Dark cloud over Dhoni - 2
Given the large number of responses to my previous post, I thought it only fair that I write some sort of response. I've tried to organize this into a series of questions and answers. More broadly, I would say that it doesn't really matter what my (or anyone else's) background is when it comes to writing on cricket or on anything else. What needs evaluation is the argument, not the person making the argument. Anyway, here we go.
- You're just drawing on the benefits of hindsight. Why didn't you say this before? Actually, I did. On the third day of the Test before tea-time, I wrote in Eye-on-Cricket, "I'm glad that it has rained a bit at the Basin Reserve. And I hope someone has pointed out to MS Dhoni that it'll get darker an hour sooner there. For hopefully, this lunatic suggestion going around that India should just keep on batting, and batting and batting will die the quick death it deserves. Get the lead to 500 and declare, and give yourself time and plenty of runs on the board to set attacking fields and get the 20 wickets to win. Why imagine the Basin Reserve will remain sunny and dry till the end of the fifth day? And if you don't think you can win despite setting a target of 500 I'd suggest a hunt for the proverbial chullu-bhar". I followed this up with a post on the fourth day as well. I had hoped for a declaration on the third day. When India batted on, I gave them the benefit of the doubt, thinking that NZ might not have batted anyway, given the poor light. Perhaps they could declare overnight? But I also thought, that at most, please at most, don't bat more than an hour. In the end, India batted on for some 90 minutes. I had a bad feeling then, given the clouds hovering around over the Basin Reserve and given the light situation. Just a reminder, once again: India was up by 231 runs with nine wickets in hand at the end of the second day.
- What would you have said if New Zealand would have chased down the 500? My post above should give the game away. Those of North Indian origin will recognize the reference in the last line of the post I quoted above (for the benefit of others, I was saying something like "you should drown yourself in a thimble-full of water if you can't defend 500 in the fourth
innings"). I would have said the Indian bowlers were pathetic, that the fielders needed catching practice, because almost certainly some dropped catches would have helped the NZ team, and quite possibly I would have lambasted Dhoni's field placings, because he might have contributed to the disaster by panicky field settings. I would have also have congratulated
the Kiwis for pulling off the well-nigh impossible. I wouldn't have criticized the declaration, that's for sure. I like attacking declarations.
- History is irrelevant to what will happen in the future, surely? In the strict sense, yes. However, there is a reason why teams don't make big scores chasing in the fourth innings. The pressure factor is qualitatively different.
- Captains can only pay attention to impending rain not to rain forecast the next day or day-after. Actually, they can and they should. The former, because forecasts are better now. The latter, because cricketing strategy demands it. Captains should be aware of local conditions. Any captain that doesn't plan on rain in New Zealand is being a bit naive. Should a captain touring India in the later part of the season not account for the fact that the afternoons get scorching hot, when thinking about whether to enforce the follow-on? How is that not planning around the weather? But let us discard this point for a second. Let's forget about planning for the rain. Should Dhoni have waited till the lead was over 600? My answer to that would still have been a No.
- Do you think Dhoni should be fired as captain? No. I think he is a very good captain. He is pretty canny; he clearly inspires the team. I do think he is a better T20 and ODI captain than a Test captain. Perhaps he will get better as he gets used to the idea of winning tests. But he needs to snap out of a conservative mind-set before it becomes too deeply ingrained in him.
- Lastly, have you ever played cricket or captained a team in your life? Yes; I captained Mathematics in the Inter-Departmental Competition at Hindu College in 1987. We lost in the first round to Chemistry.
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here