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Players follow their rituals in right earnest

Watching teams practice is usually boring because they all do the same thing all the time and you get the feeling that the same tape is being replayed. But sometimes even routine is fascinating, especially when top players work on their craft to make minute adjustments.

india Updated: Dec 25, 2003 01:50 IST

Watching teams practice is usually boring because they all do the same thing all the time and you get the feeling that the same tape is being replayed. But sometimes even routine is fascinating, especially when top players work on their craft to make minute adjustments. Players use nets for reassuring themselves that things are in place, for them it is a daily health check, an essential programme run by a computer to weed out virus.

Cricketers depend on feel, on rhythm. Batsmen like to get their feet moving, make sure the head remains still and the bat is swinging through nicely to meet the ball. Bowlers check run up and a hundred other things to satisfy themselves that the ball is coming nicely out of their hands, and falling in the right place.

To get the correct feel, adjustments are made and new methods adopted. At nets the other day, Rahul Dravid practiced a drill popular with ten-year-old kids -- he hit a hundred balls, rolled along the ground, straight past the bowler. I find this useful, he explains, to keep the head down and play through the line.

Top players, even those as technically accomplished as Dravid, need to constantly polish their skills because the game is decided by slim margins. In international cricket, every small bit matters, more so now when no secrets exist. Soon as a new player arrives he is seen, analysed and sorted out. TV cameras catch everything and experts employ sophisticated technology to put him under the scanner. Within days, teams are ready, even Zimbabwe knows how many times Aakash Chopra taps his bat as the bowler runs in and the length Irfan Pathan bowls .

To keep ahead of opponents, players have to adjust their game to different conditions. Before Australia, Dravid told himself to play straight and shed one-day habits that encourage the angled bat. Plus the need to drop anchor.

For Laxman the key to success in Australia is getting in. He feels batting is easy if you adjust to bounce and decide to be positive. It is no good, he feels, just hanging around because one ball will jump off the length and get the glove. You have to create scoring opportunities off the backfoot .

Dravid agrees but points out that batsmen can leave more balls in Australia compared to other countries. You can let go a length ball even if it is straight, he says. Most times it will sail over the stumps. Try doing that in India and your stumps go for a walk. The Aussies must be hoping Dravid makes this mistake. They certainly want to see him go for a walk -- towards the pavilion.

First Published: Dec 25, 2003 01:34 IST