Rahul Dravid and Inzamam-ul-Haq were both extremely tired men when they spoke to the press after India beat Pakistan by five wickets to level this five-match series 2-2. It showed. They were independently asked if the result of this match was somehow fixed. Inzamam stared long and hard at the reporter and his reply was as eloquent as it was brief: "Shut up," he glowered. Dravid chose his words with a more reserve, but only just: "Someone get this guy out of the room. It's ridiculous. These sort of statements are just bad for the game." When the questions returned to the hard cricket, normality returned to proceedings.
Dravid talked the press through the various phases of his partnership with Mohammad Kaif, and explained why there was more pressure on the team this time around than when compared with the run-chase at Centurion, against Pakistan, in the World Cup. "We were in a better position then. We still had Dinesh Mongia sitting in the pavilion, but this time we were down to our last recognised pair. But there is a certain amount of pressure in every international game."
Dravid also explained how his job was made easier: "The guys at the top of the order set a scorching pace. It was just a question of batting through till the end. We probably lost one wicket too many, but Kaif played a super knock. It was great batting with him. He kept the rate and I just wanted to make sure I was there till the end."
Dravid has seen India through several tight situations in recent times, while batting at No. 5. "I enjoy this role," he admitted. "I had a different role batting at No. 3, but this is a new challenge. The fact that Yuvraj and Kaif bat behind me has helped me a lot. They run very well between the wickets which suits my kind of game."
Dravid and Kaif put on an unbeaten 132 in 130 balls, and put the game beyond the Pakistanis. "I thought they sort of gave up the fight with 20 to 25 runs left," said Dravid. "They tried hard, but once they bowled out their strike bowlers and we saw that phase through without any damage they knew we had to make a mistake for them to have a chance."
Not surprisingly, Inzamam disagreed with Dravid's assessment. "When the opposition is scoring quickly and you're not bowling well, it sometimes looks as if you're not trying hard enough," he argued. "That was not the case. We tried our best till the end. We have been trying to sort out the problem of extra deliveries in the nets but the results are not forthcoming. If this trend continues we will have to start reconsidering our bowling options. But, I still have complete confidence in my bowlers."
Dravid also had a word of praise for India's bowlers. "Our bowling in the first 15 overs was very good. We have an inexperienced attack so all credit to the guys. They have been working very hard. A lot of planning has gone into our bowling and it's nice to see it work."
Looking ahead to the series decider, which is as good as a tournament final, Dravid hoped that his side would play good cricket. "In the World Cup and in the tri-series in Australia we didn't play anywhere close to our potential. If we can play a good, close game the winning and the losing will take care of itself. I just hope we can pick ourselves up for Wednesday's game."