the team; the celebrations, the joy you get from winning and just being a part of the group that has stood by you for three-and-a-half days and put in everything they've got to come out victorious."

The morale appeared to be too low for zero after the capitulation in the one-day series but, by the time the players returned to Johannesburg for the Test, the spring was back in several steps. "It's not that we haven't done this before," said Dravid, when asked what had changed. "We lost the one-day series in West Indies but came back to win the Test series. I think it was nice to get away in Potchefstroom and hang in together.

"The team was pretty hurt with the one-day defeat and we just got together and said whatever happens, we'll try and put in a better performance. We came here with a bit of confidence having won the warm up-game. I'm glad the boys displayed a lot of fighting spirit and character."

Sreesanth's brilliance with the ball broke the game open for India, but Dravid preferred to focus on the team effort when asked to pick out the pivotal moments in the game. "The way Sourav Ganguly batted with the lower order to get us to 250," he said. "His partnership with VRV Singh was crucial too. Sreesanth and Zaheer coming out and bowling out the opposition for 84. Laxman did a great job with the tail in the second innings and his stand with Zaheer. Sreesanth picking up three wickets in the second innings, including the important wicket of Kallis. These were the crucial moments that eventually helped us win."

The return of Ganguly added experience to the middle order, and both he and Laxman played hugely important knocks in the context of a low-scoring match. "It's nice to have boys who have performed well in situations like this before," said Dravid. "To be honest, this Test team has been the same for some time now, except for one or two players here and there. We had the same group in Pakistan, [against] England and West Indies."

When asked whether he'd discerned any change in Ganguly's attitude and approach to the game, Dravid said: "He's really playing well. There's no doubt about that. His performances in Potchefstroom and in this Test have been really good. It's great to see him batting well. He's a proven and experienced performer and when he bats well, it's going to make a big difference to the side. I hope he keeps continuing because we'll need good performances from people like him, Sachin, Laxman and myself to have the right results."

There was praise too for the coaching staff, who have copped considerable criticism in recent months after indifferent results in the one-day game. "Unfortunately, we tend to focus a lot on individuals in success and defeat," said Dravid. "But at the end of the day, victories and defeats are not about the captain or the coaches or one or two individuals. It's always about the team. I've always believed that it's the performances that you put in as a team that helps you win matches."

The team was pretty hurt with the one-day defeat and we just got together and said whatever happens, we'll try and put in a better performance. We came here with a bit of confidence having won the warm up-game. I'm glad the boys displayed a lot of fighting spirit and character

With India needing just five more wickets at the start of day four, the intensity was a little less than what it had been on the first three days. Dravid said, however, that there had been no hint of complacency. "The senior guys in the side were pretty keen to remind me and everyone else, saying: 'Let's get this done. They are a very good side, we need to be professional and get the job done'. It's a good group of senior boys in the team and the support they've given me is fantastic. A lot of things I don't even need to say, it just comes from the group and they handle a lot of things themselves."

In the past, great highs such as this have been followed by crashing lows, and Dravid said that his team needed to be wary of a South African backlash. "South Africa will come back hard at us," he said. "We have to soak up a lot of pressure and respond adequately."

The pressure was certainly on when he walked out for the toss at the Wanderers, and he asserted that the decision to bat had been his alone. "Whether we bat or bowl first, or who plays in the XI, is going to be my call," he said. "I do discuss things in our team meetings and with some of my senior players but at the end of the day, it always starts and ends with me. I felt that batting first was the way to go on this pitch."

Getting 249 on the board was quite an achievement, but what followed was just sensational, with the bowlers dismantling a powerful batting line-up in just 25.1 overs. "He bowled brilliantly for us," said Dravid, when asked specifically about Sreesanth's man-of-the-match display. "Obviously, he's a character, but he needs to be a bit careful. We wouldn't want him to miss a game."

He chuckled when asked about Sreesanth's impromptu celebrations after whacking Andre Nel for a straight six. "I'd rather have him do what he did with the bat than what he did later. But I enjoyed his six. I enjoy everything when Sreesanth bowls well. He's a great character. A player like him, a character like him, needs to be celebrated and enjoyed."

And, as the storm clouds gathered over the stadium, he admitted that the high jinks weren't about to end just yet. "It's a good moment to be together as a group and celebrate," he said, with a big grin. "We played a little bit of 'Holi'. The boys need to learn to drink too, and not just spray it!"

After what they have just accomplished, most Indians would forgive them that.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo

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Dileep Premachandran Associate editor Dileep Premachandran gave up the joys of studying thermodynamics and strength of materials with a view to following in the footsteps of his literary heroes. Instead, he wound up at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai, writing on sport and politics before Gentleman gave him a column called Replay. A move to MyIndia.com followed, where he teamed up with Sambit Bal, and he arrived at ESPNCricinfo after having also worked for Cricket Talk and total-cricket.com. Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell were his early cricketing heroes, though attempts to emulate their silken touch had hideous results. He considers himself obscenely fortunate to have watched live the two greatest comebacks in sporting history - India against invincible Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001, and Liverpool's inc-RED-ible resurrection in the 2005 Champions' League final. He lives in Bangalore with his wife, who remains astonishingly tolerant of his sporting obsessions.
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