Ahmedabad:It's definitely not a shove. Perhaps it's a gentle tap on his shoulder. Only Rahul Dravid can tell. Is Dravid feeling the pressure from the youngsters? Or is it an illusion in our minds? In the seven games he has played in 2010, Dravid averages 34.60. It's a dip from his high standards, of course, but is it cause for concern?
Cricinfo's Numbers Game recently traced his decline since 2007. Have a look; it isn't pretty. It felt worse when he was hit by a Shahadat Hossain bouncer and put in a Dhaka hospital in January this year. Indian fans have this thing about bouncers and their legendary batsmen. At least the older generation does.
They will tell you how Sunil Gavaskar was never hit on his head by a bouncer. They gasped and saw it as the end of their world when Gavaskar had his bat knocked out of his hand by a snorter from Malcolm Marshall in 1983. So when Dravid went down in Mirpur as if he were shot, for some it would have felt like a signpost of Dravid's decline, and not just a misjudgement of bounce.
In nine innings after that knock, Dravid has made one fifty, in the first Test against Australia. He has fallen to left-arm seamers a few times, chasing deliveries well outside the off stump. He has always looked to get on to that front foot; at times he has ended up chasing deliveries that could have been left alone. Some have said that his back leg remains rooted to the same spot now and it has meant that he has been stretching and playing well away from the body. Others have rubbished that as unnecessary fussing over technique and it's foolish to think Dravid has suddenly developed chinks. Dravid himself hasn't said anything on the issue.
Today, he was as focussed as ever in his preparation ahead of the Test. He batted against throws from Gary Kirsten and also faced both spin and pace. When the flash bulbs and television cameras swung to Sachin Tendulkar as he walked in to the nets, Dravid took a break and relaxed by talking to the umpires. But it wasn't long before he went in for an extra session and faced Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan. A couple of deliveries leaped past his outside edge and he jabbed and pushed out a couple others before the shots started to flow and the feet started to move. His fans will hope that everything falls in place in the Tests against New Zealand and Dravid can get in a groove for the sterner test ahead in South Africa.
There was another man who batted today alongside Dravid at the nets who might also feel a bit of the heat. Gautam Gambhir's 2010 average is worse than Dravid's - he averages 27 from 6 games. He has been afflicted with injuries and been in and out of the side. In his absence, M Vijay has performed admirably, so India is not without options. Gambhir's greatest test will come in South Africa. There we will learn how he handles pace and bounce. It won't hurt him if he prepares for it with a big innings or two against New Zealand. Will Dravid and Gambhir turn things around against New Zealand? We won't have to wait long to find out.