The ‘watch paint dry’ party

There is a deliciously nostalgic feel to seeing four Indian fielders crouch around the bat as a spinner comes in to bowl – an image that evokes the era of the spin quartet at the height of their pomp.

Unfortunately, nostalgia ends right there, with that image – once the spinner in question bowls, you are left with a wistful yearning for times past.

On balance, off spinner Harbhajan Singh’s analysis of 7-3-9-0 leads you to believe he was weaving a web of spin; that it is just a matter of time. In reality, that analysis owes much to rigid adherence to a line, particularly mystifying in an off spinner, that begins around middle stump and takes the ball onto leg or outside.

The Indian spinners I grew up watching would have killed for 642 runs to bowl against; hell, they would have sold their collective soul to the devil for half that number. Against that, the reaction of today’s premier spinner is to immediately hit the sort of run-denying line [four deliveries in Harbhajan’s first over were middle and leg tending to leg] that would earn appreciation were this match being played in colored clothing, but is out of sync with a team trying to win a Test.

Blame who you like: a board that systematically over-schedules ODIs and T20s and as methodically cuts back on Tests; the absence of a bowling coach who can work with spinners on ideal lines and lengths; the absence of an Anil Kumble on a bounce-less wicket where straight wicket to wicket lines and minor variations yield big results; an off spinner who has so retooled his game for the shorter formats that he has misplaced the skills that catapulted him into the limelight in the first place…

Fact remains, there was very little in the 11 overs of spin, and indeed in the 24 completed overs of the Lankan innings, to hold out much hope of anything other than a long drawn, and thoroughly boring, game of attrition. The only question being asked of Sri Lanka – a team reared on slow, low-bouncing wickets — do you have the patience to bat forever and a day?

Earlier in the day, India’s batting display was inexplicable [oh I know, we got 642, what more do you want, are you never satisfied, yada yada. Right, take all that as read]. The morning featured a – another — commanding performance by Rahul Dravid, who batted fluidly to play the dominant part in an association with Sachin Tendulkar. Rahul is a quintessential Test batsman at all times; in these last two knocks, he has added a layer to his skill sets with an aggressive mindset, a fluidity of strokeplay and an ability to keep the board ticking over at all times that makes him the fully finished article.

Sachin, for his part, seemed to have misplaced his gearbox. His first boundary came after he had played 86 deliveries, and it was a waltz down the wicket to crack a straight six; four balls later, he went charging out again at Mendis in an unwonted, clumsy, neck or nothing fashion. As it turned out, it was nothing.

Yuvraj and Laxman both looked in good touch; the way they batted in the first hour after lunch seemed to suggest that the goal was to coast along risk-free at around 4 rpo, then open out heading to tea and immediately thereafter. Nice plan – except they read it upside down, and inexplicably got into a rut in the second hour of the second session; a comatose period that, in the final analysis, triggered a collapse from 613/5 when Laxman got out, to 642 all out – a loss of 6 wickets for 29 runs and a five-for to Herath, both gifts gratefully accepted by the weary Lankans [and immediately returned, when Tillekeratne Dilshan to the first ball of the innings played a flick too soon and holed out].

At close, Lanka was grinding it out at around 2.7 rpo – hardly the sort of stirring stuff that fills stands, but the Lankan focus is, and will clearly remain, ensuring the follow on is averted one nudge, one nurdle at a time.

We can follow that process, ball by ball, tomorrow. Or we can watch paint dry.

In passing, Dileep Premachandran on the pitches we make:

The facts are irrefutable. Over the past five years, nearly 50% of the matches in India [11 of 24] have ended in draws. And unlike a Cardiff 2009 or The Oval 1979, most of the stalemates have been mind-numbingly boring. In the same period, 11 of 35 Tests in England have been drawn. Leading the way in pitch preparation, as on the field, are Australia [two draws in 27] and South Africa [three in 29]. And just to prove that south Asia does not only do touch-of-grey Tests, Sri Lanka have had 18 results from 22 games.

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25 thoughts on “The ‘watch paint dry’ party

  1. Prem, this is one of the very few times I have found your analysis/reading of the pitch and forecast dead wrong. Also, as I said yesterday, 640+ was good given how the pitch was behaving later in the day.

