Mohali:The unbeaten knock of 65 - a veritable assortment of jabs, nudges, edges, mishits, drives and pulls - may not stand out for its aesthetics but would definitely rank among the most valuables runs Rahul Dravid had ever scored as he finally clambered out of the hole.
Walking out to bat on a chilly, gloomy morning soon after the side had lost its most potent batsman is hardly the ideal recipe to revive the sagging form of an off-colour batsman who has aggregated a pathetic 322 runs from his last 10 Tests.
But loads of toil and a pinch of luck finally did the trick and in the end, Dravid managed to get the huge monkey off his back with a laboured knock, which would finally help him breath easy.
As captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said rightly, the first job for Dravid was to get to the 30-run mark. "Once he passes that 30-run mark, he would get his confidence back," Dhoni had predicted on Thursday.
However, even that seemed a task beyond Dravid as he poked, missed and almost perished early in his innings. He blocked the first ball he faced from James Anderson with a big stride forward, considered a positive sign. But he had just opened his account when his fluffed pull looped over before landing in the no man's land between the square and fine leg, much to the relief of the Karnataka batsman.
He, however, subsequently managed to properly execute the shot off Anderson and it turned out to be his first boundary in five innings. Dravid looked far more confident in the post-lunch session and he announced that by reaching for a Monty Panesar half volley and driving it through a packed offside.
In the next over, Andrew Flintoff was driven through the onside for a similar effect and two overs later, the bowler was run down the unpopulated third man region.
True to Dhoni's words, once he reached the 30-run mark, Dravid sent Stuart Broad through the mid-wicket area for his fifth boundary before tip-toeing his way into the 40s. A light drizzle started but it could neither dampen Dravid's determination nor deny him his fifty before tea.
Flintoff sent down the last over before tea and his fifth ball was a no-ball which Dravid flicked through mid-wicket and scampered for two to complete what was his 54th Test half century first in nine innings.
True to his nature, there was no over-the-top celebration, nor any pumping of the fist or waving of the bat. His stoic face betrayed no signs of a relief either.
Dravid did acknowledge the cheers of his teammates and the sparse crowd before shaking hands with Gautam Gambhir who had come down from the non-striker's end to congratulate him.
By stumps, Dravid had accumulated another 15 runs and as he was about to leave the ground, England captain Kevin Pietersen too came forward and patted him on the shoulder. It may not have been a very convincing effort by Dravid but at least he managed to arrest the slump.
Gambhir later oozed confidence that the knock would do a world of good to the right-hander who has been the bulwark of the Indian team for a long time.
"He played a very important knock today, both from his personal and the team's point of view," Gambhir said. "We were six for one and the ball was doing a lot. At that stage, we really needed a big partnership and I think he tackled the seamers really well. He is a legend of the game with 10,000-plus runs under his belt. Who am I to comment on him? "But I think after this one innings, his confidence would be high and he would continue to do well," Gambhir added.
England coach Peter Moores was definitely not amused that Dravid chose England to claw his way back into form but said he was not surprised.
"He is a fantastic player we have seen playing very well in England, both in international and domestic cricket. Good players don't become bad overnight... The longer he stays, the settled he gets and by the end, it was Rahul Dravid, all hard work.
"He is a good player and you expect it from them at some stage because that makes them the players they are," added Moores.