You play to win the game!

Posted on November 8, 2010 by

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Fans wave the Indian flag during a match again...

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Add another one to the list of tests India has shied away from winning because a draw was a possible option. There has been a lot of talk revolving around how this Indian team is a lot more aggressive than its predecessors. While it may be true to an extent, there has been a pattern to when this aggressiveness manifests itself. It’s usually either when drawing the game isn’t possible (v England at Chennai in 2008, v Sri Lanka at P Sara in 2010, v Australia at Mohali and Bangalore 2010) or when it’s a must-win test in the context of the series (P Sara 2010, Kolkata 2010).

Each of those wins has given Indian fans plenty to be happy about. It is hard to imagine an Indian team from the 20th century pull off such victories. However, I think these wins have been possible because of the quality of players in the side and not necessarily because of the change in mindset. Because every other time I’ve seen this side hedge its bets and happily settle for a draw (v Pakistan at Bangalore in 2007, v England at Mohali in 2008), v New Zealand at Wellington in 2009 and at Ahmedabad in 2010). It’s hard for me to believe there isn’t a pattern when I’ve seen teams do the same thing under Ganguly (v England at Ahmedabad in 2001, v Australia at Sydney in 2004) and Dravid (v England at Nagpur in 2006, v West Indies at Antigua, St. Kitts and St. Lucia in 2006).

Some of the draws cost us series wins while some didn’t. But they were draws that could have been wins had the team not been so scared of losing. Talk to enough people and you’ll find an excuse for us not winning each of those tests. “The umpiring was horrible” (Sydney 2004). “Rain played spoilsport” (St. Lucia 2006, Wellington 2009). “Bad light reduced playing time” (Bangalore 2007, Mohali 2008). “Tailenders were very obdurate” (Antigua 2006, Wellington 2009). Surely there comes a time when we stop making excuses and realise we play our cricket in a way so as to avoid a loss more than embrace a win unless there is no other alternative.

Would we have declared had this been the third test and we needed to win it to win/draw the series? Dileep Premachandran, who was at the ground and has access to information us mortals aren’t privy to, said Zaheer Khan was carrying a niggle while Dhoni had fever. However, Zaheer came out to bowl and promptly got a wicket in his first over. Dhoni too kept wickets and had enough energy to bowl an over. The team hasn’t said anything about either player not being 100 percent so we’re only speculating. There have been instances when a captain said the bowlers were tired, only for one of his bowlers to say otherwise.

I can’t help but feel the mindset of our team gets shaped in domestic cricket where teams can make do with draws as long as they have the innings lead. The first round of matches in the Ranji Trophy Super League saw just one result in seven games. Most of these games were destined for a draw after half the overs had been bowled.

This isn’t just a one-off. Look at the points table from last year. Mumbai made the knockout stage despite winning just one outright win in seven matches. Uttar Pradesh, who finished second in their group with just two wins out of six finished second in the other group.What’s worse, the two teams were seeded first and second for the knockouts because they were the finalists from the previous season, a ridiculous rule that was brought back last season. It made their passage all the more easy as they faced a team from the Plate League in the quarterfinals, when they would have played each other under normal rules.

The players in the Indian team have come through a system that has historically undervalued aggressive cricket and the importance of winning. Is it any surprise then that the national team is as risk averse as it is? If you’re looking for the team to chase victories at all costs in test cricket then maybe the place to start is domestic cricket. Unfortunately I don’t think the men who matter see things the same way.

I’m going to end the rant with a very famous one from American Football. The guy may not know about test cricket and the value of the draw, but maybe it’s not a bad thing after all.

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Article by Mahek Vyas

Posted in: India, Mahek Vyas