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Rebuilding, brick by brick


Posted: Jan 11, 2012 at 0152 hrs IST

Perth: Outside the WACA nets, onlookers watching India train were constantly beset by the urge to swish a hand back and forth in front of their faces. The flies were everywhere.

Out in the farthest net from the fence that fans pressed their faces into, flies seemed to bother fielding coach Trevor Penney as well. Having raised his sidearm to fire throwdowns at Rahul Dravid, Penney kept stopping without releasing the ball.

But this happened too often for flies to be the cause.

This air-cricket went on for a while, punctuated now and then by actual deliveries. Penney would perform a mock throwdown, and Dravid would freeze at the highest point of his backlift. Then, having looked back to see where his bat was, Dravid would look down at his front foot, adjust its alignment slightly and swing his bat through a carefully vertical arc. The imaginary ball, you imagined, would roll safely down to mid off.

At the end of his batswing, Dravid would pause again, and exchange some sort of observations with Penney. Having heard none of this, the viewer could only guess at what they were working on.

Judging by Dravidís footwork, and the kind of stroke he aimed at the non-existent ball, it could have been the fullish length nip-backer, such as the ones Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and Ben Hilfenhaus have bowled to him with success during this series, that they were looking to find the best response to.

Thrice in Melbourne (including a first-innings no ball) and once in Sydney, Dravidís bat failed to keep out stump-bound deliveries. The two in MCG took his tally of bowled dismissals to seven in 2011, the most by Dravid in a calendar year.

During the three-match home series against the West Indies, Dravid had been bowled once in each Test. Two of these happened while playing against the turn to part-time off spinners, but his dismissal during a fourth-innings chase at the Ferozeshah Kotla had a lot in common with his dismissals on the Australian tour.

On that occasion, it was Fidel Edwardsí reverse swing that dismissed Dravid, but like the balls bowled by Pattinson in Indiaís second innings at the MCG and by Hilfenhaus at the SCG, the length was full enough to warrant a decisive front foot thrust but not so full that it would be an automatic response for all batsmen.

In common to all these dismissals was the position of Dravidís front foot, pushed out but not quite all the way to the pitch of the ball. Perfectly placed, therefore, for any sort of inward movement, whether in the air or off the deck, to open up a gap between bat and pad, especially considering the little circle that the toe of Dravidís bat traces during his backlift.

Itís a lovely, flourishy kind of backlift to watch, but not what the textbooks would recommend. Pointing to gully at first, the bat loops towards first slip before coming down to meet the ball. If it goes slightly wrong, the bat-face could come down too open or closed, or a tiny bit out of range of his pads.

This is how Dravid has batted all his life, and it hasnít been much of an issue in the past, but the Australian pace attack seems to have found the perfect length to target that peculiar combination of backlift and halfway advanced front foot.

Being the hard-to-dislodge character that he is, Dravid has still faced 322 balls in his four innings, or 80.5 balls every innings. Itís far below his career figure of 110.03 balls per innings, but itís still been enough to show his value as a partnerships man. Three of the five partnerships heís been involved in during this series have amounted to 75 or more.

Simple solution

Former players and the media have proposed sweeping changes to the side for India to recover from their 2-0 deficit. A simpler and reliably proven method might be for Dravid to face at least 100 deliveries at Perth. Once that hurdle is crossed, it becomes an incredibly difficult task to dismiss him. On bowler-friendly wickets, a long innings by someone as immovable as Dravid can swing a match decisively.

Exactly the same happened in January 2008, when India were last here. Dravid faced 183 balls in the first innings and top-scored with 93. It wasnít rated as one of his most fluent innings, but in the 61.2 overs he spent at the crease, India made 221. Australiaís entire first innings lasted exactly 50 overs, and totalled 212.

In the first two Tests of that series, Dravid had been thrust into that familiar but not quite comfortable opening slot. A move back to number three, made possible by Virender Sehwagís reinstatement, turned Indiaís fortunes around. This time around, Dravid comes to Perth looking in much better form. Thereís no reason why he canít bat just as long once again.

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