The most important performance in the Irani Trophy for me came from Rahul Dravid. True, he did not score as many runs as did Gautam Gambhir and M S Dhoni, but Dravid’s resolute sense of purpose suggested a man who is hell bent on proving a thing or two — more to himself than his detractors.
His dogged determination in coming to terms with himself will not have been lost on the Australian players who may have been practicing in Jaipur, but will have had one eye on what the India prospects were doing in Baroda. Dravid’s uncompromising approach to spending as much time as possible in the middle would have told the Aussies that he may well be the man to watch out for in the Test series.
On a slow, low track on which bowlers had the better of batsmen on all days, Gambhir and Dhoni proved the value of good current form. But where all the other batsmen flopped, Dravid took the battle to himself first, as it were, and then to the opponents.
He had some luck in the first innings, but his second innings half century was finely crafted and kept Delhi’s bowlers at bay long enough for Dhoni to come along and take the game completely away from them with blistering strokeplay.
The more significant aspect of Dravid’s performance I believe, however, was his splendid catching at slip. The diving effort to get rid off the dangerous Viru Sehwag was breathtaking in its execution, and match-winning in its impact. Quick-silver reflexes, terrific anticipation coupled with great ball sense showed that Dravid’s cricketing instinct was hardly blunted, and that he was not mentally burnt-out.
How a player’s fielding can reveal his state of mind was brought home vividly last season when Adam Gilchrist explained what made him take the decision to retire. “It was somewhere between the ball hitting my gloves and the ball hitting the ground in the Laxman-Brett Lee edge (in a Test),” he said. “…It made me realise in the ensuing 10 or 15 minutes that that’s it. I’m not moving quite as well as I have, not just on the field but in training and my fitness. I just realised I didn’t have the absolute desperation that you need to continue to maintain your standards.”
Dravid’s fielding performance has been quite the opposite. He is already Test cricket’s second highest catcher (176 in 125 games), but importantly, has taken a whopping 16 catches this year in just 15 innings, which would not be possible for somebody who has lost his edge. Indeed, right through the year he has caught so brilliantly that his struggle with the bat must seem a surprise.
But in his fitness and his superb catching also lies the hope that his batting woes will pass. For the all-important series against Australia, Dravid has made all the right preparatory moves. His body language also looks strong. Of course, to banish his critics to faraway lands he now needs to make those runs.