To Declare or Not to Declare

Posted on November 22, 2010 by

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South African cricketer Graeme Smith.

Image via Wikipedia

South African skipper Graeme Smith declared his team’s innings closed at 584 runs for the loss of 9 wickets during the 2nd test versus Pakistan at Abu Dhabi. One of the unbeaten batsmen was so close to a personal landmark, many fans were aghast that Smith declared at the juncture he did. No, I’m not talking about Morne Morkel, but in all fairness I should as Morne was just 5 runs from his personal best of 40.

AB De Villiers was on 278 with only 22 runs to get his first 300 against a tired Pakistani attack that had already sent down 153 overs. Graeme Smith responded thus for all the folks that let him know what they thought of his declaration on Twitter:

“Taking heat tonight on twitter for not letting AB go for 300.#you definitely can’t pls [please] everyone. Always base decision on what’s best for team.”

Few things that may have skipped the casual fans’ attention:

  1. Graeme probably never thought of AB De Villiers getting to 300. At tea break on the 2nd day, AB was on 263 with the team total at 568 in 151 overs. Smith could have declared right then and there, instead of AB and Morkel coming out for a bit of bashing for just a couple of overs.
  2. Smith allowed AB to achieve one personal landmark of 278, the highest score by a South African player in tests. The previous holder of the record – you guessed it – Smith with his 277 against England in 2003 at Birmingham. If people thought Smith was as heartless as the decision to declare might seem to indicate, they have it wrong. He could’ve easily declared it at Tea but he let AB get to 278.
  3. Smith also had to include in his thought process the jailbreak act performed by Younis Khan in the first test. So, he needed to have as many overs as possible at the Pakistani batsmen as possible. In addition to that, they have been losing overs due to bad light conditions as well.
  4. I am sure Smith had a chat with AB during the tea break and told him of the upcoming declaration as soon as AB got to 278. There hasn’t been a single peep of “disappointment” out of AB. In fact, he paid tribute to Smith.

I’d like to dedicate that knock to Graeme,” said de Villiers. “He showed a lot of class in his captaincy by allowing me to go through and to get that record. I thought we could have declared a bit earlier but he wanted me to push on and to get that record [278].

There is a school of thought that would say that using up a few more overs (3-5) is not that big a deal in the overall scheme of things and Smith should have let AB get to 300 which is a pretty rare accomplishment. I disagree. It is only a two-test series. So, South Africa has to do all the running if they were to win the series, with the first test being drawn. Pakistan, having let South Africa bat for more than 5 sessions, will be happy with a draw in this match, and a 0-0 series result. Considering all the turmoil that this Pakistan team has gone through in the recent times, a 0-0 series result against the world’s second ranked test team would be as good as a series win.

This incident brings back to me, memories of one such incident in the not too distant past, when Rahul Dravid, while standing in for Sourav Ganguly as the captain of the Indian team in the first test of the series against (and in) Pakistan in 2004, declared the innings close when Sachin Tendulkar was on 194 and all hell broke loose. There were murmurings but it blew up in to a full scale media inquisition of Dravid when Tendulkar mentioned in the press conference that he was “disappointed” and “let down”.

When the 4th wicket of the Indian first innings fell, Tendulkar was on 153. The innings was declared close at 675/5. In the partnership of 110 for the 5th wicket, Yuvraj scored 59 and Tendulkar, the established partner who had already faced 300+ deliveries, scored only 49. John Wright, the former Indian coach writes in book “Indian Summers” about this situation: “At tea he [Dravid] told the batsmen he wanted 15 or 16 overs at the Pakistanis, and after tea a couple of messages went out. As I sat there watching the innings grind on, it crossed my mind that Tendulkar needed to get a move on… A final message went out saying they had one more over. Then Yuvraj got run out going for a quick single and Dravid called them in.” You know how many overs India bowled at Pakistan that evening? 16.

In the final scheme of that match’s result itself, another over or two would not have mattered. India won comfortably by an innings and 52 runs with only needing to take one wicket on the fifth day to seal the win. But I tend to agree with Dravid’s move here. He had to make a decision and it wasn’t a “spur of the moment” decision either. He had given Tendulkar sufficient heads up and Tendulkar failed to get a move on after the tea break. In the 13.5 overs after the tea break, Yuvraj scored 48 runs and Sachin 29. His last 20 runs (from 174 to 194) took 26 balls (which is not bad at all) but considering the situation it was slow, while Yuvraj – the new batsman in – scored 37 runs in 39 balls.

This goes beyond the slowness of Tendulkar’s batting. I liked it from the perspective of establishing an order within the Indian squad that the team came before any individual landmark, even (gasp) Sachin Tendulkar. If Tendulkar had any issues, he needed to sort it out in the dressing room and not air it out in a press conference. That was unbecoming of the great man. India has had, historically, a few characters that seemed to play for personal records. I am not saying Tendulkar was one but that action by Dravid laid it out clearly where the priorities of the players needed to be.

Wright writes towards the end of that chapter that, “Then he [Tendulkar] and Dravid talked it through and resolved the matter.” And, here we have a situation with De Villiers where he is paying tribute to his skipper. May be there is something to be learned from it?

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Article by Subash Jayaraman

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