G Rajaraman - Keep the Faith

Dravid displayed skill and determination to set the stage for the lower order batsmen to celebrate

Monday, October 13, 2021
Dravid is the man!

You may like to remember Harbhajan Singh's cameo and Zaheer Khan's resolve in stretching India's first innings to within 70 runs of Australia's total of 430 but it cannot escape your notice that India's Golden Quartet showed heart in scripting one innings each in a fascinating first Test against Australia in Bengaluru.

Sachin Tendulkar's three-hour essay in concentration on the final day demands attention. It was an effort that went a long way in helping India secure a draw. Coming after a dismal series in Sri Lanka, he was under quite some pressure, more so because he had not played any cricket after the last Test in Colombo. But he was a study in concentration until he drove a catch to cover.

You could pick Sourav Ganguly's innings on the third day for the adversity that it was made against. Before the Test, he announced that this would be his last series. Then, a Bengali newspaper published an interview with him and he could hear its echo even as he walked in to bat in a crisis. That he spent nearly three and a quarter hours at the crease was significant indeed.

If you are a follower of the graceful school of batting, you would choose VVS Laxman's 142-ball knock in the second innings. Together with Tendulkar and Ganguly, he occupied the crease and did not expose the lower order batsmen to the pressures that Australia can bring to bear on them as we saw when India's lower order failed to hold on for a draw in Sydney early this year.

For all that, I would like to believe that Rahul Dravid played the key innings of the four, holding up an end through the most difficult period in the first innings and preventing a repeat of the batting collapse that we saw so often in Sri Lanka. The casual fan may wonder what was so good about Dravid's half-century.

It was not just as if he was in charge after the openers Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag had fallen in the space of 23 deliveries but also a time when the pitch could have been drying. At the end of a gripping Test, it is easy to forget that there had been a drizzle late on the second day and it could well have been a drying track.

There had been bright sunshine when it started raining on the second evening and play had continued for a good part of five minutes before the covers came on. I reckon the moisture made things different the next morning and what we saw was not the benign pitch that had made things so difficult for India's most experienced bowlers.

On the third morning, there was dual bounce that had been conspicuous by its absence when Anil Kumble sent down 43 overs without much luck on the first two days. And to have negotiated that first session called for immense skills of concentration and technique that Dravid combined in superb measure to set the stage for the lower order batsmen to celebrate on.

India's tail wagged when the pitch returned to its placid nature and when Mitchell Johnson was unable to make as serious an impact with his creativity. Sadly, some of my ilk suggested that the Golden Quartet should take a leaf from Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan's book and learn to bat.

I wonder what would have happened if Dravid had not got himself stuck in for so long on the third morning. Batsmanship in Test cricket is not always about the number of runs scored but the kind of contribution made to a team's cause under the circumstances. And I think that Dravid bore the brunt of the conditions when they were at their worst.

Come to think of it, they might all be ageing – and at least one is left with just three more Tests before he walks away from the big stage for the one last time – but each one showed that their places in the squad were not so freely available. More than that, each one will have convinced himself that his skills have not waned as much as the clamoring lot would like to believe.