Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rahul Dravid 26th Test century

After a year when the words "wall", "falling" and "crumbling" were never far from the headlines, Rahul Dravid could have been forgiven for thinking he had become Humpty Dumpty, instead of the most prolific No.3 batsman the world has ever seen. It really had been a wretched 2008, with 669 runs from 14 Tests before he arrived in Mohali. This, remember, was the man who made more than 600 runs in series in Australia and England when he was in his prime.

There were no clenched fists or frenzied waves of the bat when he reached his century on Saturday, but the man who sat behind the microphones later in the day looked like someone who had finally seen the light after weeks of confinement in an underground cave. "There was no statement," he said when asked about the muted celebrations for his 26th century. "I was just happy. I'm older and wiser now. I don't jump around and get excited.

"I'm relieved. It's nice to be contributing again. It's been a tough year, and it's good to make an important contribution, especially with the conditions that we've had in this game."

The partnership with Gautam Gambhir was worth 314 runs in 107.5 overs, its significance evident when the next highest stand was 40 runs. "Hopefully, it will be a match-winning partnership," Dravid said. "Gautam batted beautifully and took the pressure off me. He rotated the strike and was positive against both the pace bowlers and spinners. He's having a phenomenal year."

England fought back spiritedly after breaking that partnership, but they should also be worried at how subsequent batsmen failed to make much headway on a pitch that's sure to play a few tricks over the next three days. "At 300 for 1, we were looking around, wondering where we were going to get a wicket from," said Graeme Swann, who along with the indefatigable Andrew Flintoff was the pick of the bowlers. "The way Dravid played, he hardly gave us any chance. He was exceptional."

Dravid himself couldn't really pinpoint a reason for the turnaround. "This year, I've tried everything," he said with a laugh, when asked if he'd gone back to videos or books to get out of the slump. "I watched a few old videos of me batting well to recreate some of those emotions and feelings.

"But the last two series, I've just enjoyed each net session, trusted my instincts and watched the ball.

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