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Dravid will provide solidity at number 3
by Boria Majumdar
Dec 29, 2007
By Boria Majumdar - Special Correspondent

Exactly a year ago Australia was confronted with the same selection dilemma as that of India’s. Do they play Brad Hodge, considered by most as one of the best batsmen in Australia on current form or do they play a specialist opener in place of the just retired Justin Langer?

Ultimately the Australian selectors opted for conventional cricketing logic in that you need specialist men at the top of the order against quality opposition. The result-Australia continues to have a specialist opening combination in Phil Jacques and Mathew Hayden who currently average more than 50 an innings as a pair.

India, on the other hand, opted to play her best ever number three at the top of the order to accommodate Yuvraj Singh in the middle. Not only did this change the entire dynamic of the team, it made sure that Rahul Dravid, the man instrumental in leading India to victory against Australia at Adelaide in 2003-4, is batting like a man in coma.

Agreed it was a tricky decision with Yuvraj Singh in the form of his life. At the same time, the decision proves beyond doubt that Indian cricket continues to be dominated by individuals rather than team dynamics. If Gilchirst could wait for Healy to retire and if Stuart Clarke could wait for McGrath, one wonders why Yuvraj has to be accommodated at any cost?

The experiment baffles more because it has been tried in the past and failed. Dravid, who has been forced to open on occasions, has never made the position his own. Whether or not this is his inability to adjust mentally is missing the point completely. The truth is that he averages more than fifty-five at number three and has had great success in Australia batting at three when India toured last in 2003-4. It is time to fathom that such prodigious run getters don’t come too often and if they do, they aren’t treated like proverbial whipping boys as Dravid often is.

At the post match press conference, when a scribe asked a relaxed Ricky Ponting what he would have done if asked to open to accommodate someone at number six, the Aussie skipper appeared bemused. While he did his best to sound politically correct and left the decision to the selectors, his expressions made it apparent that he wouldn’t take to such a situation very kindly.

India’s problems are complicated further by the presence of Virender Sehwag in the sidelines, one who had scored one less than the collective Indian effort at the MCG on the first day of the boxing day Test in 2003-4. As Sunil Gavaskar has put it bluntly-you don’t bring Sehwag to Australia to make him sit in the sidelines. If you have brought him, you play him. Without Sehwag at the top of the order, the Indians aren’t even crawling for periods, leave alone motoring. And this means that even if they haven’t lost a wicket for some time, the Aussies never lose control.

With a 337 run defeat rounding off what has been a very successful Test year for India and with the Australians waiting at an amazing 15 Test wins on Sydney eve, it is time India takes some hard, pragmatic measures. When the Australians were in a similar position in 2001, the Indians had stopped Steve Waugh’s men by promoting Laxman up the order. In fact it was Dravid who had made way for Laxman at number 3. This made for rotation at the top of the order and solidity later on. Come 2 January 2008, Sehwag can well inject the momentum India needs in the first few overs while Dravid can provide solidity at number three.

Many regard the above solution as a huge gamble. However, there’s little doubt that you can only beat the clinical Australians on home turf if you gamble and gamble successfully. Alternatively, if India leaves the decision too late, the series might well be beyond her before reality dawns.

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