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High hopes on Rahul Dravid

His dip in form notwithstanding, Dravid is still a prized wicket for the opponents, reports Anand Vasu.

cricket Updated: Mar 18, 2009 02:34 IST
Anand Vasu

It has not been the best of times for Rahul Dravid. Until December, when he made a century against England in Mohali, Dravid had endured the kind of lean trot that caused his batting average to drop by one point almost every series. The big runs were hard to come by, the tongues began to wag, and the former captain was under pressure.

His situation is much better now, and with three centuries in his last four first-class matches —including one for the Canterbury Wizards in Rangiora — Dravid has an important role to play. India begin their search for their maiden Test series win in New Zealand, and Dravid in a good mind-frame is central to their chances. It is not so much that Dravid suffered from self-doubt, but he needs the runs to keep detractors at bay.

Within the team, Dravid's value is well appreciated. A line-up of aggressors know just how much elbow room each of them gets when Dravid performs his role well. And Dravid's record in New Zealand is certainly worth banking on. Four Tests here have yielded 452 runs at 64.57. More specifically, both his hundreds on New Zealand soil have come in Hamilton (190 and 103 not out in 1999). At Seddon Park, Dravid averages a morale-boosting 113.66, courtesy 341 runs in two Tests.

Still Dravid left nothing to chance on Tuesday, spending a few minutes in a typical visualisation exercise out in the middle after a long practice session. Even at a ground where he has succeeded in the past, Dravid looked long and hard down the pitch, got his position just right and re-acquainted himself with the surrounds.

Not 100 yards away sat John Wright, the former Indian coach, watching Dravid at work. Wright, who is now in the opposition camp as Kiwi selector, has clearly lost no affection or respect for Dravid and his methods. “No one has talked about him, or Laxman yet,” Wright told the Hindustan Times. “Dravid's got 10,000 runs, Laxman's not far behind.”

Staying with Dravid, Wright added, “You need some glue. I was very lucky that Rahul played really well when Sourav and I were around together. He was like the glue that we needed. When you have someone at the other end who is batting like Dravid does, it makes so much of a difference. He's a big, big wicket still.”

Wright knows that Dravid has not harvested runs with typical fluency in the last year. “Yeah, yeah. I looked at the scores and noticed he wasn't making runs,” said Wright. “Sometimes, the harder you try, the worse it gets. He's 36; when you get to that age, you think you have to keep scoring runs. That's the pressure he'll be feeling. He wouldn't enjoy playing cricket if he wasn't scoring runs, and he'll make his decision.

“It's like Sourav wanting to go out playing well and on his own terms. You get to an age where you are termed a veteran instead of being called experienced. Rahul's still very important,” said Wright. The way the next few weeks unfold could well have a telling impact on how long Dravid plays the game.