    Kapalik

    • Really? You were watching the game and found the pitch playing tricks, did you? 🙂 Forecast, sure — I said, if I remember right, that there is nothing in the wicket to preclude the Lankans batting out a draw, but also said the factor that could work is the mountain of runs.

      Also, to suggest that India could have scored more from the platform built is not to suggest that what they got was not “enough”. Here’s the deal: winning teams develop a habit of identifying, and seizing, moments when they present themselves, and doing it ruthlessly. Sometimes, even without doing that, you will win — but if you don’t cultivate that ruthless streak and employ it on every possible occasion, you will find yourself caught out against stronger opposition. So when I analyze a batting display like that of day two, it is with one eye on the game itself, and another on the larger picture.

  2. Interestingly the much maligned (by Prem and others) Sreesanth and Harbhajan have taken all the wickets today. And both the dropped catches have been off their bowling.

    On Sreesanth, I am not so sure he should be as restrained as he has been at least while appealing. He was slow in appealing against Paravitharana yesterday and restrained against Mahela today. Both were out as per hawkeye.

    Kapalik

    • “Maligned”, mate? I didn’t make up his serial misbehavior, did I? As for Harbhajan, again, I didn’t report on anything anyone watching didn’t see for themselves — if he bowls flat and tight and down wrong lines, what exactly is a guy supposed to do, go, arre wah, kya bowling hai?!

      That is the nature of reporting — one day you do a good job, it deserves to be mentioned; you get it wrong the other day, that will be mentioned, too.

  3. Prem, you are spot on in your analysis again.

    Bhajji needs to be given the boot and right away! Long long overdue! People with flagging skills and sky high attitude need to be kicked out first for the benefit of the team and viewers.

    Give the ball and freedom to Pragyan Ojha and Amit Mishra, show them the videos of Prasanna and Bedi before the day starts and tell them – “go, this is your battleground. Have fun”

  4. Hi Prem,
    Cricket related post from you is something that I always look forward to.
    Bad thing happened today, my office realised that any url with “prempanicker” is a personal blog site and now it is blocked. I wonder who told them about it after all these days.
    I wonder if there is any other way i can get to read your post as soon as I am in office.

    KP

  5. The way we were bowling, I felt that Indian bowlers were hoping more for Sri Lankan batsman to get bored and make mistakes, than them trying to create opportunities; this on a pitch that everyone is saying is difficult to bat on! It actually was pretty boring to watch it, because there was no fight between bat and ball!

  6. Prem-the run rate does not matter in test matches-results do or an attracive close contest-last match we had a quick run rate -still the match was a draw,you would recall years gone by-here the run rate would not be more than 2.3 or so,but what used to be fun was the pace bowlers steaming in and oohs and aahs when the ball used to whizzz by ths stumps and the batsman used to consider himself lucky and even our spinners with smal totals used to bowl maiden after maiden and so many missed edges.(Everyon likes attractive cricket-no doubts which includes attactive strokes/elegance and not dour batting-however arractive cricket can happen inspite of RPO)
    Today-we have a scenario where we admire Veeru’s slam bang and when Dilshan does it we say the pitch is dead or we start parading statistics about wins and losses.If all our batsmen have been able to come to form it is the pitch lets admit it,and historically our picthes/bowlers have been generous in helping batsmen return to form.

    • Mahesh, fairly surprised by the ‘run rate does not matter’ statement. Here’s the deal — go check out the win loss percentages globally in the 80s, the 90s and now the noughties. You will see a steady decline in draws and increase in wins/losses — in other words, results.

      Do some more parsing of the numbers and you will realize that accelerated run rates are the reason. It is simple: time. Earlier, a team was supposed to be doing very well if it got to about 450 around tea on day two. Now, 400 in a day barely evokes astonishment. What it translates to, though, is 450 in about 150 overs then, versus 400 in 90 overs now. A Test is 450 overs. Logically, the more runs you make in the least number of overs, you have the time and overs to put pressure on the other side.

      It is a mind thing. Tell me I have to survive for 90 overs, that is, one day, and that is one thing. Tell me I have to survive 150 overs, the pressure escalates. And it increases exponentially with every run the other side has and every additional over I have to survive.

