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July 15, 2012

Pakistan in Sri Lanka 2012

Mahela and Misbah got it wrong

Samir Chopra
Mahela Jayawardene with the series title, Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Pallekele, 5th day, July 12, 2012
Mahela Jayawardene secured the 1-0 series win with a defensive game plan  © AFP
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Mahela Jayawardene is a good batsman and comes across as a thoughtful, astute cricketer in most of his public pronouncements. It was with some surprise therefore that I read his article this morning justifying Sri Lanka's decision to call off the chase in their last Test against Pakistan, thus earning themselves a 1-0 win, but generating considerable angst among many cricket fans. (The reaction to this decision is similar, in some regards, to that generated by India's calling off a chase against the West Indies in Dominica last year. There are some interesting differences as well: India were playing away against a weak team, Sri Lanka were playing at home against a weaker team as well, but one always capable of surprises.)

Jayawardene offers some cricketing reasons for this decision:

"We failed to rotate the strike because Pakistan bowled really well. When they set negative fields, we decided not to risk it either. They were 0-1 down and everything to play for. If we had needed around 90 runs at just under six an over, we would have promoted Thisara Perera. When you are up against a quality bowling attack like Pakistan's, if you give them a sniff, they could run through the batting. We had to ensure we cut out unnecessary risks, because we played close to 15 days of grueling Test cricket."

And then goes on to say:

"I don't want to argue with armchair critics who give their views on what we should or shouldn't have done. I had to make a decision for millions in Sri Lanka who haven't experienced a Test series win for nearly three years. When I took over as captain, my job was to get the ship back on track. Slowly but surely, we are winning matches, executing our game plans and a young team is taking greater responsibility. I didn't want to rattle that because of what a few people want me to do. Obviously, common sense prevailed. I didn't want to jeopardise the hard work put in by this bunch for an hour and a half of Twenty20 cricket."

This is exceedingly curious. For one thing, Jayawardene is arguing with armchair critics and committing the fallacy that what matters is who makes the critique, not the content of it. Secondly, Jayawardene seems to imagine that playing attacking Test cricket is Twenty20 cricket. This equation of Test cricket with T20 is perhaps the strangest part of the claims that Jayawardene makes (I'm leaving aside for the moment, the question of how Mahela has figured out that Sri Lankans might not have been more interested in an entertaining chase that led an emphatic 2-0 series win than this stodgy, safety-first approach.)

The idea that playing attacking Test cricket is tantamount to throwing caution to the winds, to batting in T20 style, to going for the fences all the time (or whatever your conception of T20 amounts to) is a misconception of the attacking version of Test cricket, and it surprises me to hear Mahela make this claim. Quick singles anyone? The language of 'armchair critics who want me to play T20 in a Test' suggests a great deal of defensiveness, one perhaps underwritten by a sneaking feeling that it is the only way to justify the excessive caution on display in Pallekele.

But I don't want to lay all the blame at Mahela's door. What about Pakistan? For what seems to have been forgotten in the hubbub over Jayawardene's decision is that Pakistan collaborated with him. If a captain up 1-0 in a series offers to call off the match, which captain in his right mind, one who has declared in order to try and set up a win, accepts? Why didn't Misbah-ul-Haq, on realising that Sri Lanka had no intention of chasing, simply say 'No thanks' and crowd the their batsmen with close-in fielders? Surely the Sri Lankans' evident tentativeness would have played right into the Pakistani team's hands?

Test cricket is in trouble, goes the refrain. When captains imagine that playing aggressively in Tests requires them to play T20 and when 0-1 down counterparts cannot see an opening handed to them, then perhaps one might say that it is indeed.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Keywords: Captaincy

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Posted by Mark on (January 26, 2013, 8:19 GMT)

I know this is an old story, but can't believe what I've just read. Pakistan are a weaker team? Weaker than who? Sri Lanka? No. India? Absolutely not!

If journalists can't put their bias and prejudices aside, they should not comment on international cricket. Pakistan are a very dangerous team, and showed that by beating England 3-0. How did India do against England? Home or away?

Mahela did the right thing, because the Pakistan bowling attack can rip through any batting line-up very very quickly.

