Retirement of Dravid and Laxman has created a void in the dressing room

V.V.S. Laxman was a cricketer’s cricketer; Rahul Dravid a captain’s. When Laxman batted, cricketers set work aside and watched.

He was such a delight. Dravid’s work at the crease gave the captain his most relaxed phases. There was surety in Dravid’s batting and artistry in Laxman’s.

Their absence is hurting Indian cricket. Both took conscious decisions to bow out in glory rather than fade away in distress. It was “tough and difficult” for Laxman and Dravid as they decided to retire and accept new roles.

Their legendary match-winning feats have been well documented and narrated time and again, but their departure also created a void in the dressing room. The team lost two complete batsmen, who could not only bat to win but also bat to draw.

As good as a win

In times when the stress on result in Tests is so overwhelming, it was once an achievement if the team could force a draw against strong opponents. There were all kinds of drawn encounters. The exciting draw, like when the tail-enders (Shivlal Yadav, 28 balls and Karsan Ghavri, 36 balls) hung on to pull off a pulsating draw against Australia at Adelaide in 1981. It was as good as a match won.

There was also the dull draw when teams batted only one innings each and then there was the DDD (dull, dreary, draw) when the spectators found nothing palatable even on the fourth day. The art of drawing a match is gradually becoming a thing of the past.

When India was confronted with a deficit of 207 runs at the Eden Gardens, the only option left for the home team was to bat for a draw.

A victory was highly improbable. The team would have had to bat four sessions. “Quite possible,” Dravid remarked on television. Obviously he had forgotten he was not in the squad anymore. If anyone had the tenacity to put his hand up and guide the rest, it would have been Dravid.

Batting is not just about scoring runs. It also involves wearing down the attack. “Grinding” as Dravid would say.

For Laxman, batting meant domination in the middle, scoring at will, taming the bowlers with a judicious mix of aggression and caution. Dravid was an able foil at the other end, making runs with unwavering concentration. The current team lacks the tenacity that Dravid and Laxman brought to the middle.

There is a match-winner in Virender Sehwag. However, he knows just one way to bat. It would not work in his favour if Sehwag were to change his style and be defensive. He would get out quickly. Just as Dravid had analysed his batting once sensibly. He accepted he could not bat like Sehwag or Sourav Ganguly, strokeful both, because he would “get out” cheaply.

So, Dravid, to serve the interests of the team better, evolved into an anchorman even though he was a brilliant strokeplayer in his formative years of international cricket. Indian cricket benefited immensely from his rock-like presence.

Laxman had a distinct style. It was not one-dimensional, hit the ball, play shots constantly. No. He had a tight defence and employed it doggedly when the going got tough. His technique was second to none when facing spinners or the fast bowlers in hostile conditions. He could smother the spin, the ball not straying out of the square, and frustrate the fast bowlers with his impeccable judgment of leaving the ball.

Experts believe the art of leaving the ball has diminished considerably in modern cricket because of the two shorter formats of the game. Batsmen tend to poke and nudge out of habit.

Cheteshwar Pujara comes closest to becoming the anchorman, but he has not understood his role fully regardless of the two centuries in this series. He is yet to be tested in severe conditions and in any case he is not even remotely close to being counted as the man for crisis. To expect him to slip into Dravid’s role would be unfair. These are early times and Pujara has a long way to go.

India sorely missed the likes of Dravid and Laxman at the Eden Gardens as the Englishmen inflicted a Test defeat in succession, the former would have shut out the bowlers and the latter slammed them into submission.

With Sachin Tendulkar going through a most forgettable phase of his career, the team has failed to cope with the pressures in the middle order.

Former India captain Anil Kumble had suggested a re-look at Mohammad Kaif, who has the temperament to bat long like Chetan Chauhan and Yashpal Sharma did in days when sometimes a draw would give no less joy than a victory. India is sorely missing a batsman who can ‘stand and defy’.