Random thoughts on day 5

#One day in the future, Paul Harris will gather his grandchildren around him, and tell them of how he once squared up to a team comprising some of the best players of spin in contemporary cricket. ‘There was Gambhir,’ he will say. ‘AND Dravid. AND Laxman. AND…’, after a pause pregnant with drama, ‘the great SACHIN!’

‘Oooo, grandpa!’

‘I bowled 30 overs to them, and they could only score 29 runs off me!’

Aaaah, grandpa!’

‘To Sachin, I had seven men around the bat at one time. Eight if you count my mate Boucher. Nine if you count me. Think about it, just two men patrolling that vast ground. And I bowled 57 balls to the greatest batsman of the time — and he could only take FOUR runs off me!’

‘GRANDPA!!!!!! Can we have an ice-cream now? Please?’

#Following the cricket conversation on Twitter yesterday served up the most telling example of how much this team has changed — and we the fans have changed with it. Even five years ago, if we woke up in the morning knowing the team — even with its roster of master batsmen that much younger, that much closer to peak physical and mental powers — had to survive for 90 overs against perhaps the best bowling unit in contemporary cricket, led by the best fast bowler of our times, on a wearing wicket with bounce and turn, we would have prayed for one thing: honorable survival.

Yesterday, we — myself included — demanded fireworks; we moaned for the team to show gumption, to go after the unrealistic — given the conditions and the opposition — target of 341 in 90 overs, and we cribbed when the team showed no intent of even making the attempt. Mere survival, once a desirable end in itself, has now become commonplace — we demand no less than miracles.

That, perhaps, is the best tribute to a team that, in its own way, is beginning to justify its number one rating in Tests. It cannot, with a straight face, lay claim yet to the tag of world champions — that is a different tag altogether, and can be worn only on the back of consistent, sustained domination around the world. But the number one rating sits increasingly lightly on the shoulders of this team — and that is something we had dreamt of ever since John Wright first landed in India and said his goal was to make this Indian team shed the tag of being poor travellers.

#Part of the vocal disappointment with the team stemmed perhaps from the desire — felt, if not adequately vocalized — for this most compelling of Test series to have a climax worthy of all that had gone before. That ship sailed, however, when Graeme Smith decided to allow first Dale Steyn, then Lonwabo Tsotsobe, a chance to try for individual centuries, or whatever the heck it was they were playing for late into the fourth evening. Every moment of that extended evening, you expected the South Africans to throw their bats around in a bid to set a tempting target — 280-290, even 300, in 100 overs, say. But once Smith decided to bat out time — an act contrary to the thoughts of team psychologist Dr Henning Gericke, who has been arguing for the side to show more courage — the conclusion was pretty much foregone.

Never mind the noise all of us made on Twitter at the time, that was our way of keeping ourselves entertained. In actual fact, we all knew that once that target was set, one result had been effectively ruled out, and all that remained was for India to play for the stalemate, which in and of itself would be an honorable end to a series where the team has repeatedly outperformed expectations. The batting unit — excoriated by the opposing captain and commentators as flat track bullies — outperformed the home side, in their own conditions, in every subsequent innings. The bowling unit — dismissed as ‘pop gun’, with the likes of Shaun Pollock suggesting that India was stupid to come to South Africa with three seamers bowling at military medium — took out South Africa’s in-form lineup three times for low scores, and had it in dire trouble on one other occasion. The catching was brilliant throughout; the fielding was adequate — and the combative attitude, which allowed the team to shrug off a debacle in the first Test and fight back to level the series, was exemplary.

Perhaps that was it. Perhaps the team had left so much of itself out on the field during the first two Tests and four days of this third Test, that it had nothing left to give.

That should be enough to satisfy us, for now. And yet — there remains a vestige of disappointment. It began in the final session of day four as we watched the game get away from us, as the bowlers went flat just when they should have been most inspired and the field was spread just when the noose should have been tightened. And it stems from the knowledge that defeating the Proteas on home soil is an important step the team needs to take, as part of the transition from ‘world number one’ to ‘world champion’ — and the awareness that this team, with collective spirit finally added to individual abilities, gave us the best shot at taking that step. There is no clue in the FTP about when India will play in South Africa next — whenever that happens, it would be improbable to expect that the likes of Sachin, Rahul and VVS, even Zak, will be part of that unit.

