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'Ntini's spell proved decisive' - Dravid

Rahul Dravid isn't the sort of man prone to giving his team a spray of abuse in the dressing-room, but he could have been forgiven that at Kingsmead

Dravid prasied Mahendra Singh Dhoni for 'curbing his natural instincts' ... © AFP
Rahul Dravid isn't the sort of man prone to giving his team a spray of abuse in the dressing-room, but he could have been forgiven that at Kingsmead after a batting performance that was as dismal as any seen in recent years. Asking for "more runs from the principal batsmen, myself included" is one thing, but the nature of the surrender should learn to some long, hard navel-gazing within the team.
"Today was a little disappointing," he said, surely swallowing the urge to couch his dismay in stronger terms. "We knew we had to bat out no more than 70 or 75 overs, but we couldn't manage that. [Makhaya] Ntini bowled a good spell first up and the top-order couldn't cope with it. That proved decisive in the end."
Some of the shots played belonged more in a Twenty20 than in a Test match where batting out time was the order of the day, but Dravid didn't come down too hard on frankly atrocious stroke selection. "It was both a combination of some good bowling and not-so-good batting," said Dravid when asked what had been the main cause of another Durban humiliation. "We could have batted better in both innings.
"We could have played a lot better in the first innings, on the second evening and the third morning. But we lost wickets in quick succession on the third morning, and that put us under pressure. If you go behind by 80 or 100 runs in the first innings, then you are always playing catch-up. It's not easy batting last after conceding that kind of a lead. We could have got more runs in the first innings."
The lone splash of colour on a miserable grey day for the Indians came in the shape of a tremendously gutsy knock from Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who batted 106 minutes and 67 balls for his 47, despite his fingers being in mashed-potato condition. The defiance ended in poor fashion, with a flashing drive to slip, but Dravid refused to be too harsh on a man who has played through the pain barrier over the past two days.
"We do discuss a lot about reading the play, reading the situation," he said. "I've been very impressed with the improvement he [Dhoni] has shown. He's learning and adapting all the time. He showed a lot of pluck and fight today. He's working very hard at curbing his natural instincts."

... but blamed the rest of the batsmen for poor shot selection © AFP
Curbing natural instincts is one thing, overcoming bad habits quite another. After the Wanderers triumph, it had been pointed out that India had an appalling record when it came to backing up a victory. Sure enough, that sequence continued in Durban, with a hungry and desperate South African side shading the key moments of the contest. Dravid didn't want to attribute the loss to any sort of jinx, merely saying: "It's just that we didn't play well. It was not as if the boys were complacent or took it easy.
"We knew we would be in for a tough contest. For long periods of this game, we have stayed close to the South Africans, we have remained competitive. It's just that right towards the end, they pushed ahead of us."
He was confident that things would be different in Cape Town, where Munaf Patel will surely be back to lend added potency to a bowling line-up that has already surpassed expectations. "We'll have to come back hard and fight it out," said Dravid. "One of the advantages of back-to-back Tests is that there isn't much time to think and brood. We have to pick ourselves up after this defeat. We've been close to them throughout that series. We have to keep maintaining that performance and do better in the crunch situations."
He had no intention of playing the blame game, but his answer when asked about Virender Sehwag's place being under threat at Newlands was revealing. "I don't want to discuss selectorial issues with the media," he said, but the missing platitudes suggested just how far a once-thrilling shot-maker has fallen. "After every Test, irrespective of the result, we sit down and address various issues. It will be no different this time either."

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo