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December 17, 1999


India Down Under

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Dravid back in touch

The Rediff Team

Rahul Dravid, struggling for touch and confidence on the Australian tour thus far, batted himself back into form with a typical 257 ball hundred against Tasmania at the Bellerieve Oval, Hobart, today.

India, opting to bat after winning the toss, ended the day on 241/6 at the end of the first day's play -- that score indicative of a slump of sorts, after the touring side were 227/4 at the fall of Vijay Bharadwaj, before losing Dravid and Ganguly in quick succession towards close of play, both falling to the second new ball.

The team selection for the match reflected the Indian team management's objectives -- and, in fact, very closely mirrored the thinking expressed on this site >in the game preview yesterday.

The inexplicable bit, was the decision to make Mohanty sit out, with the management playing Kumaran, Agarkar and Venkatesh Prasad. Prasad's place in the lineup for the next Test would appear to be certain, given the control with which he bowled in both innings at Adelaide. It would have therefore seemed the sensible option to rest him, and at the same time, give Mohanty a bowl out in the middle in order to assess his form on these tracks.

India opened with Laxman and Ramesh -- the duo who in all probability will need to do the job in Melbourne, come Boxing Day. Laxman, who had started the tour well before hitting a slump in form, continued that slump here with a 7-ball duck, only managing to touch one from new ball bowler right through to keeper Downton.

Ramesh played the kind of innings he has been producing on this tour -- a 48-ball knock of 34 during which he looked untroubled, and which ended only through his own laziness. Unlike a few other frontline batsmen for India, Ramesh has looked to be brimming with confidence each time he has gone out there. However, he has shown an equally visible tendency to lapse in concentration, to not make an effort to convert his good starts into big scores, and that tendency was in evidence here yet again.

Dravid's mental state going in to bat here was telegraphed as clearly as if he had it written on a board and hung around his neck -- he was obviously, visibly looking to spend time in the middle, work on his footwork and timing, and play himself back into form with a long innings. And he accomplished precisely this, growing in stature and solidity as his innings progressed.

Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Vijay Bharadwaj were on trial for the 6th batsman's slot -- assuming India goes in to Melbourne with six batsmen. And on the evidence of today, Kanitkar has to get the preference. The left hander played with sound technique and good temperament for a 140-ball 58, holding his end up in a 114-run 3rd wicket partnership that looked to be taking the game away from the home team.

Bharadwaj, following his rival to the crease, was a study in contrast -- his feet failed to move, he struggled for touch and timing, and his confidence (despite Dravid's best efforts to talk him through the innings) was visibly on a low ebb. The youngster is going through some kind of mental problem, after making an impression when he first got into the side, and it would seem time for the team management, and the senior players, to take a hand and see him through this particular patch.

Saurav Ganguly, initially expected to sit out with a stomach virus, ended up making the playing eleven but seemed to be carrying his pre-match ailment into the middle with him. Thus, his feet weren't moving with the customary fluency, he seemed out of sorts with the bat and left early, touching one from new ball bowler Downton, operating with the second new ball, through to the keeper.

Nayan Mongia, here given a chance to make a bid for a comeback, and T Kumaran, batted India through to 241 at close, with Tasmania actually managing to bowl two overs more than the mandatory 90 before scheduled stumps. Kumaran, interestingly, batted with a seeming ease that must interest the team management -- the TN medium pacer is a compact, organised batsman who gets into line quickly to the seam bowlers, and plays with a competent technique.

In sum, India had a day where the gains and losses pretty much evened themselves out -- Laxman's continued slump in form figuring on the debit side of the ledger while Dravid's return to touch went down as a plus. The focus of interest from here will be to see how the bowlers do, come their turn -- for on their performance will depend team composition going in to the Melbourne Test.


Mail Sports Editor