Perhaps that is why the disappointment felt yesterday was so perversely intense — deep inside, we wished for those four players, who have labored for so long and so thanklessly to get India to its current eminence, to be able to insert this one significant triumph to their CVs. Oh well — next stop, England.

#Speaking of England brings up a final thought. The Indian batting unit yesterday clearly was playing to a plan — to bat the Proteas attack to a total standstill. Another day, another Test, an Indian side had done this — admittedly, to a bowling attack not quite in the same league as this one: read Andrew Miller, and Rahul Bhattacharya, on the great hijack that almost was. Just for fun.

#I’ll leave you with two good reads: Harsha Bhogle on the Garry Sobers of our generation and, in the run up to the IPL auction tamasha this week, Sambit Bal on the danger a self-absorbed BCCI poses for the game. See you Monday.

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23 thoughts on “Random thoughts on day 5

  1. Not sure I agree that people moaned and complained that the batsmen weren’t showing gumption and going for the win. The fight for survival itself was riveting. I thought this was a great test for the Indian batsman so notorious for their failures in the fourth innings(although those failures are far in the past).. We should be very proud of the way Gambhir and co. played out the draw.

  2. Just for fun, I am going to rate the 10 IPL teams for their composition on a 1 to 10 scale and rank them into three tiers. We all know paper ratings means nothing, but heck.. I have no reputation to worry about .. so here goes.. 🙂

    Summary:
    Top tier (ratings 6-8 out of 10): Chennai, Kolkatta, Bangalore, Deccan, Mumbai

    Mediocre (rating 4-5 out of 10): Rajasthan, Punjab, Delhi

    Terrible (rating 3 and below): Pune and Kochi (clueless talent assessors)

    Basis:
    1. Chennai has opted for continuity and have a v solid bowling line up with Bollinger, Hilfenhaus and Ashwin, and decent batting with Dhoni, Raina, Vijay nad Mike Hussey. Rating: 7/10

    2. Deccan Chargers will rely heavily on non-Indian batting talent.. Pietersen, Cameron White and Sangakkara, while they also nabbed Steyn at a bargain and a bunch Indian bowlers to support (Mishra, Ojha, Sharma). Rating: 7/10

    3. Delhi is in terrible shape except for their opening pair of Sehwag and Warner, and the sole legitimate opening bowler (Monnie Morkel). Don’t follow the logic of picking up over the hills (Agarkar) and paying a bounty for a discarded Indian player (Irfan Pathan). What were they thinking. Rating: 4/10

    4. Kings’ XI Punjab likely to stay in the cellar with the some quality batsmen in the line-up: Gilchrist, Stuart Broad and Marsh (how long will Gilly last?), but lacking top notch bowlers (Praveen Kumar, Chawla). Rating: 4/10

    5. Kochi opted for a combination of ill-fits to 20-20 (Laksman, Powar), over the hillers (Murali), volatile (Sreesanth) and just mediocre talent (Jadgeja). Yes they have Jayawardene, but one players doesn’t a team make. Rating: 2/10

    6. Kolkata seems to have done well with top notch batsmen Kallis and Gambhir, and others that can provide solid support (Yousef, Morgan, Tiwari). Besides Brett Lee they have a shortage of good bowlers, and will have rely on all rounders (Kallis) and on Brett lee mentoring upcomers (Pattison, Unadtat). Rating: 8/10.

