Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rahul Dravid's defensive cricket costing India dear

Rahul Dravid’s Defensive Cricket – Its time he showed positive intent
Else he may have to do away with his No.3 Test Batting slot


Rahul Dravid has won the accolades from one and all over the last few days for his century as well as the 10000 test runs he completed at the just concluded first test at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chepauk, Madras. A lot has also been written about Rahul’s sacrifice for Indian cricket- opening the batting, donning the keeping gloves in one dayers etc.

That cannot take away some of the selfish cricket he has played in the recent past that has cost India dear.

The cricket analysts seem to have missed the plot with some of his recent performances and have continued to tag on with ‘ Dravid-The Wall- is a great player’.

That's the difference between truly successful teams and the ones not right there at the top. When you have a chance, teams like Australia play as a team giving the team the best chance to win.

When India here, thanks to Sehwag, put themselves in an advantageous position on the 3rd afternoon, Dravid did not collaborate with him in a way one would have expected a top notch winning team to have done. Dravid used Sehwag's innings to play himself in(and for much too long) and to get into form. And that slowed down things, when India could easily have scored another 75runs on day 3, with the way Sehwag was going. And again on 4th morning, Dravid waited for Sehwag to launch. And with two early wickets, he used that to his advantage by turning 'Wall' again, thus not allowing further wickets to fall!!!!!!!

If India cannot cash in from 400 for 1, one wonders as to when they would?? Australia from this position would have taken the score to another level, at least psychologically they would have won the battle. India failed even on that front and the Proteas can hold their heads high in the way they fought on in the first test. And they would be happy to hand over some of the credit to Rahul Dravid!!!!

During the four tests in Australia in the 2007-08 series, Dravid’s approach at the top of the order left a lot to be desired. Time and again during the four tests, his slow batting created a defensive mindset and gave Australia a stranglehold at the start of the Indian innings. Till the end of the series, this approach of Dravid did not change.

Agreed that the great batsman-The Wall- was not in form and had to be given room to be allowed to play himself back into form, given his great contribution to Indian cricket over the last decade.

However, one must ask the question as to how long a rope can one be given. And also the question as to whether an out of form individual can play himself in, time and again, at the cost of the team interest.

Anil Kumble, Rahul’s Karnataka team mate and the Indian captain, has backed Rahul all along over the last 3-6 months including in the post match comments after the
1st Test at Chepauk against South Africa and commended his century.

With Sehwag blasting the South African attack all around the MAC stadium on a hot and humid 3rd day on Friday, Dravid’s slow batting ensured that the damage was not complete. The entire reporting centered on Sehwag’s fastest triple. Every journalist seemed overawed at Sehwag’s performance. Most missed out on the fact that had Dravid been able to rotate the strike on day 3, it may have been a totally different tale, even by the end of day 3.

While Sehwag went at better than run a ball, Dravid scored at a miserly 1 run every 3 balls on day 3, especially on a day when the Proteas were pushed back on the defensive right from session one.

Even at 470/1, Dravid did not see fit to rotate strike on the 4th morning and scored just about 5 runs of his first 40 odd balls, once again giving South Africa a glimmer of hope which they fully capitalized after taking the wickets of Sehwag and Tendulkar.

True cricket analysts will have to start questioning Dravid’s approach and his defensive cricket, especially since he is batting at the most prestigious No. 3 slot. It is sad to see and read references(to his Chepauk century) on the lines of ‘It was a great century’, ‘fantastic effort’ etc.

Dravid’s was a selfish effort. Clearly at Chennai, he put his personal interests ahead of the team. He has recently said that the last one year has been difficult for him and that he has put in great effort to fight it out and stay in there during this difficult phase. That is understandable and one should commend his ability to have fought off a bad phase(he had also given up the captaincy during this period).

If Dravid had show positive intent on this batting beauty at Chepauk on day 3 as well as the 4th morning, the tide could easily have shifted in India’s favour. India could have gone well past 700 by the 4th afternoon had Dravid supported Sehwag better.

