‘A million fans were cheated of a chance to witness history,’ says the reporter on the TV screen.
The decision was dodgy, to put it mildly — but ‘a million fans’ have been ‘looking forward’ to seeing this particular slice of history being created ever since this series started; we can wait for another game. Or two.
What appears to have been reduced to a side-story is the fact that India lost a game it should have won with considerable ease. The wicket was loaded for the batsmen [while on that, India’s bowlers and, for once, the fielding, did outstandingly well I thought to limit Australia to an under-par 249], unlike the Kotla wicket of two days ago. And yet, strangely, India opted to approach this chase as if it was still batting at the Kotla — with an exaggerated caution that at first seemed inexplicable, then progressively ridiculous.
‘Strategy’ is a two-edged sword — it can clear the mind and help you focus on what you need to do. That said, it strikes me that devising a one-size-fits-all ‘strategy’ is equally daft. India’s batting ‘game plan’ appears to be something on these lines: Sehwag is a force of nature, no point telling him anything, so let him do his stuff and get out. Then we will, come hell or high full toss, start “pushing the ball around” till we get to the end game, and at that point we will “explode”.
It is a ‘strategy’ we appear to implement without reference to the ground conditions, the bowling, the wicket or even the size of the target, almost as if there is a court injunction that stops us from playing any other way. And it works just fine so long as our ‘exploders’ manage to hang around till the end.
Yesterday they didn’t, and we paid. The how of it is contained in these two sets of stats: the over comparison [incorporating the run rates and required rate] and the player-versus-player stats, which when parsed [check out the singles versus dot balls; check out what happens when you break a batsman’s score down into its component parts: proportion of dot balls to scoring shots] shows you exactly where, and how, we lost the game.
[Incidentally, in all this talk of how well Doug Bollinger bowled — and yes, he was exemplary in his adherence to line and length — what does it tell you that the best strike rates against him are those of Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar?].
One other random thought occurs: Virat Kohli needed to come in to cover for Gautam Gambhir’s injury [though we do have the more experienced Dinesh Karthick as cover, and likely could have used him to better effect] — but does that automatically mean the youngster, still to play the one innings that will give him confidence at this level, should be inserted in Gambhir’s batting position?
Kohli is as yet too unsure of his own skills, and how they stack up at the international level, to take on the crucial number three position, yet it is in this slot that he gets to bat every single time. The upshot — the innings gets becalmed after the inevitable Sehwag cameo, with the inexperienced Kohli playing for survival and the experienced Sachin playing, presumably, for those impatient million fans the TV reporter is still nattering about. [But I forget: suggesting that maybe Sachin is currently not optimizing his game for the team is fraught with risk — what, have I forgotten the knock he played in Sri Lanka?!].
In passing, a clip from the Cricinfo bulletin:
India’s chase had a terrific start with Virender Sehwag caning Mitchell Johnson for 30 runs off 14 balls. Australia began to fight back after Sehwag fell but India were on course while Sachin Tendulkar was batting. However, his dismissal for 40 – the highest score of the innings – was the beginning of the end as wickets fell frequently thereafter.
Really? Or would it be more accurate to say, Sehwag treated the bowling as it deserved to be, and India allowed the Australian bowlers to catch their breath, recover their wits and get back into the game once Sehwag fell?