Former India captain Rahul Dravid believes it’s great for Indian cricket that skipper Virat Kohli values Test format and wants the team to excel in the traditional format of the game.
In the latest episode of ESPNcricinfo Videocast, Dravid talks to ricketer-turned-commentator Sanjay Manjrekar about moving on from his cricketing days, the future of defensive batting and Cheteshwar Pujara’s ability as a Test batsman.
Commenting on the pressure faced by todays cricketers in the T20 format and how is it as compared to pressure in a Test match, Rahul says, “If you were to talk about the stress levels or pressure of a particular moment, then yes it’s a lot more in T20 format. To get there and hit sixes from ball one, requires practice and skill.”
“But if you’re talking about pressure as a whole, the fact is that you have to play for five days in a Test Match. And I think that is pressure. There is no running away from that. In any other format you can get away, but in a Test match you go out and bat, then you watch you team bat then you watch the opposition bat and you have a lot of time to think. So I think pressure in a Test match is at a different level.”
Rahul believes that all formats of the game require different skill sets and one has to value what some of the cricketers do at the T20 level. “Look at Andre Russell (WI origin). He is a strong man, but then there is a skill element to him too. You can’t just put any strong man there and get him to bat like that. So the T20 format of cricket also requires certain energy and skill set.
“The only difference between T20 cricket and Test cricket is that in T20 format you can get away with a lot more. But if you have glaring weaknesses, you cannot survive in Test cricket. In T20 format you have a specific role, and if you can perform well in that role, you can be successful.”
However, Rahul doesn’t believe that the number of players that want to play all formats of the game is shrinking every year. “Test batsmanship is a lot more exciting and positive now than it’s been ever before. We are scoring at a quicker rate. See, Test batsmanship is not only defensive batsmanship, it’s got to be defensive and aggressive and the aggressive element of the Test batsmanship is welcome.”
“Going forward we want to see more runs scored, people are playing more shots even in Test cricket which is fantastic. One of the great things for India is that Virat Kohli values Test cricket. He is always talking about it. I think he understands that the real respect for him as a cricketer will come through his success in Test cricket and I think that’s a great role model for our young cricketers. I would like to see wickets keep getting challenging, a good balance between bat and ball and I think people will get excited by seeing that.”
He adds, “I work with a lot of younger players. And when they start off their heroes are Kohli or Kane Williamson or (Steve) Smith. They want to play all the formats of the game. But some of the less talented or less skillful players realize that its difficult to break into a team with Kohli or Pujara or (Ajinkya) Rahane.
“But they know that if they practice their white ball cricket, they can definitely get into an IPL team and make a living. And this thought today probably creeps in a lot earlier than in the previous generation of cricketers. But superstars will always want to play all the formats of the game.”
He points out, “What budding players or kids lack today is enough time to practice their skills.”
The former India captain agrees that boys should play all three formats of the game and then figure the most suitable format of choice and continue their journey.
“There are some players like Virat who have shown that one can excel in all three formats of the game too but it takes special ability to do so. Things to learn from Virat is the intensity that he brings to practice and his ability to challenge himself. Intensity will help you survive difficult spells and you need to bring that into practice. I have watched Smith as well and he has tremendous work ethics too.”
Commenting on defensive technique of Pujara, Rahul says, “Coming from a place like Saurashtra it was drilled into his head early on that he needed to do much more than other players. So he had to make every inning count and that’s the way he has built his batting. He has got a range of shots and he knows that.”
“He is exceptional against spin, he rotates strikes well. I remember he drove Nathan Lion nuts on every single ball. And this a world class bowler we are talking about. Pujara has worked out his game phenomenally well. His concentration is excellent. And he knows that he is playing only one format of the game so he makes his every Test count.”
Even an aggressive batsman and captain like Kohli acknowledges the defensive technique of a player like Pujara. Rahul adds, “There will always be a place for a person like Pujara because his technique will always contribute to the winning of a game.”
One being called a defensive batsman, Rahul says, “It is a fair assessment. I kind of figured out what was my best way of scoring runs or contributing to the team or making a winning contribution in a game. If it meant occupying the crease for a long time or tiring the bowlers out or blunting out the new ball in difficult conditions so that it’s easier to play later, I did it.”
“I saw that as my job and took great pride in it and I tried to do that in the best possible way. That doesn’t mean I didn’t want to bat like Virendra Sehwag and hit those shots but may be my talent were different. My talent was determination and concentration and I worked on that.”
He adds, “And I would like to believe that I became an attacking batsman, I played 300 ODIs for India. Ofcourse I wouldn’t have survived today if I batted the way I did in my days. Look at the strike rates today.
“While my strike rate in ODI cricket weren’t up to the level of Sachin’s or Viru’s but that’s the level that we played at back then. Obviously I can’t compare myself to Kohli or Rohit Sharma because they have blown the ODI paradigm to an all new level. But to be fair I grew up wanting to be a Test player.”
Rahul doesn’t think that the defensive batting has become irrelevant in today’s fast scoring world of cricket. “I think the value is decreasing but you still need to be able to defend your wicket. See, today don’t really need to be a Test cricketer to make a living. You can make a career in T20 or ODI and easily survive without a defensive technique.”
He adds, “A generation ago, you had to be a Test cricketer to make a living. Many players today have a good defense technique whether it’s Kohli, Williamson or Smith. Defensive technique is meant to help you survive or play out those difficult periods of the game. It helps you keep yourself out of trouble during the difficult periods to be able to cash in later on. And the very best players of Test cricket are be able to do that.”
Dravid represented India in 164 Tests, 344 ODIs and one T20I in which he scored 13288, 10899 and 31 runs respectively. During his career, the right-handed batsman also served as the wicket-keeper in 73 ODIs between the period from 1999-2004 in which he affected 84 dismissals, including 71 catches and 13 stumpings.