    7. Mumbai: Another team to value continuity (Sachin, Harbhajan Singh, Pollard, Malinga), they did well to pick up top talent from Deccan (Rohit Sharma, Andrew Symonds), but on the while it is not clear who will be there main bowlers (yes. Malinga is good, but who else – sorry Munaf, Clint McKay). Rating: 7/10

    8. Pune: Just terrible all round with combination of out of form players (Yuvraj, Graeme Smith, Robin Uthappa, Ashish Nehra) in the lineup. This is likely to compete with for the worst team in the league with Kochi. Rating: 2/10

    9. Rajasthan: Line-up has some v legit players (Warne, Watson, Botha, Collingwood, and Tait), but overall has only 8 players signed?? How are they going to fill their roster. The team will also be hurt by the limit on # of foreign players who can play. Rating: 5/10

    10. Bangalore: has picked up some legitimate hitters (Kohli, Dilshan, de Villiers, Tiwari) and some good bowlers (Zaheer, Vettori, and Nannes) and seem to be a balanced side without any major batting super-stars. On the whole points for balance but potentially no major umpphh factor in the batting. Rating: 7/10

  3. Last time around VVS set the example by shedding the icon player tag so the team could spend more,this time Warne and Watson could have stepped in to help their team

  4. …. Continued. Today another day bidding .So guess Kochi team will be looking for more Senior citizens who held bat or ball in the past. One Mr.PP who was a right hand batsman and a sharp catcher might even get a bid☺

    On a serious note this IPL auction exposed some of the corporate and the big business houses in India. The public seems to have confused and disappointed( comments in the media) at the strategy used by some these big bosses (barring CSK & MI) and the end result.

    RCB could have retained Match winners like JK, DS, RU & RT but they go for auction and get what? ST for $1.6m. DD -less said the better. KKR convinced everyone that they are gamblers. Back to :“Shenandoah” what a Movie!

  5. IPL Auction: Kochi Team should name themselves as “Kochi Veterans”.What with picks like Murali,Mahela,Hodge,VVS,BM..Tomorrow they should try get SG,Lara and if possible Kapil Dev.

  6. So well said about how our expectations have changed of this team, which was captured in our disappointment and a tinge of sadness with the results. Secretly, I was hoping Dhoni would show some guts on day 5 by sending in Harbhajan or even himself after the 1st wicket fell with a license to go berserk and take a crack at the score. SA, especially Smith, are chokers of the first degree. If it doesn’t go according to a ‘plan’ they cooked up in the basement they are dead ducks. What a thrilling end to the series it would have been. We can dream, can’t we? 🙂

  7. Prem’s captaincy views seems very much from the Chappelli school. Chappelli’s can be sometimes biased and stubborn about of his views on players but his overall views on the game are really simple, straightforward and admirable. In his book, you pick a bowler because he can get you wickets or a batsman because he can get you runs. Currently, India has a good team but lacks a captain willing to push the team to next level. At various times over the last decade, India have had the team to make that breakthrough victory at Australia/ SA but every time (Sydney 2004, Cape Town 2006, 2011) they have been gripped by vertigo. This golden generation will one day regret at not having pushed more at any of these matches. And currently, all the captains are interested in playing safe and higher the stakes, the safer they play. I hope English pitches this summer will imitate those of last summer. Any batsmen favouring wickets, i think both Straussy and Dhoni will start playing for a draw.

  8. Guys – one aspect everyone is over-looking, this could probably be amongst the last series the elders have played so well – with SRT, RD, VVS (injuries and all) and Zak, all age-ing, no one can tell how many of them would be a part of the English tour this summer. Take them out of the equation and we have a BIG BIG problem! We will start looking worse than Aussies did against England in the lost ashes.
    For Ganesha’s sake, we dont have a replacement for Ganguly yet.
    With that in the mind, I would be really glad if the current result of a drawn series can ever be repeated against SA!

  9. Prem, I don’t think we cannot be a “Champion” side, a side that dominates the opposition, like the Aussies of 2000s and WI of 80s. We can wish, but we can’t blame the team if it cannot do so. Reason is that our ascent is *mainly* because of the batsmen. Our bowlers did excellent support job, but it was our batsmen who piled up runs in flat tracks and fought tooth and nail in difficult situations. The problem with that kind of a team is that: it can win at times, but not *most often*. WI or Australia dominated the world because their bowlers pulled back things everytime when their batsmen failed. But that is not going to happen in India’s case. So, I guess where we are now is where can reach. I just hope they sustain it with 1-0 or 2-1 series results, instead of a 3-0 or 4-0, in England and Australia.

