Dravid ready for an Indian autumn

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The Independent Online

The current India batting order is the best in history. Discuss. Of its five outstanding members, the most excellent is Rahul Dravid. Discuss further.

These are tricky questions which would probably require the skills of an A-level or GCSE student to answer. For the rest of us, there will be further opportunity for closer research in the coming weeks, starting on Wednesday.

Dravid and India play England in the NatWest Challenge, a series of three one-day matches serving as a warm-up for the 12-nation ICC Champions Trophy, which starts the week after. In October, he and the team meet Australia at home in the most eagerly anticipated Test series of the year.

"It's nice to be part of a team where everyone is fighting at the same time," Dravid said last week between showers in Amsterdam, where India had arrived for another warm-up tournament. "We're all about the same age, and to be performing at the same time is a privilege. We're experienced, all the players have been around for five or six years."

Dravid is part of the order that includes his contemporaries Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly (there are only nine months in age between the three), VVS Laxman, a year behind, and the younger lions, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh. But it is Dravid who is currently the No 1 ranked Test batsman in the world, it is Dravid who constantly supplies the substance to their one-day innings that permits the flamboyance of others.

Seven of Dravid's 17 Test hundreds have come in his past 28 innings - a hundred every four visits to the crease - and four of the last five have been doubles. Apart from being ranked No 1, he might also make a case for being the most elegant batsman around. It is almost heretical to suggest, but he is more aesthetically pleasing to watch than Tendulkar.

But he tailors his goals to the team's needs and clearly has a deep belief in the team ethos. His most memorable innings was probably his 180 against Australia in Calcutta in an epic stand of 366 with Laxman that allowed India to win the match after following on. His inspiring 233 in Adelaide last December set up the bridgehead for an astonishing victory on foreign soil.

If he puts part of the reason for India's renewed competitiveness down to their accord on and off the field, part is also down to the leadership of the coach, John Wright, and the captain, Ganguly. Together they have given India a hard-nosed approach. Dravid was instrumental in Wright's appointment, having spent time with him at Kent in 2000, and he admires Ganguly.

"Sourav has his own style of leadership which has worked for him and the team," he said. "The younger boys have responded. The one thing about Sourav is that he wants to win really badly, and is willing to do what it takes and get whatever professional help he needs.

"He has been able to push that through and he's also been willing to take a lot of advice. Some people seem to think that Sourav can be aloof and runs the team like a personal thing, but he involves the senior players a lot.

"We have a senior leadership group and meet quite often to discuss a lot of things besides the cricket, helping us to get some idea about how the team should be going, how we can improve the spirit."

The Indians spend a lot of time on the road - they have already played in Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka this year - but Dravid seems to gain strength from it. "I enjoy the challenges of the sport, and if cricket is a lifestyle, I enjoy the travelling, seeing different places, experiencing different cultures, meeting different people. I think experience of playing round the world and growing as a person helps." There spoke a rounded man.

Since reaching the World Cup final, India's one-day cricket has regressed slightly while their Test cricket has advanced. Dravid continues to be pressed into service as a one-day wicketkeeper, a temporary, Heath Robinson arrangement which shows little sign of ending. "I don't have any aspirations to being a fantastic wicketkeeper. I struggle in the subcontinent, where the ball can turn, but I find it a lot easier elsewhere and it's a case of doing a job for the side."

Each catch he takes behind is cause for celebration but equally, of those who have kept wicket in more than 50 one-dayers, he is the only player to have a batting average in the 40s (counting only the 68 games in which he has donned the gloves). "Batting is still my main role, and a lot of times the seven batsmen it gives us has helped win games."

England at this time of year in this kind of summer may not see India at their best, but some time in the next three weeks that batting line-up will provide unbounded joy while causing bowlers untold misery. No need to discuss.