Rahul Dravid has a rather unique style of functioning. For instance, instead of reassuring his jittery band of boys, struggling to cope with a continued lack of form, that pressure doesn’t matter, he has told them it does. And asked them to deal with the strain of home expectations by enjoying them instead.
“We spoke about it today and I’m asking them to enjoy the game,” Dravid said on Wednesday. “Many of our young cricketers should see playing in must-win games so close to the World Cup as an opportunity. They should enjoy the pressure, adjust and adapt to the conditions. It’s a good experience, a good learning curve.”
On Wednesday, on the eve of an encounter against the West Indies that might well decide if India have a realistic chance of staying on in this event (their final game is a toughie against Australia), Dravid said they had given themselves a chance by beating England. “We have put ourselves in a position where we control our destiny,” said the Indian skipper. “I am not thinking of losing.”
Well, even if Dravid is the original Mr Cool, he would be rare if he was not worried about the repercussions of losing, especially so close to the World Cup! India have had it tough recently and even though the loss of Irfan Pathan’s bowling form has been the big talking point, the collective failure of the batsmen must be vexing.
Take a look at the performance of India’s star-studded batting line-up in the last 10 games, a period in which they’ve also won just thrice. India have been all out four times, lost nine wickets once and were seven wickets down in a match.
One game was abandoned in Sri Lanka with them on 11 for no loss, they did well to get to 300-5 against the West Indies in Kuala Lumpur, which they lost on run-rate. They were 35-5 against Australia, a match thankfully abandoned and finally, lost six before getting past England’s 125 last week.
What should be of concern is the fact that all five games they’ve lost have been to the West Indies, a team ranked far below them and, more importantly, a team barely stitched together the summer gone by from the tattered remnants of innumerable fights - over contract issues, composition of team issues, captaincy issues and alleged internal standoffs within the team.
If anyone could rival Pakistan in the disorganised stakes, it would have to be this group of fiercely independent Caribbean nations that come together only for cricket. And, like Pakistan, with a motley group of blazing individual talents and a couple of solid performers, they are unpredictable and therefore, dangerous.
Incidentally, the Caribbeaners depend a lot on their muse, skipper Brian Lara, maybe not so much anymore for his batting (though having an acclaimed genius in their ranks is an obvious advantage) but for the way he shepherds his flock. And with Lara probably not playing (continued back spasms make him an almost certain non-starter) it could make a big difference.
There is undoubted awe among the younger West Indian players when they talk about their skipper, an awe not tinged with fearful respect but with apparently genuine affection. Lara, for long viewed as a loner in the team and a troubled rebel, seems to have matured with the captaincy third time around.
Meanwhile, for India to do well, they would have to forget about the effect of the toss and dew and just get out there and play their best. Like what South Africa did on Tuesday after losing the toss.
What made the difference was the way their pacemen made best use of the white Kookaburra ball by using it to their advantage when it was new and hard. With only 219 in the kitty, South Africa needed early wickets before the ball got softer, the track eased out and batting became easier.
Dravid said India needed to do exactly that, utilise the conditions as best as possible. “South Africa bowled well upfront and that made all the difference,” said Dravid, “and we have to do that.” Yes, along with some proper batting.
• If India beat the WI, they’re probably through to the semis even if they lose to Australia, since they’ve a high Net Run Rate.
• If WI win, they’re definitely through, and India vs Australia
becomes a knock-out.