  10. First time here and I like you Prem Panicker, because we think alike.

    I haven’t written about it yet, but if I had it would be just like what you did. My every single thought on yesterday is on this page.

  11. Sire, my only grouse during yesterday’s chase, is that after surviving the 1st hour, the Team India didn’t show any intent to go for the chase. IMHO – we should have attacked during the 2nd hour, despite losing Viru. & I say this only because Smith is least attacking of captains and may have felt the pressure of the attack (also they invariably don’t have plan B) as well. And in that context, I think MSD erred by sending RSD at #3 – he should have chosen Pujara and VVS instead. Anyway, all of this – only in context of going for the improbable.

    Without a doubt, this is a damn good team & still the #1 as well. All credit where it’s due. and I do hope they have plans to travel the road from Good to Great – that’ll really raise the bar. This team has given many moments to enjoy and celebrate in Test cricket! 🙂

    The series against England – after their Ashes win and India’s consistent victory – seems to be a mouth-watering prospect. Can’t wait for June-July !!

    Thank you for such a wonderful write-up as always.

  12. JII :Good to know that even you acknowledge that 340 of 90 overs against Steyn & Morkel was not realistic.

    IF, (thats a big IF), Sehwag was around till tea, I think we would have chased it down. Australia chased some 330+ on this very same ground in around 80 overs in 2001-02 when they were at the peak. Thats why I do not really blame Smith’s idea of not declaring. With all Steyn & Morkel & New ball around, he cannot still guarantee Sehwag’s wicket. And he truly knows how effective Paul Harris could be. If India decide to chase and things go their way, the only option left for Smith is to bowl negative- and Smith will end up looking pathetic if that happens. Who wants to be in that situation?

  13. Prem: As an executive coach, we often refer to Marshall Goldsmith and his book “What got you here, won’t get you there”. While both teams were right in playing it safe on Days 4 and 5, I daresay that Dhoni seems to have been more negative of the two though Indian Cricket had a bigger stake of achieving the unthinkable, something that we began doing on that fateful ODI Lord’s encounter a decade ago when we chased down a huge score much to everyone’s shock. The sudden flatness in our bowling when tailenders helped Kallis score 80 runs in the first innings was inexplicable. Take that number from the overall equation and India would’ve chased 260 off 90 overs or maybe even less as the Proteas tail would have been scared to wag a second time too. As you rightly say, this team has been built by the sweat and blood of senior statesmen and now needs to do something beyond to be the real world champ test team. Now, they need to think of bettering themselves or we may end up like the Aussies who are playing on past glory. Finally, I’m not able to understand the sentiment about feeling happy over a draw because it is the “first” time! Do we have to wait twenty more years before India wins its first series? We need to first dream big to achieve big.

  14. Sure, was very disappointed to see the 5th day tedious play.

    Was praying and hoping Sehwag fired on all engines to reduce the Proteas to dust, but was not to be…

  15. Prem,
    This on the Ashes finale – as an Indian fan, and a cricket aficianado, have to admit that seeing the aussies buried in the mud was huge! Because they dominated the last two decades? No, I never felt that way when the erstwhile dominant Windies were on their way down. Its because they were so arrogant and so full of themselves, and so dismissive of everyone else. The only disappointment today? That Ponting was not there at the final humiliation!! BTW – if Ponting saw fit to be in the dressing room even though Clarke was the captain, should he not have been there at the funeral??
    Cad

  16. Good to know that even you acknowledge that 340 of 90 overs against Steyn & Morkel was not realistic. Going through your twitter comments, it looked like even you were expecting them to go for it. We have never drawn a series in SA before, right? So, yesterday’s effort was fine.

    But, the blame for this anto-climax rests on the shoulders of both the captains. Is Dhoni really our best option? Why not Gauti? I know there is no ground to remove Dhoni now. But, still.

    • Not expecting. Hoping. That I think is the distinction between a titular number one, and a de facto world champion — the latter seeks to win, even when the odds seem against it.