Posted by Leonard Alwis on (September 25, 2012, 9:04 GMT)

"I don't want to argue with armchair critics who give their views on what we should or shouldn't have done. I had to make a decision for millions in Sri Lanka who haven't experienced a Test series win for nearly three years"

Enough said. He says he doesnt want to argue with you - you quote him in your argument. This is a waste of storage space on the internet. Thank god this was not printed anywhere - i'd hate to think they'd cut down a tree for the paper.

Posted by chand on (September 10, 2012, 13:57 GMT)

2-0 or 1-0 does not matter much. Captain took his decision. Test cricket is all about Testing your mental and physical strength and playing with a purpose according to the circumstances. Winning a test series was the purpose. It was achieved. What's more?

Posted by ali on (August 15, 2012, 13:23 GMT)

pak is much stronger than india in tests

Posted by Saleem Shaik on (July 25, 2012, 6:56 GMT)

Really what Mahela did was shameful for himself aswell as his team mates, bcoz,, being one of the world champions they should not have done that, scoring 90 runs in 13 overs is not a big feet for chamions, though Mahela make the team win by making match draw, he made the confident of the players and Srilankans down,, surely this should not be considered as a victory,, indirectly this will b a defeat.

Posted by ameer on (July 17, 2012, 13:39 GMT)

to the author of this article, I really can't believe you are even qualified to be an armchair critic when you say Pakistan are a weaker side. Are you trying to compare them to West Indies? Well FYI they have one of the best bowling attacks in the world. And Sri Lanka had lost Mahela, there is every chance of a collapse. It is not Sri Lanka did not give it a go. They did, but once they lost the wickets they realized. This was an important series win for us. So I think Mahela did the right job. Even leading critics like Ian Chappel and Wasim Akram have said Mahela is the best captain around today. I don't who are you with a 2 cent knowledge about cricket and IPL mentality watching test cricket can given an opinion against a world class captain. And, all others who agree with this author are just about in the same class as him.

Posted by David W,Melbourne on (July 17, 2012, 12:18 GMT)

Mate don't be so indian biased in articles when you talk about Pakistan...they have one of the best bowling attacks in the world in any form of the game & surely everyone knows how capable Ajmal is when coming to rip apart a world class batting attack within a short period of time single handedly..The decision mahela made was absolutely perfect/sensible & smart.I'm sure you havent played atleast 2 day matches in club cricket to speak about the SL vs PAK last test and how it ended. Can you imagine how much cricket both the teams have played prior to that final day,atleast 13 days of test cricket within under 25 day period...on top of that One dayers+T20's!!! Only thing I have to say is both captains along with the teams played very smart cricket right from the word go. If you want to really talk about weaker teams try talking about India's 8 in a row losses to major test teams+ their approach to cricket with such unsportsmanlike and selfishness(eg.mankading+refusal of DRS)

Posted by Imran Khan on (July 17, 2012, 10:23 GMT)

Misbah is one of the best Pakistani captain after great Imran khan.whenever team is trouble he rescued the team and still people blame him .He may be not lucky to finish the few games game but there is other 10 players in the team what are they doing.Also I would like to ask Mr Chopra please be fair when you guys write the blog I'm not agree with you that Pakistan is weaker team Pakistan beat the world champions few months back in Dubai and please check the current icc ranking.australia ,new Zealand is the weaker teams in odi & if you talk about India what happened to them in aus & England .

Posted by Muhammed Naeem on (July 17, 2012, 9:05 GMT)

I just like to add few comments that first all pakistan and Sri Lanka are both same kind of teams.No big difference is the ranking.As for me Sri Lankna batsman have tried to make a chase especially Sangakara, but when the wickets fall with regular interval therir position becom weak and they was on defence. If one more wicket fall down Sri lank will be in deep trouble and can be lost the match. Pakistan attack capable to destroy the batting line at any time.

If sone one has noticed the tempo of the match he can see that the batsman are not taking any chance.Both captain was right in their decission.

Posted by zahoor on (July 17, 2012, 7:43 GMT)

pak may be unpredictibl but not weak.pak lost all tosses otherwise pak would have won 2.0.mr sameer pak got 15 decions blatently against them.yonis was not out thrice.i suggest after ist toss it should alternat for the series.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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