The determined player has the most runs by any batsman at No. 3 in Tests
Chennai: Rahul Dravid emerged from the practice session fresh and in good spirits. He was soon swarmed by admirers who pulled out autograph books. His smiling exterior masked a quiet determination that has underlined his career.
Deep down, beneath layers for public consumption, he could also be concealing a sense of disappointment. His understated ways mean he does not always receive credit due to him.
The other night in Chennai, India’s Test captain Anil Kumble had to answer yet another question about Dravid’s batting slot. “Dravid will bat at No. 3,” he affirmed.
It was strange that Dravid’s batting position was under scrutiny, momentarily at least. After all, he has the most runs by any batsman at No. 3 in Tests. His 7566 runs in Tests have come at a whopping average of 57.32.
Among batsmen with over 7000 Test runs at No. 3, only Australia’s Ricky Ponting (7271 runs at 66.10) averages more. This is a very short, elite list.
Been shunted around
Yet, perhaps, the question posed at Kumble was not so strange. Didn’t Dravid open the innings in Australia for the sake of the team composition? Would this team-man who has walked in at most slots and donned the big gloves in the ODIs be asked to put his hand up once more?
Dravid might not say ‘no’ but such a move would be retrograde in nature. Dravid searched for batting rhythm down under and fought hard opening the innings. Yet, his assiduously built first innings 93 in Perth arrived at No. 3. It was a match-winning effort from a batsman with a sense of occasion.
Both, opening and No. 3, are top order positions. However, mentally, the jobs are vastly different. India will require Dravid’s temperament and technique against Dale Steyn, the in-form paceman with speed and movement, at one drop.
It’s true that his form has waned in recent times — given the volume of cricket these days, technical chinks can creep in unnoticed — and Dravid has searched for fluency.
At the nets here on Sunday, he stroked confidently. A subtle change in his stance and initial movement was visible.
He appeared composed and balanced, with the bat coming down straighter.
Need for specialists
The Indian think-tank needs to show vision and it would only be right if specialist openers begin the innings for the host in the first Test at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium.
Virender Sehwag, who stroked a scintillating hundred in the final Test at Adelaide, and Wasim Jaffer should walk out. Jaffer struggled in Australia, but is still an opener worth pursuing. He has the right temperament and is not short of strokes either.
The opener needs to tighten his game around the off-stump but deserves an opportunity to resurrect his career.
India requires a settled top order and getting someone like Irfan Pathan to open the innings sends all the wrong signals. Short-term solutions hurt long-term possibilities.
In any event, a four-bowler formula should suit India fine in the first Test. If Kumble and Harbhajan cannot do the job, it would be hard to reason how a third spinner would help.
And playing an extra batsman for a home Test makes little sense. If the top-order lays a solid foundation, the middle-order should blossom.
Dravid comprehends much about building monuments. He is just 80 short of becoming the third Indian batsman — legends Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar are the other — to reach 10,000 Test runs.
His technical purity, ability to conceive an innings mentally, see through spells and sessions, and construct an innings brick by brick have fetched him 9920 runs at 55.11 in 119 Tests (away average 58.50 in 69 Tests).
Dravid is fighting fit at 35 and eyes more glory. It, still, would take a brave man to bet against him.