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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dravid walks the extra mile

He stopped his cover drive with a frown, as two saree clad groundswomen approached the stroke's vicinity, dragging along with them a squeaky roller. The women stopped just short of him, pulling the burden back from where it came. Watching them recede, he moved back and across, and with eyes focused over his clasped wrists, he executed the text book defence. As he held the pose with grace, the electronic lawnmower swallowed stubborn tufts of grass with a chugging din inside the square, while loud painters splashed their drenched brushes on the smoothened side of the carpet-like lawn.

As the sun sunk below the smoggy Ahmedabad horizon, Rahul Dravid found serenity amidst the surrounding chaos, shadow practicing on the pitch with incredible poise and zeal.

There was no willow in grasp, but his full repertoire of strokes was on display. From the supple drop of his wrists to the crunching hoick over mid-wicket, Dravid toiled for the second time on Tuesday, long after the official net session was over. He was leaving no stone unturned to get it right at Motera: a venue where he has demolished several tangible oppositions before; including his next, New Zealand.

As he crept out of the restricted area to join his waiting team-mates in the parking lot, the frown had turned into a pursed lip smile. In Dravid's world of insulated emotions, it was the equivalent of hip roaring laughter. Despite the odds stacked against him, the reasons to celebrate were plenty. Both his forthcoming opponents and the Sardar Patel Stadium have been more than kind to Dravid in the past.

Even though the batsman is struggling with a lean patch (346 runs in this calendar year at 34.60) leading upto the first Test against New Zealand, one look at his numbers in this city will give even his sternest critics hope aplenty.

His career Test average of 52.73 gets amplified to 60.54 in six matches at the Motera, helped of course with a fifty, a century and a double ton against the Kiwis in 2003. His numbers against New Zealand both home and away are impeccable too, averaging 59.90, with four out of his 29 tons coming against the Black Caps. The combination of the two - against the Kiwis at the Motera - churns out a stunning 85 runs per innings from Dravid's blade.

Turning the tide?

As the cricketing cliché goes, all it takes is one innings to turn the tide, and nobody knows that better than the 37-year-old. It was on this very ground that Dravid embarrassed both his critics and the visiting Sri Lankan bowlers last year, when he scored 177 runs in a day to complete the rescue act, after India were 32/4. That innings had ensured that both his dry spell with the bat and hushed calls for him to be dropped had come to a rude end.

Come Thursday, Dravid will have to do it all over again. For India may have beaten the Aussies without any meaningful contributions from him last month and will probably do it again against the Kiwis, but if they are to stand a chance in South Africa over three Tests starting December, the team will require Dravid's expertise more than ever.

With the bigger picture in mind, Dravid will need Ahmedabad more than ever to turn the tide. And if the knock is anything like what he managed last year against the Lankans, it won't be long before he swaggers right back into national consciousness. The obstacles and distractions are plenty, but if Tuesday evening is anything to go by, Dravid is already ready for action, before even a single ball is bowled.


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