There are different ways world class batsmen take to get themselves out of a bad phase.Rahul's approach has been to stay in the middle and fighting it out without giving away his wicket. What he has missed and which I believe has cost India dear is rotating the strike, taking the singles and giving the aggressor at the other end more opportunities. Score books will show a century against Dravid's name against South Africa. It will show a biggish score at the end of the Aussie tour. What it will not reveal is his defensive approach to batting at the top of the order, that gave the psychological advantage to the opposition at the beginning of the Indian innings (the first 25-30 overs of the innings). And which did not allow India to take full advantage of the great Sehwag innings in Madras.

It is another matter that the Indian spinners did not have the wherewithal to put the Proteas under pressure despite Harbhajan getting a few balls to bounce and turn prodigiously. (The excuse cricketing analysts would hide behind the placidity of the Chepauk wicket and that India may not have been able to bowl out SA even if they had posted a 700+ score, but that still does not justify for Rahul's defensive approach).

Had Murali been bowling on this 5th day pitch, the story may well have been different.

Coming back to Rahul, now that he has come back into some sort of run getting form, it is time he showed positive intent at the top of the order, else very soon he will have to give away his No. 3 slot.

7 comments:

Ramesh said...

Nice article and thought provoking. But would not go to the extent of brandin him "selfish". Selfishness is something that can be attributed to people like Gavaskar or to Shastri ( a few times - when he played in WCC with one eye on the ball and one on the Audi Car). Dravid is a changed man especially after the World Cup defeat and seems to have become a total introvert. I would still say that his contribution overall, is in no way inferior to someone like Sachin or Saurav.

Ramesh D

S said...

Ramesh,

Thanks for the comment.

Yes, You are right. I wanted to make a reference in the story to Shastri and Audi series(Through out that series, Srikkanth(like Sehwag now) would go at a rapid pace and Shastri at the other end would defend away,not giving Srikkanth the strike.

But these are Dravid's scores in the last 5 tests:

Vs South Africa:

111 in almost 300 balls(50 overs)
(compared during the same phase of Sehwag's 319 in 300 balls-50overs)

Vs Australia ( 4 tests):

5 runs in 11 overs( 66 balls)
16runs in 19 overs( 114 balls)
50runs in 27overs( 160 balls)
38runs in 17overs(103 balls)
93runs in 30 overs( 183balls)
18 runs in 9overs(55balls)
11runs in 11overs(64balls)

Through the series he scored 230runs in 125 overs...that's really poor even by Shastri's standards!!!! One would have to go back to the times of Rizwan Uz Zaman, Shoaib Mohd and Chris Tavera to this kind of slow batting.

And the above four tests were played on quickish wicket and fast outfield. And Chennai was a very fast outfield, short boundaries and a batting paradise.

In the mid/late nineties, when he was branded a slow player and not suited for one day cricket, he came out hitting against Allan Donald and Co.

Let us see if he can turn around this time around.

Selfish may not be the right choice of word, but Dravid these days is thinking more about not losing his wicket than anything else. He has forgotten the art of scoring runs at a 'Test Match' pace, has forgotten to rotate the strike and also seems to have forgotten that this is a team game.

Prabhu

Ramesh said...

Your point is well taken. Presumably Dravid has got a hallucination of being dropped from the test matches too. Though in some cases, you do need a sheet anchor at one end, when the other batsman is making merry, Dravid seems to be carrying it a bit too far. Probably everyone needs a shakeup....I remember Boycott being dropped after he had scored a double hundred in the previous test. The point is that the rule must be applied equally to all players, to ensure healthy competition.
Just to deviate a little, Sachin has pulled out of the second test. I remember reading in the papers about the indian physio certifying that Sachin needed rest after the gruelling Australian series and that he was not 100% fit. Sachin went to the Press claiming that he was 100% fit. He struggled in the Chennai test in the field on the 4th and 5th day ( he was off the field at most of the times). Now it is being confirmed that he has a groin problem. In short he has carried an injury into the game, scored a duck and has pulled out of the next test. Dravid is testing our patience by playing dull cricket and Sachin is taking us for granted at all times.

And the poor paying spectator like all of us are helpless...After all Cricketers are Gods in this country and they can do no wrong!!!

