New Delhi: Rahul Dravid is not amused when he is considered one of the aces in the Indian batting line-up for the World Cup in South Africa. Nor does he lose his head when he is praised for his technique and temperament. Dravid has learnt to keep his balance and focus in both success and failure. His equanimity will be a key factor in India's World Cup campaign.
How times have changed for Dravid since 1997 when he was axed from the national One- day squad for his inability to force the pace. He was branded too technically correct to succeed in slam-bang cricket where an edge through the slips has the same value as a copybook cover-drive, provided both result in a boundary. Dravid was then condemned to prove his batting skills in a triangular home series involving minnows Bangladesh and Kenya before being welcomed back into the One-day fold. The most dispensable batsman of a few years ago has now become the most dependable figure in the Indian scheme of things.
Dravid's role has now been expanded, for India expect him to deliver not only as a batsman but also as a wicket-keeper. He may not look as tidy as Australian Adam Gilchrist or South African Mark Boucher behind the stumps, but appears to be learning and improving with each match. Dravid's new role has also given more options to the Indian captain, who can now afford to go into a World Cup match with an extra batsman or a bowler. India pins its hopes on Dravid to succeed on hard and bouncy South African pitches, for he is one of the few who often mastered the conditions there on previous tours in 1997 and 2001.
India may have hard and clean strikers of the ball in Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and skipper Saurav Ganguly, but often rely on Dravid's steady batting in a crisis. The dependable middle-order batsman played a significant role in his team's recent memorable chase against the West Indies. He contributed an unbeaten 108 when his team achieved the third-highest winning total of 324 against Carl Hooper's tourists at Ahmedabad. India is also aware it can recover from top-order failures as long as Dravid is in the middle.
His presence gives Sehwag, Ganguly and Tendulkar a chance to play their shots with freedom and without fear. Batting is never ugly when Dravid is at the crease, for he strictly follows coaching manuals even in the shorter version of the game. A shrewd judge of a single, he keeps working the ball into gaps and rotating the strike to ensure the run-rate does not decline in the middle overs. Dravid has been performing his role commendably well in recent years, for every team requires a right mix of hard-hitters and steady batsmen to maintain balance.