      I think there was some misreading of my tweets — I wasn’t advocating a blind push. Hence my reference to Nagpur, versus England. What they did there was, survived the first hour. First session, focussed on survival, pushing the ball around when they could. Second session, ditto — only, as the ball softened and batting got easier, they pushed just a bit harder on the singles, without ever risking anything.

      Doing that accomplished two things — blunted the edge of the attack a bit, thus heightening their own safety. And ticked runs off against the target. 280-something in 30-something was totally unrealistic — but once they got to a position where they knew if things went wrong they could bat out time, they switched gears. Sure, they didn’t win — but they taught the opposition to respect them.

      We tend to see games in isolation — but actually each game is a little piece that collides against other such little piece and shape shifts and builds the longer narrative. For instance, last decade we continued to be reviled as poor travelers. The thinking was, prepare a fast pitch, go after the Indian batting, they will collapse, and the game is won and sets up the series domination. Increasingly, teams are learning it is not that easy — and after Durban, SA, and maybe a few others, will learn not to overdo the juicing of wickets.

      Similarly, India’s recent games most likely influenced Smith’s fear of declaring, his never being sure what target was safe to set. That’s the cumulative value of games — and the reason I hoped for a balance between survival, and a more proactive approach. Most likely, even with the latter, we would not have won — pulling off that would have been miraculous even if Sehwag had stuck, most especially because SA could at will have slipped into a defensive leg stump line. But making a judiciously calculated attempt would have added to the storyline, influenced future oppositions. Isn’t that what you seek to do as a team?

      As for the captaincy, I won’t quarrel if GG is made the skipper tomorrow. On balance, I think he is the most aggressive-minded among those we have. The team — I don’t mean the personnel, I mean the collective — we have now is built brick by brick over time, from around the mid-nineties. Ganguly had much to contribute; the ones who came after did their bits as well; coaches like Wright and Kirsten, and even Chappell, influenced the present construct. Dhoni now stands on the shoulders of those who went before, and on balance he has done well at a time of emotional transitioning from the SG era. Time for me seems ripe for the next transition — MS got us to world number one, GG likely is the best bet to get us to world champion. Now, while he still has the senior masters at his disposal.

      Won’t happen though.

      • Agreed. Somehow, I don’t get the feeling that MS is the right person to take us to the next level. He is too defensive. Or is it that the team culture itself is defensive? It could be a collective decision, right?

      • Yes GG will be a good option as a captain.While all success is credited to the captain,IMHO it is very collective and we don’t know what goes in the team meetings and preparations.In this case we also had a coach from a generation of SA teams which was always a choker without pulling down his achievements with the Indian team and as a bat.
        Winning is a mindset.Sometimes avoiding defeat itself is a victory,maybe ourthink tank is much smarter.Victory would have been sweet,but a draw is creditable while a loss would have been morale sapping/crushing and all tongue wagging that we are tigers at home.
        But for GG to take it to the next level he needs great bowlers which the current lot aren’t.Bhajji turns up occasionally while Zak is mostly injured.On the batting front we don’t need to worry as we have the replacements/will appear.

  17. Prem,

    We lost the chance to win the game on the 4th day and as much as fans would’ve wanted India to go hell for leather on 5th day risking a defeat, I did not think that was the right play. However, they could’ve still given it a shot with Sehwag and then perhaps pushing MSD/Bhajji up the order for a few whacks and IF all of that failed, shut shop for the day.

    As is the wont of all the captains these days, both MSD and Smith were pretty defensive. Couple of reverse sweeps Dhoni spreads the field. Smith needs 340 on home turf with the best bowler of this generation in his side. And he even had a sweeper in the 75th over. For what, god knows!

    However, I heard few arguments from @gauravsabnis justifying Smith’s decision of not declaring early, considering how easily India played it out. if it was just a 275 target, the could’ve scored easily at 2.75 to win. Even with a draw mentality, they scored at 2 RPO. Fair enough argument.

    There is also the argument – No guts, No glory. So, considering we have never won a series in SA and this probably is the last go around for Dravid and SRT, it may have been worth it? But they have never drawn either. Oh well. C’est la vie.

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