S said...

Yes, I remember the Boycott story. One that comes close in the Indian context was the dropping of Kapil by Gavaskar after Kapil played a poor shot to get out against England in 1984.

However, it is unlikely that the current selection panel and with Kumble as the Test captain would take any steps against Dravid. Am not even sure if anyone would have spoken to him regarding his ultra slow batting in the last 5 tests.

5 months ago, there seemed to be consensus that Sachin had not won many matches for India, despite his several thousands of runs for the country.

However suddenly after the Australian tour, all experts seem to write otherwise( steve waugh, peter roebuck etc...)about Sachin's match winning capabilities. Manjrekar seemed the only critical statement.

Yes, as i had mentioned even prior to the test, i had wanted to go and watch Dravid and Laxman bat. And I did. But Dravid disappointed. Even when Ganguly came in and stroked the ball fluently in his short innings, Dravid did not up the tempo. Same in Laxman's company as well.

I truly wonder as to what would be going on inside Dravid's mind currently. He surely would have realised his slow batting being detrimental to team interest.

Prabhu

Ramesh said...

Just another thought. Dravid's case is of the typical indian mentality and psyche. I read somewhere, that when an indian kid comes home after playing a game of competitive Cricket, the first question any parent would pose is " how many runs did you score" whereas an australian parent would typically ask their son " Did your team win". This is the problem which has seized all Sporting teams in the Country. We have lost or drawn many matches, just because of the so called "selfish" attitude of the players.
Am sure that whoever plays in the Ahmedabad Test ie Yuvraj or Kaif, would bat as patiently as Dravid, as he has to cement his place in the team.
As long as individual records are given importance over team performance, Cricket in India would never be a team game. It is another game of Chess with 11 Vishwanathan Anand's playing. Surprisingly all newspapers and electronic media covering the match after the 3rd days play at Chennai, were more focused on whether Sehwag would get to the magical figure of 400, rather than reporting as to when should India declare their innings to force a result.

dinesh said...

I think I have to agree with you on this. I did not watch the whole game but I guess you are right when you say that the aussies would have capitalized on sehwag's scoring rate and would have given themselves the chance to win. Whether the pitch allows for a result to win, or the bowlers have it in them to give us the win, like you say, is a different thing altogether. Negative batting by whoever it is, should be condemned. I Love Rahul and I think is a true indian great by any standards. But, what's good for the goose has to be good the gander !

On a side note, Rahul's decision not to enforce the follow at the Oval against England last year, to me, was one of the most negative decisions in Indian history. So, he's shown that, while he can use his tenacity to keep the opposition at bay, there is a negative/defensive side to him that can cost his team some games as well.

S said...

Ramesh,

Terrific point on the newspaper reporting after day 3. That is one of the thoughts i had. We become so overwhelmed with individual performances that we forgot that matches are to be won or lost and that is the purpose of a match, everything else is incidental.

Dinesh- Hi! Good to hear from you after a long while. Agree with your comments.

am also trying to make a comparision between Dravid and Steve Waugh(who was Dravid's favourite when growing up). While these two have been my favourite as well, Steve for a long long while made sure that he did not lose his wicket and continued till the very end of his career to take the single even when batting with No. 11. Very rarely had one seen steve smash his way to boundaries when batting with the tail.

Dravid is i think using that philosophy of guarding his wicket, which Shastri did so very well in the WCC 1985(like Ramesh said above)

Reg the Declaration, i think quite a few of the pundits applauded or rather did not really hit out at Dravid for not enforcing the follow on!!!!

To Dravid's defence(follow on as well as his slow batting), i guess in India one more often than not takes a more defensive decision than an aggressive one because of the pressures the Board/media/public impose on the players. Don't know if that is an excuse.

I am hoping he will come out with a more aggressive display now, having got runs behind him and with everyone now applauding his century and his 10000 runs.

I am also looking forward to see his approach in the IPL 20 20.

Ramesh- Dinesh is the son of Mr. Kalyanasundaram, one of the greatest fast bowlers TN has seen, whom i had the privilege to watch in Coimbatore in the early 1980s.

Prabhu