India's slump in ODI form over the last six months has had many experts touting various explanations, but whichever way you look at it, the one inescapable fact they come back to is the collective batting failure of a star-studded line-up. The failures of Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina have hurt the team, but the single-biggest factor which has hurt them more than any other is the sudden slump in form of their captain and their most vital cog in the batting wheel, Rahul Dravid.
Since scoring a century in guiding India to victory in the first ODI on their tour to the West Indies, Dravid has scored 145 runs in 11 innings, with a highest of 49. India have gone on to win just two of those matches.
Over the last four years and a bit, Dravid has shown the kind of versatility that has enabled him to translate his success in Tests into the shorter version of the game as well. Since the tour to England in 2002, he averages 42 in all ODIs, but a staggering 59.60 in wins, pointing to the fact that when India win, Dravid usually has a huge role to play. Combine that with his average in defeats during this period, and it's clear that Dravid's performances have had a huge impact on India's ODI fortunes.
In fact, Dravid's average in wins is outstanding even when compared with the other leading batsmen in the world during this period - among batsmen with at least 1500 winning runs, only Ramnaresh Sarwan has done better. West Indies, Pakistan and South Africa are the only teams with two representatives on that list, while it might surprise some to note that the only Australian in the top ten is not Ricky Ponting, but Andrew Symonds.
It's also interesting that a couple of batting heavyweights don't figure in the table below - Ponting's average of 48.42 only puts him in 15th place, while Sachin Tendulkar is seven places further down with an average of 44.52.
It's no-one's contention, though, that these four years have been Tendulkar's best ones. His peak was clearly much earlier, and though he played a few sizzling knocks during this period - most notably in the 2003 World Cup - he just didn't do it consistently enough to be among the top batsmen. Moreover, with Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and the a few others contributing more often - until the recent slump this season - Tendulkar's contributions haven't been as critical.
There was a period not very long back, though - in the mid and late 1990s - when Tendulkar was at the height of his powers and scored prolifically in victories, even more so than Dravid's contributions of late. In the four-year period between 1996 and 1999, Tendulkar averaged a whopping 76 when India won, getting as many as 28 fifty-plus scores - including 16 centuries - in 55 victories, which compares favourably with Dravid's 30 such scores in 66 matches. And as the summary of his winning performances show, he got his runs against the best teams as well. The problem, though, was when he failed, as it is for India with Dravid now.
The cream of the crop
With the ICC awards only a little more than a week away, it's time to look at the numbers of the players who've made it into the shortlist. The tables below look at the numbers of the players shortlisted during the period under consideration - August 1, 2005 to August 8, 2006.
The batting and bowling lists also include averages excluding the minnows. Interestingly, three of the four players in the ODI shortlist have done better against quality opposition. Among the Test nominees, Shane Warne too has performed better against the top teams - he wasn't at his best in the two Tests against Bangladesh. Muttiah Muralitharan took 30 of his 108 wickets in four Tests against Bangladesh, but his average against the top teams is still better than Warne's.