India v Pakistan, 1st Test, Mohali, 5th day

Where's that burning desire?

India Verdict by Amit Varma

March 12, 2005

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Kamran Akmal was brilliant, and Abdul Razzaq supported him valiantly, but did India do all they could to break the partnership? © Getty Images
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There are many things that go into making a great team: a good opening pair, potent strike bowlers, a wicketkeeper who can bat, a captain who inspires from behind and leads from the front. But the most important facet of a winning team, the one that is indispensable, is a cultural one: a burning desire to win.

This Indian team, which aspires to greatness, does not have enough of that desire. These are not unduly unkind words for a team that was thwarted by worthy opponents: the evidence was there to see at different points during the Test.

Consider the third day's play. India made 129 runs in 60 overs between lunch and close of play. And in the afternoon session alone, they made 59 runs in 29 overs. This from a team, mind you, that was on top in the Test, that had only to drive home the advantage. And although Pakistan's bowlers, especially Abdul Razzaq and Danish Kaneria, bowled well in that post-lunch session, it was not of such a class that the Indians couldn't handle it. Sachin Tendulkar, who has eviscerated better attacks than this, batted as if Geoff Boycott and not Viv Richards was his hero. Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman all dawdled, as if they had to play out time to save the Test. India should have ended that day with 100 more than they did. Those runs would have made the difference.

Then, consider the fifth day's play. Pakistan began the day with their top six batsmen out, just 53 ahead, and you'd imagine that the game would be over, at the latest, by an hour into the afternoon session. Instead, Pakistan added 239 more. Kamran Akmal and Abdul Razzaq batted wonderfully, but the Indians never looked like getting them out. They did not have a man capable of running through the tail. Or rather, they did have the men, but those men didn't do the job.

Being a fast-bowling strike bowler doesn't just mean that you run in with the new ball and make it swing and seam and get early wickets. It also means that when there is no help from the conditions, you run in and bend your back and use your brain and, with the sheer fire in your belly, burn the opposition. Wasim Akram, the West Indian quartet, Allan Donald, they could all do that. Could do that? Strike that first word; they did do that, time and again.

India once looked to Zaheer to play that role, but he blows hot, blows cold, and sometimes doesn't blow at all. He was outstanding with the new ball on the first morning of this game, and woeful on the last morning. You can't blame a guy who gives it his all, but Zaheer didn't even bowl accurately, and his line and length was wayward. Ditto Irfan Pathan, who was far slower than his usual self. Had he picked up an injury during the Test? Perhaps. He had done so Chennai against Australia as well, a few months ago, and India had struggled to get the lower order out then as well. Such familiar themes should not be reprised, and the team management must be blamed if they are. These men are capable of much more, and they did not deliver. The question must be asked: "Why?"

Virender Sehwag, in fact, told reporters after the third day's play that it was team strategy to "play out time", and to not bother about the pace of run-scoring. Such a safety-first strategy befits teams that struggle to compete, as India did for a few decades. It is unseemly now, for a team aspiring to be top of the heap. There are players in this team who epitomise the attitude that the entire side needs to get: Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid. (Kumble didn't break through either on the fifth morning, but at least he tried his hardest on a pitch that offered him little.) But the entire team must imbibe that attitude, and the change has to come from the top.

If not, a change has to come at the top.

Amit Varma is contributing editor of Cricinfo. He writes the independent blogs, India Uncut and The Middle Stage.

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