There has been a bit of chatter on blogs, cricket sites and social networking about India lacking the backbone that is expected of a Numero Uno test side to have enforced a result in the first test of the India-New Zealand series. Our very own Mahek Vyas went on a rant about it and suggested that, “Hello! You play to win the game.”
I understand I might be in minority when I say this, but India played the situation perfectly and did what they had to do. They played the numbers game as well as one could and tried to eliminate the options that could lead to a loss to the number 8 side in the test cricket world.
Many have suggested that India with an overall lead of 200 runs at the stroke of lunch should have declared and tried to bowl out New Zealand with 60 overs remaining, or even 225+ with 50 overs remaining in the day.
Here are the few things that I think would have entered the thought processes of the Indian think tank:
- The pitch condition: The strip at Motera wasn’t doing much in terms of spin. There were no alarming cracks to be exploited. As much as the 15/5 that India found themselves in would have you believe, it was more due to the lack of application of Indian batsmen after spending 2 days in the field than Chris Martin suddenly looking like bald McGrath. Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid got out playing “no shots” and Virender Sehwag was run out. Raina drove at a really full delivery without moving his feet while staying deep inside the crease and edged it to slips. Only Sachin Tendulkar’s wicket could be attributed to the pitch condition as he under-edged a ball on to the stumps. I am not trying to take away anything from Martin’s efforts but these are the facts. If India set a target of 200 in 60 overs on pretty good 5th day wicket, there was every chance that NZ would chase it down.
- Brendon McCullum, Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor: Two of the three scored fifties in the first innings and Jesse scored a century. If any of them decides to biff their way to the total, a rapid 50 would make the 200 target look more like 120 which NZ could have easily achieved.
- Series Situation: It was only the first match of a 3 test series. If India were to go down, they would be playing catch up in Hyderabad. It was better to go in to the 2nd test at 0-0 than 0-1. India are certainly more talented to win out the remaining tests and win the series.
- No win situation: By setting a gettable target for NZ, India had everything to lose. If New Zealand, the eighth ranked test team, win, all hell will break loose and Dhoni would have been buried alive by the Indian media. So it made sense for the team management to avoid a loss than to go after it. Considering NZ haven’t lost a series in India in a while, everyone would have started harping on it all over again.
- It’s the series win that matters: Personally for me. Sure, I would like my team to win every single match it plays in but that’s not possible. So, I am happy if they win the matches that count and win the series.
- Indian Bowlers: There are two more tests in the series, 5 ODIs, followed by the South Africa tour (3 tests, 5 ODIs) and then the World Cup. It’s a tight calendar. If Dhoni could give his bowlers who have just toiled for 2 unrelenting days in the field, some respite, from bowling 60 pressure filled overs, I think it’s a good move. Sure, 60 overs may not seem much considering the amount of work load yet to come, but any rest is better than no rest. The 2nd test is starting only in a few days also probably could’ve influenced the decision.
- Plain Numbers: By setting a small target and sufficient overs to get it on an unthreatening pitch, India are putting themselves in a situation where the odds are against them. As mentioned earlier, a quick fire 50 from any of the NZ batsmen would have them at the threshold od something that Ponting has never been able to achieve and would have gone in to the 2nd test with all the momentum.
- Number One sides play to win at all times: To that I say, “Bollocks!” There is no rule that says that. People are wont to point out to the way the Australian side, in its pomp, pushed for a win at all times. Sorry, I don’t think so. Not after what transpired in Kolkata 2001. And personally, I don’t think this Indian side is on par in terms of dominance with the great WI and Aussie sides of the 70’s and 90’s, respectively, yet.
This is the beauty of test cricket. Win, Loss or Draw. Everybody seems to be full of the instant gratification that comes from limited overs matches and want cut and dry results. Either you win or you lose. As the test match builds up to the final day, I think it is prudent to cut down the situations that bring about a loss and live to fight another test. That is exactly what the Indian team management did, I think.
Article by Subash Jayaraman