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.

11 comments:

Golandaaz said...

The follow-on was not the issue. England played well the last 2 days. Give them some credit.

Driving your opposition to a point of no return; is what dravid did it is a good strategy in any competition. The batters and bowlers flopped; their performance dipped and we paid the price.

Saying that only the follow-on decision was bad and assuming everything went wrong because of that sound very unconvincing to me.

Sumit Chakraberty said...

golandaaz, here are a few more counters. had there been a follow-on, england might have gone for a few shots at least initially and lost a few early wickets. secondly, they would have been less assured without knowing how many overs they needed to play out or how many runs they needed before they could feel safe, because india could have come out and got a small target even at five or six an over. our batters failed partly because i think they were in two minds between attack and defence. our bowlers failed partly ebcause they had to contend with getting 10 wickets on an easy wicket against an opposition intent on blocking everything. they needed 20 more overs which dravid denied them for nothing. if we were only intent on a draw, we should have played 11 batsmen, and batted for three days. this is an awful way to play cricket. manage risk, by all means, but not to such a ridiculous length. yes, the team deserves credit for winning a series in alien conditions, with determined batting and bowling, and the right decisions taken after winning the toss. vaughan will feel unlucky, though, that he lost all three tosses and played without his top three bowlers. that's why a 2-0 win was needed.

Golandaaz said...

Nowhere am I seeing you acknowledge England's performance. Perhaps we failed in the 3rd innings because England bowled well? And not simply because we were in 2 minds. There were 2 sides competing out in the Oval but no one is giving any credit to England. It was England's performance and not Dravid's decision that allowed England to escape with a draw.

Sumit Chakraberty said...

okay, golandaaz, looks like we have to agree to disagree. india is the only team that has allowed the opposition to escape with a draw by not enforcing the followon as many as three times: nz at ahmedabad, australia at sydney and now england at the oval. on each of these occasions we got through to the tail but ran out of time. there has been only one other case in the history of the game when a draw resulted after a followon was not enforced. india must be doing something wrong. that rare victory over the aussies after india followed on has probably denied us the sydney and oval wins. it's ironical that the once-in-a-century kolkata match has made us diffident instead of the aussies. one can count on one's fingertips the test victories that india has had outside the subcontinent. we should not have let such an easy win go even if we were one-up in the series. there was hardly any risk, and as zaheer khan has clarified, he was neither tired nor unduly hampered by a thigh strain - it was just dravid passing the back on to the bowlers as ganguly did after the sydney match. deja vu all round.

Tugga said...

Sumit

You are seeing one side of picture. What if England would have put on a huge score in following on and then India would have crumbled ?

Then you media guys would have ranted about the old record gone true again.

Playing cricket in India is a double edged sword and if you happen to be the cricket captain, then you are more answerable to the diagnostics than the PRIME MINISTER of India.

The pitch was still good to bat on and even RP Singh would have fancied a century on day 5 pitch. Why do you discount the hard efforts Indian bowlers put in on day 5 with special mention to Anil Kumble.

It just bites me why have the journalists to crib always and do the blame game on to the skipper and his team mates ? Is that what you get paid for ?

Ridiculous i might sound, but look at the Zaheer s latest disected statement. Thats poor piece of showpiece journalism.

Dont know if your publication does so, but certainly few of the print media (Bob Vijay Kumar of TOI) and almost all of electronic media journos are hell bent on killing the game.

Sumit Chakraberty said...

tugga, thanks for your comment. first, let me clarify i'm not a sports journo, i write this blog as a fan just like you, and i hold no brief for sports journos. now, about the cricket, for us to buy vengsarkar's argument, england would have had to score nearly 500 at 4 an over and bowled india out for 150. you've said yourself that rp would've fancied a century on day 5. so you decide how plausible is vengsarkar's doomsday scenario and whether we should have let go of a test victory abroad for that. on your second point, that there is too much negativity, i agree criticism needs to be balanced with appreciation of good cricket which gives us joy.

Tugga said...

Sincere apologies for the outburst on you, but it was for those spineless journos who dont think a bit before their sensational piece of stories.

I agree with your view abt Vengsarkar, but the pitch didnt crumble as it was expected to and it was good for batting as it was day 1 or 2 or 3 ....Day 4 had some swing when India began their batting........

Else this was a placid track, much contrasting to the sporting tracks for the 1st 2 tests

Sumit Chakraberty said...

tugga, your angst about sports journos and commentators is understandable - so thank god for blogs!

about the oval pitch, i think the english cricket administration is just as callous about its team as ours is. they should've made a green pitch to give the poms a better chance of either evening up or going 2-0 down - or perhaps that's not possible at the oval that has traditionally been slow. in fact, after our first win in 1971 the england captain illingworth blamed the board for preparing a pitch that took the bite off bowlers like snow, price and lever. it's not only the bcci that sucks :)

John said...

Excellent blog, Sumit. Please link me too. I write at http://islandexpress.blogspot.com.
Thanks.

Sumit Chakraberty said...

thanks john. checked out your blog and liked it.

Soulberry said...

It is entirely possible that England might have been found staving off a 2-0 defeat had the follow-on been enforced. No doubt about it, and an opportunity missed.

But I chose to try and understand why Dravid did what he did. Why the cussedness of slowly squeezing out an opponent with a series advantage in hand? The kind we haven't seen since the days of Sunny's captaincy.

Very simple - these elder gentlemen haven't much to show in terms of overseas victories in their entire careers. They pocketed one in WI, missed the bus in SA in usual fashion...then the WC happened, and here was a golden opportunity to wind up their last tour with another overseas victory in their pocket with minimum risk of all options.

Dravid didn't reckon on the collapse that happened...

I can't blame the elder gents for this line of thought. Now they have two overseas victories to show...they still might have had the two with better scorelines, but it like that familiar hindi adage doodh ka jala, chaaj ko bhi phook-phook ke peeta hai, translated - "the person who has been scalded by milk will be wary of buttermilk too."