Dravid’s decline has come as a surprise, writes Peter Roebuck
Rahul Dravid’s place is in jeopardy. Amidst all the emotions about the retirements of Anil Kumble, the colossus, and Sourav Ganguly, the fearless leader, the deteriorating form of India’s staunchest batsman cannot be overlooked. Dravid averages 33 in his last 25 Test matches.
Meanwhile fine players like Rohit Sharma seek opportunities. Time is running out for the cerebral batsman. Unless he recaptures the consistency and authority shown in his pomp he will not survive the year. He cannot stay merely because his experience is needed. The opening pair and remaining middle order men can provide that. Nor can outstanding service prolong a career. Runs alone can save him, and plenty of them.
Dravid’s decline has come as a surprise. Ordinarily well organised batsmen last longer than those reliant on eye and touch. After all sight may fade but technique endures.
Dravid’s famous wall was built with cement not dust. As a rule, too, heavy batsmen fall back before those light on their legs. They start to lumber, arrive a fraction late to play their shots and make a mistake. Dravid is as light as a dancer. His footwork and reflexes ought to be unchanged from his days of clover.
But he is not scoring runs. Two faults have been detected. Curiously his strokes seem to have lost power. Indeed his bat sounds tinny. Accordingly it has become hard to beat the field. Runs have slowed to a trickle. Throughout the last Australian tour he had to graft for every notch, and it has been the same in this series.
Previously it was enough to occupy the crease and runs came along. Now he has to search for them. As a result he has widened his range of shots.
Facing Mitchell Johnson, he has been favouring a wristy cover drive essayed at wildish deliveries moving further away. Since the ball is angling across, Dravid is effectively executing the stroke with half a bat. It is a shot with precious little margin for error. Dravid plays it because his confidence is in his boots.
He cannot think of any other way to collect runs. In the past he made bowlers come to him, played the game on his own terms. Now they know they can prey on his nerves.
Dravid’s other deficiency lies in his technique. He has started to move his front foot laterally as opposed to forwards, an arrangement that forces him to play across straight deliveries and makes him vulnerable to anything cutting back. At his best his game worked as efficiently as a Swiss clock. Now anyone seeking the time would be better advised to look at the sun.
It is hard to avoid thinking that something has broken in Dravid and that putting it back together might prove difficult. At such times it is natural to speculate on his state of mind, searching for forces the player himself might not recognise. Dravid is an intelligent man and has been playing cricket at the highest levels for fifteen years.
Throughout he has occupied the toughest position in the order. Occasionally he has also kept wicket.
Throughout his brain has been his strong point.
Blessed with formidable concentration, determination and analytical powers, he was able to think himself to the top. Perhaps his mind is exhausted. Perhaps it no longer has the capacity to focus for long periods.
Or perhaps the loss of the captaincy in contentious circumstances took a toll. Dravid has no resentment in him but the subconscious is not so easily assuaged.
Whatever the reason, the supply of runs has slowed, a fact it is no longer possible to ignore.