      To suggest that run rates are merely window dressing is, IMHO, short sighted.

      • Prem,
        While we see results more,they necessarily don’t mean better cricket.Stats are good to an extent-like bikinis they hide the vitals ! I am not at all denying the fact the faster scoring rate helps win or lose matches!
        I am talking more from the point of an connosieur (My tail),I would like to see good cricket period not dull draws or very high scoring matches.When the famed WI used to play-run rates were not good-but cricket used to be good (maybe the few times where you appreciate the opposition bowlers).
        If you see the Adelaide match 2003-04,when Australia scored at a fast clip everyone thought India will get hammered but we turned the tables.
        My point is let the scoring rate be good-let the cricket be good as well,with the instant cricket formula if you trawl the forums and otherwise you will notice people are talking only about run rates not about quality of cricket let’s also give credit to good bowling where it’s due.
        We are blessed to have stroke makers in our current squad ,will that continue?Not easy to forecast,then will we start comparing again?

        • Righto, mate — but it would become clearer to me if you were to reveal the vitals these stats are concealing.

          is there an argument to be made that tests back then were way more gripping than those of today, or does it only feel that way?

          As to whether we will continue to have strokemakers, I dont know, and I don’t live in a future I am yet to see. I remember all kinds of what after Sunny-GRV-DBV apprehensions being raised, back in the day. Now it is what after SRT-RD-VVS and so on. Tomorrow it will be someone else.

          I prefer to live in this present. I’ve enjoyed gripping test matches back in the days of Wadekar and Pataudi and the spin quartet, and I remember many gripping games I’ve enjoyed in this decade, and I’m fine with both, don’t feel the need to pick the one over the other

      • Prem,
        You have your opinion and I stand by mine but we have agreement on entertaining cricket.
        To give you some vital stats:The recent Australia-WI Test match-the run rate was around 3.55 by Australia (Which usually score their runs at a fair clip in fact the WI scored faster),the match was decided no way were the runs scored more than 4/over.
        The recent Pak-NZ match was one of the most entertaining Test matches in recent times-Both teams scored at less than 3.5 RPO in the first innings and scored at less than 3 RPO in the second-the cricket was entertaining and there was a result.
        Contrast that with the first Test between India and SL-where runs came at above 4/RPO for India and SL scored at 3.75 RPO,the match ended in a draw.
        In our history surviving 90 overs or 150 under pressure has been tough-at the end of the day -it is all about putting the runs on the board and taking the 20 wickets.

  7. The eternal optimists are saying that the pitch will crumble in next 2 days. Really, so basically the point is in MSD calling the correct side of the coin!

    One more thing is what is it with the lack of bowlers that we have? Is there a way to put up an assembly line to manufacture good bowlers (spin or fast) like other countries have?

  8. Aw…! Let us not crib. We had yet another milestone reached by an Indian batsman. Dravid surpassed Border’s tally – both runs and number of centuries. We should be celebrating this event instead of expecting an Indian team to win.

    I guess sometimes our priorities are misplaced!

      • I guess you did not get the sarcasm.

        I was talking about the media’s obsessions about such meaningless milestones – which included Tendulkar’s whatever he reached in the previous test – instead of focusing on what is more important – an Indian team win.

        • Kalki,
          Agreed on the obsession, I got the sarcasm bit as well however you could have dared and put Tendulya’s name there first up (haha) instead you chose the softer option of Dravid and yes wins are more important but we are crazy about records- most number of centuries,most decades in cricket,most catches,most partnerships (Even BCCI is recognizing Sachin for playing 20years and Dravid for most cathes- IT is anInformation Technology based world ,milestone based achievements)

          • I did say “We had yet another milestone reached by an Indian batsman.”

            In this test, I don’t think Tendulkar achieved anything.

            • How can you say that? He crossed 12900 runs in Test cricket. I don’t think it is any less significant than 17000 ODI runs. I am surprised media is quiet. Oh, they’ve an anniversary to celebrate today.

  9. Sometimes, I fail to understand what VVS has in his mind. When he bats with the tail, he takes a single the first ball and leaves the rest of the over for the tail. When in need of quick runs and batting with Yuvraj, he blocks the first 5 balls and takes a single of the last.

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