Just how much responsibility can Rahul Dravid take?
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India's effervescent bowling display - spearheaded by two men with a
combined experience of two Tests - was negated by another diffident
batting performance that raised uncomfortable questions about the form and
durability of those who were once indispensable. Yet again, Rahul Dravid
had to dig a trench and climb in, while Yuvraj Singh struck some
magnificent shots to illustrate how good the pitch still was once you came
to grips with the bounce and subtle movement.
India's dependence on Dravid is eerily reminiscent of the days when it was
a case of "Get Tendulkar, and sew up the game". When he fails, as at
Karachi last month, India have no chance. But as long as he's around - as
was the case during the innings of 95 at Mohali - the reservoir of hope
never runs dry. His solidity emboldens the new faces to express themselves
and play their shots, secure in the knowledge that cricket's immovable
object will ride the punches and hold up one end.
Sehwag's travails against the short ball in recent times have heaped even
more pressure on Dravid, and the very obvious technical flaw that England
have zeroed in on clearly needs addressing. After being subjected to a
leathering in Lahore, Pakistan got him thrice with deliveries that lifted
on or outside off stump, prompting either an ungainly flail or the
hesitant poke. England have refined that strategy, aiming the ball at the
sternum or throat to telling effect.
With no effective pull or hook shot in his repertoire, Sehwag's response
to short-pitched deliveries on middle and leg has been what can politely
be called the trampoline technique. Twice now, he has been airborne while
fending the ball behind off either bat handle or splice - the same
deliveries that Dravid sways out of the way of with scarcely a second
thought. With tours of the West Indies and South Africa on the horizon,
you can be sure that Messrs Edwards, Nel and Ntini will be watching with
The Tendulkar trough is just as worrying. Since that epochal 35th century
in Delhi, he has managed just 170 runs in 10 innings, and frequently
played himself in only to give it away. Most of them have been scratchy,
disjointed efforts, where he failed to impose himself on the proceedings
in any way.
What makes the struggle bewildering to watch has been his form in the
one-day game. At times during the one-day series in Pakistan, especially
in the crucial third encounter at Lahore, his batting was just
resplendent, characterised by impeccable judgement of length, superb shot
selection and a positive approach that allowed no bowler to establish any
sort of mastery over him.
The stunned silence, punctuated by the isolated boo, that accompanied his
trudge back to the pavilion this afternoon spoke as much of a longing for
times gone by, as it did of frustration at a master's current
predicament. The Wankhede attracts its fair share of anoraks and it won't
have escaped their attention that India haven't managed to score more than
225 in their last six innings - four against Australia, two against South
Africa - against quality opposition at this venue. But even in those
atrocious displays, Tendulkar was often a class apart, making 97 (South
Africa, 2000), 76, 65 (Australia, 2001) and 55 (Australia, 2004) - a stark
contrast to his 21-ball stutter today.
With Sehwag and Tendulkar struggling so, Dravid's task has become akin to
driving a car with two flat tyres. Irfan Pathan and the tail came to the
rescue at Mohali, but if Matthew Hoggard and Flintoff can cause another
puncture early tomorrow morning, India's stop-start series may still run
into a brick wall. Luckily for them, the redoubtable Dravid is still at
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo