India v England, 4th Test, Nagpur, 4th day December 16, 2012

Waiting and hoping

Excessive caution has hurt India several times in recent memory but in the morning session it reached new heights of absurdity

There must be something about the Nagpur air that makes you not want to be desperate. Four years ago, during this ground's debut Test, Australia were in a similar position to India's here. It was the last Test of a series Australia had fallen behind in, they had conceded a first-innings lead of 86, but just before tea on the fourth day they came back with three quick wickets, those of VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar.

India were effectively 252 for 6. One more desperate burst and Australia could have been chasing around 320 in a little over three sessions. That would have set up a great finale to the series, right? Wrong. Australia wouldn't even try it. They came back from tea, and bowled many overs with Cameron White, Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke. That corrected the over-rate all right, but India laughed their way to a series win.

At least that was surprising. Australia's captain then, Ricky Ponting, was the man, we were told, that hated losing more than any other man who played cricket at that time. The most desperate part of what happened in the first session of day four in the Nagpur Test four years later was that it was not surprising. It is just what India are used to doing under MS Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher.

On numerous occasions under the leadership of this combination, India have been too shy to be desperate. This side can go to any length to avoid risks. They can call off a chase in a Test they have no chance of losing; they can start off a new session with Suresh Raina when Ishant Sharma has just given them a lifeline in the match; they can know they need to keep a team down to 121 to go further in a T20 tournament and yet attempt merely to win and then even brag about it. However, in a home series, trailing 2-1, you would have thought they would shed some of the "coolness". You had another think coming.

By the time the fourth day began, time had become almost as important an element as runs and wickets. And on a slow, lifeless pitch, it was always going to be difficult to run through batsmen intent on defence. And it was obvious that with the series lead in hand, England would be intent on defence both with the bat and the ball. It was India's obligation to make all the running. Forget an overnight declaration with a notional deficit of 33 runs to give them the time to bowl England out, India meandered for 62 precious minutes for just 29 runs, which is even slower than the normal funereal pace on this pitch.

"Everybody in the world knew England would be glad to give away one run an over for however long India were content with it. Except for the India think-tank"

It would have been understandable had they come out to bat with quick runs in mind, without bothering if they lost wickets in the process. To everyone's shock, though, R Ashwin began the day turning down singles, which he had been doing in Kolkata too before hitting boundaries when the field came up towards the end of the over. Back then, though, England were going after wickets. Only the naïve would expect them to bring the field up in this situation.

Brace up for this. Hold on to your armchairs, for you might fall off them: India did expect just the same from England. "The same as the last game," Ashwin said of refusing singles. "Looking for the last two balls for the fielders to come in. They had a different strategy [this time]. They didn't bring the fielders up. After two overs we decided to take the singles."

Everybody in the whole wide world knew England would be glad to give away one run an over for however long India were content with it. Except for the India think-tank, that is. It took them 18 minutes, 3.5 overs wasted for just three runs and a message from the dressing room to realise that this was not working.

Moreover, it was not as if the last two wickets could have hit James Anderson and Monty Panesar around at five an over. Ashwin acknowledged as much. "You don't have the best of ability at nine, ten, eleven," he said. "You can't expect someone to smack Anderson over the top for a six on this pitch. All this game the average has been 70 and 80 runs a session. Basically looking to take the singles. We have three-run, four-run overs too. We were just looking to eat into the lead. What best we could muster we did muster. Putting it into a larger scenario, we needed to even the game. We just about did it."

Ashwin is right. The average runs per session until then had been around 70. So what does a side pushing for a win do in that case? Do something innovative to move the game and risk losing the series 3-1 or go at a rate of 58 per session? India did the latter.

England were clearly happy with the proceedings. At one point, Jonathan Trott didn't even try to run Ashwin out when the latter had run half way up the pitch before being sent back by Pragyan Ojha. When Panesar did get Ojha out, England were almost disappointed. Now they were one wicket closer to batting again.

Those 62 minutes might not even matter in the end. The pitch is just too dead. Or India might still win through some capitulation or some miracle. Regardless, that first part of the day remains a mystery and a reminder that India were hoping to win as opposed to wanting it. Then again, it goes well with a cricketing system that has been hoping for the last 18 months that things will be all right as opposed to wanting to make them all right.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2012, 23:54 GMT

    Not only Dhoni & Fletcher need to go. There are two more funny guys in the senior think tank. The fielding coach who says he was rotating the slip Fielders, what a joke! And the bowling coach, who says Zak is in the top 6 in the world, when there was no Indian in the top 50 wicket takers, globally, including internationals & first class matches, during the current year 2012.

    This is in addition to letting the past stars ( e.g. Sachin) and non-performers (Sehwag, Gouti , etc ) go, gracefully, or otherwise.

    But, who will let the top administrators of Indian cricket go? Fish always start to rot from the head! Poor people in the fishing coasts chop of that first, to rescue the rest for feeding their hunger.

  • Ali on December 16, 2012, 22:41 GMT

    Dhoni has close to zero leadership qualities. He runs team like an administrator or a manager. His post-match conferences and excuses are complete reflection of this fact. He was lucky to have great players in the team in the beginning, which kept this hidden for long time. He is non-innovative and completely non-inspirational as a captain.

  • John on December 16, 2012, 22:35 GMT

    The only answer I can come up with (and I said so at the time) is that India were playing for a draw. If the pitch had started to break up, then giving Engand a 33-run lead and extra time to make more runs and then bowl India out might have meant a loss rather than a draw in this game. India had apparently given up hope of winning the game and figured that a draw was better than a loss.

    The fact that playing this way practically ensured that England would win the series was apparently less important than losing this match. A very mysterious way of thinking.

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2012, 21:58 GMT

    @asif2311: Yes, Fletcher and Dhoni have FAILED India and its legions of fans. Both of them must be sacked with immediate effect. I always felt Fletcher was 'too old' to coach a young group of Indian players. His seat needs to be torn apart first and then the axe should be sharpened for Dhoni, Sehwag and Tendulkar. All 3 must leave test cricket in the capable hands of young players. Let us build a team around Kohli. I know he is only 24 but sometimes that's the best possible way ahead given the lack of options. I remember Graeme Smith when he took over from Shaun Pollock in 2003. He was in his 20s too and man what a fine captain he proved to be. Either way, it's time for swift justice in Indian cricket. The usual crocodiles shedding their fake tears need to be removed from the scene. It's time for true action and HARTHAL in Indian cricket. We DEMAND justice for Indian cricket !!!

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2012, 21:35 GMT

    It was irritating to see Rahul Dravid, Sanjay Manjrekar and Ravi Shastri discuss the failed tactics of India when they themselves contributed to NUMEROUS series losses or game losses due to failed tactics as players. The routine blame game was played by the Indian commentators and it was appalling. Nobody has the guts in the entire country to seize the initiative and correct the mistakes. It's always about the BCCI, the selection committee or MS Dhoni, the captain. When will it be about 'OUR team', "OUR cricket", or "OUR future". Why isn't it pluralist ? Why blame persons ? It's true that this Indian team is below average. Ashwin is acting too smart. He must remember why he is in the team, and that is to ONLY take wickets. He's becoming a batsman and we don't need another one in the team. India are losing this series because of our poor bowling and add to that, some poor quality pitches masquerading as test match pitches. Indian cricket as an institution has FAILED.

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2012, 21:05 GMT

    I think we (India) lost the series long back in Mumbai & Kolkata. Mumbai was a difficult wicket, and Pietersen played an exceptional innings there, but we really threw it away in Kolkata I believe. We should not have left it to Nagpur, that was the mistake we made!!

  • rahul on December 16, 2012, 20:44 GMT

    The issue is not with the team tactics but with the expectations. You have to accept that this team is barely better than Bangladesh. Ask yourself what would Bangladesh do in this situation and all your confusion will be gone.

  • ian on December 16, 2012, 19:29 GMT

    Yet more muddled thinking in the Indian camp. Was there a game plan? Who had it? Did he tell the rest, or was it just that they weren't listening? There are many reasons for India's cricketing demise recently. One of them is that all the off-field plots (right from the Eng warm-up games) have been snagged up in their own cleverness. Even the DRS issue must have been considered. (Would we do better with it? No, we're at home & the umps will want to keep the home crowds happy. We never use DRS here for that reason, but shhh, don't tell anyone!). Now, there are several Indian fans hereabouts who are beginning to see the light. Every trick in the book has been pulled & hardly a thing has worked. India has not been merely out-played, but out-thought too. England has better generals, sergeants & fitter, more willing foot-soldiers on the evidence of what we've seen. Time for India to regroup urgently, because the Australians will have been watching & planning. They have good generals too!

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2012, 19:28 GMT

    The real reason why BCCI is opposed to DRS lies in the statistically proven fact that Umpires in close decisions favor India, specially when the game is in India. BCCI knows that its influence is growing, Umpires would not want to annoy the 'biggest goon" in Cricket. India's resistance to DRS is not based on logic or science or respect for Umpires. It is simply based on a feudal, a mafia mindset. BCCI wants to have unfair advantage, it wants to be in position to influence umpiring decisions in India's favor, rightly or not. England-India series has once again proven the above hypothesis. In my opinion, if there had been DRS universally implemented, India would have never been achieved #1 Test Team. India always benefited from Umpiring 'errors' unfairly in India, thus their unbeaten record since 2004. Look at their record outside India.

  • Alex on December 16, 2012, 19:19 GMT

    if dhoni , fletcher still in the team after end of series. And they will based on what N srinivasan doing. He is protecting his asset CSK. BCCI chielf has to be removed from his post for conflict of interest.

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