The importance of being Dravid

You normally don't associate words like "confused" and "unsure" with Rahul Dravid but there are times during this early stage of the England tour when they have seemed apt. Amid all the excitement over the bowlers and the angst over the batting heavyweights, Dravid's situation should not be ignored. It is one that prompts more empathy than criticism.
He endured two failures with the bat at Lord's and, excluding Bangladesh, he has now gone four Tests without a contribution (in South Africa last year, he didn't once go past 50). He's leading a side that includes a few rookies and has to do without the services of a coach. It comes as no surprise that he has stuttered through press conferences - before the game he said Harbhajan when he meant Kumble; after the game he said, "England's confidence will surely be 0-0."

Most of India's important victories in the last five years, at venues as diverse as Adelaide, Rawalpindi and Kingston, have been Dravid-inspired. Under normal circumstances you wouldn't want your best batsman to be straddled with the captaincy, but Dravid remains the best available option and there's no point debating the issue. He needs to lead, he needs to score, he needs to win matches. It may be too much to ask but he also needs to win tosses.

If the bowlers need to iron out a few creases, they have Venkatesh Prasad to approach. There's Robin Singh to talk to if anyone has an issue with fielding. But who does Dravid turn to?

He is someone who thinks a lot about his batting, visualises his shots the previous day, and ponders hard over the construction of an innings. "I do my best to be in a relaxed state of mind because that's when I play at my best," he told Wisden Asia Cricket in December 2003, when he was still a long way away from the captaincy. "I try to slow things down a couple of days before the game. I have long lunches, do things in an unhurried way. The morning of the match I always get up a couple of hours before we have to get to the ground, so that I have plenty of time to get ready. I take my time to have a bath, wear my clothes, eat breakfast. I never rush things, and that sort of sets up my mood for the rest of day."

India have relied so much on Dravid over the last five years that a minor blip in his form causes a rise in the mercury levels

It's tough to imagine the Dravid of today having enough time to go through all these routines in a relaxed manner. He needs to think of team composition, plan net sessions, sort out his team-mates' struggles, and do his best to keep morale high. Captaincy can be hard work in such circumstances. Ravi Shastri, who led in only one Test but made a name for himself as a shrewd tactician, thought Dravid was over-attacking on the first morning by setting a 7-2 field for the England openers. India's bowlers were taking time to come to terms with the Lord's slope, as well as the occasion, but Dravid refused to relent. It was no doubt the bowlers' fault for being off line, but England raced away with the momentum too easily. Again Dravid was probably guilty of letting the game drift on the fourth afternoon, but stopping Kevin Pietersen when he's in that mood isn't easy.
India have relied so much on Dravid over the last five years that a minor blip in his form causes a rise in the mercury levels. England experienced the downside of appointing a talisman like Andrew Flintoff as captain; are India entering similar territory?

The last time he left England, Dravid had successfully made the step up from a good batsman to a great one. If he can get back his groove and help India win this series, he might transform himself from being an uncertain leader to an assured one.