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Indian batting can?t afford off days

Statistics should not be taken seriously but this one is too interesting, and perhaps too significant, to pass, writes Amrit Mathur.

india Updated: Dec 30, 2003 23:49 IST

Statistics should not be taken seriously but this one is too interesting, and perhaps too significant, to pass. For the first time Rahul Dravid's Test average, now growing with every visit to the middle, has crept past that of Tendulkar. And this tells a story about the two: Tendulkar is, to put it mildly, not in the best of batting form but Dravid is in such supreme control he can't put a foot wrong.

On Monday he missed out on a thoroughly deserved hundred, his battling five and a half hour effort falling short by a few. But he demonstrated that batting, when in deep adversity, is about keeping head down and head up at the same time.

On Day One at Melbourne, even as Sourav was marching out to toss, Rahul Dravid was at the nets, knocking balls with a graceful swing of his SG bat, checking footwork, bending carefully over his forward defensive push.

When someone expressed surprise that a batsman with more than 300 runs from the previous Test should prepare so meticulously, Dravid responded with a cricket truism: "Boss, in this game you don't know what comes next. Forget the last Test, even the last ball is history."

Having played almost 75 Tests Dravid has seen a lot of history, created some himself too. And one reason he is on the top of his trade is he respects the past, learns from experience but remains focussed on tomorrow, the next moment.

But while batsmen know cricket is a cruel, one (next) ball game, the perspective of a team is larger, their horizon wider. International teams understand that Test cricket is a game of sessions and they must work carefully, and patiently, for achieving collective goals. They know things change dramatically; one slip, one careless mistake and the moment passes and the momentum lost.

The last two Tests, both Adelaide and Melbourne, proved this. At Adelaide, Australia were 300 for nothing at one stage, then reached 556 -- but still lost. In Melbourne, India was a commanding 280 something for one with Sehwag on fire. But then the slide.

Tests test the cricket skills of players and their strength of character, they are about discipline and dogged determination more than dash.

As time is an important factor, tenacity matters, so does persistence. A rapid slog may win a one-dayer but in Tests even a huge 195 (struck brutally in under five hours) can fail to make a decisive impact.

The lesson India has learnt from Melbourne is its batting can't afford a day off. Early on the tour, Sourav spoke about batsmen firing all the time.. "whatever calculations you do," he said, "we will win or save matches on the strength of our batting".

This remark is no slur on bowling, only a frank assessment of team strength. In Melbourne the batsmen did not deliver as they should have, that's why they are in trouble.

First Published: Dec 30, 2003 01:10 IST