Tuesday, August 14, 2007
How to turn an Oval into an egg
How quickly Indian cricket goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. Not since the Pakistan series, when we won the Tests 2-1 and one-days 3-2, have Indian cricket fans had an opportunity to appreciate our team's performance for as long a period as this - the fightback at Lord's, the turn-around at Trent Bridge, and the total dominance for the first three days of the Oval Test. Then a spineless declaration, and some specious arguments in its support, that it was better to play it safe with the series being in the bag even with a draw, that there was no need to expose the team to the risk of a collapse on a fifth day wicket. What was the risk? That in the 170 overs left in the game, England would score at an unlikely four an over for 120 overs, and then dismiss India for 150 in the remaining 50 overs? This was at the Oval where the chances of the pitch becoming unplayable on the fifth day were infinitesimal. In fact, the risk of getting bowled out for 150 was greater in the overcast conditions on the fourth day when India decided to bat instead of enforcing the follow-on, collapsed to 11 for 3, and then trudged through 60 overs with Dravid maintaining a scoring rate of one run per over. That England barely managed to hang on for a draw with Prior and Sidebottom at the crease after losing the six main batsmen on the last day was proof that India would have easily won the Test if it had made England follow on. In fact, we might have got more wickets if Dravid had employed more attacking fields. Kumble bowled without a second slip or short gully and the pacers did not have a third slip most of the time in spite of the unassailable 500-run lead, which allowed catches to slip through unmanned positions. But why go for a 2-0 when 1-0 suffices to win the series? Many good reasons. Indian cricket would have ended the series on a high, instead of coming across as a self-doubting team that considers itself lucky to have squeaked through to a series win thanks to the rain at Lord's. India would have been joint second on the ICC Test rankings, instead of at third position behind England. It negated all the good work of the team over the first three days - the determination of Tendulkar and Lakshman who battled through on the first day after Ganguly and Karthick fell to umpiring blunders, the exploits of Kumble with bat and ball, the smashing 92 by Dhoni, and another sterling show by Zaheer Khan should have been rewarded with a victory instead of having to settle for a draw because of one cowardly decision. What makes it harder to swallow is that the same bunch of senior players let Australia off the hook by not enforcing the follow-on on the fourth day of the Sydney Test, and lost the opportunity to post a historic first-ever Indian series win in Australia. I would have thought the pain of that would have been so deep that such a mistake would never be repeated. In fact, at the end of the third day, I was joking with a colleague that Ganguly's blunder in Sydney would now save the otherwise over-cautious Dravid from committing the mistake. But I underestimated Rahul, the wall, Dravid.