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Dravid comes good, again

Leeds: Sachin Tendulkar remains target No.1, but every opposition considers Rahul Dravid’s wicket to be just as big. At Headingley Thursday, the India vice-captain himself reinforced what is known far and wide: Overseas, especially, he is king.

Again taking guard during a crisis (one down for 15), Dravid stood rock-firm to author back-to-back hundreds against England. At stumps on Day-I of the third Test — a huge day for the Indian cricketers who are being seen as defiant — Dravid was on 110 (331 minutes, 247 deliveries, 16x4).

At the other end was Sachin Tendulkar, on 18. At 236 for two, India are reasonably entrenched to now call the shots. The last day at Trent Bridge saw India save that Test. The first here may have put India on the road to victory.

Actually, Dravid continued from where he left off at Trent Bridge and this 12th hundred should remain special. More than anything else, it has given India that platform to force a 1-1 scoreline.

The wicket was far from a featherbed and if ‘external’ conditions encouraged much movement, the track itself had considerable bounce. Dravid, who took quite a few blows (particularly on the knuckles), remarked the wicket “never quite allowed” batsmen to settle down.

“Given the situation, it’s been a very pleasing knock... It was important to hold fort... That Sanjay Bangar batted so beautifully, in an environment he isn’t used to, made it easy... In fact, more than my giving him confidence, it’s Bangar who boosted mine,” Dravid added generously. Bangar and Dravid stitched 170 for the second-wicket — our best at Headingley — and their association took India off the mat. Blow No.1, after all, was inflicted early (seventh over) as Virender Sehwag couldn’t stay away from a Matthew Hoggard away-swinger.

Till not many days ago, Bangar had the status of a ‘passenger’ — little to do anywhere. Then, the team management decided to (again) try him as an opener in the four-dayer versus Essex. He failed in the first innings, but got 74 in the second.

Bangar was far from brilliant, yet Messrs Sourav Ganguly and John Wright decided to gamble. It paid off. Playing his first Test since Queen’s Park Oval in April, Bangar struck a commendable 68 (297 minutes, 236 balls, 10x4) before gloving an attempted glance off Andrew Flintoff.

It was an innings of character and what really stood out was that Bangar knew exactly where his off-stump was. This discipline should take him much distance. Bangar did have a let-off on 53, when Flintoff dropped him off Alex Tudor, but the low-profile Railways’ allrounder deserved some luck at least.

Earlier, Sourav won the toss and despite conditions being overcast, made the positive move of batting. Being 0-1 down, all the running must invariably be done by India. The start surely holds much promise. It’s another matter that the England bowlers often bowled on both sides.

In any case, that’s a problem Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher must address. Come to think of it, with two quicks (Andrew Caddick and Tudor) coming off injuries, Hussain was bound to have problems. And, then, Flintoff isn’t hundred per cent fit either.

Known to talk straight, Fletcher accepted it “wasn't” one of England’s better days. “Our bowlers didn’t get the length right... Clearly. they didn’t learn from Trent Bridge. When play began, in overcast conditions, I was hoping we would get six-seven wickets...” he said.

Incidentally, Fletcher revealed Hussain would have inserted India had the Royal Mint coin obliged.

Agencies add: Fletcher was fuming. He said they had bowled too short and wide despite the helpful swing and bounce on offer.

“Our bowlers just have to make the batsmen play — you can’t afford to let them leave so many deliveries.”

Fletcher added: “Dravid was a class act. India like him playing that role. He showed a lot of guts.”

But he also said: “Six or seven wickets down would have been par for the course today, on a good day it could have been all out.”Referring to Andrew Caddick and Alex Tudor, he added: “Maybe the excessive bounce confused the bowlers over the length they should bowl.”

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