India v England, 2nd Test, Mohali, 5th day December 23, 2008

Centuries don't matter, victories do

S Aga


Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh have just seven hundreds between them but, in the context of the game, another three-figure score in the fourth innings would have meant little © AFP
 

Given that there were still 68 overs to be bowled when the teams finally took to the field, you could scarcely blame India for batting on. After a week when seemingly insurmountable targets have been achieved with ludicrous ease, there was no point taking any chances. An hour of batting made a lot of sense, and in that time Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir rattled off 82 in just 13 overs. At lunch, with the lead 367, there was no way England could win. Even Vivian Richards and Collis King would have struggled with such an asking rate.

So when the Indian batsmen reemerged after lunch, the sense of disbelief was palpable. What was the purpose? To make the game safe, when it was more secure than a hilltop castle surrounded by 12 moats? To rub it in, when the two batsmen had done enough of it in the first hour of play? Or to lapse back to former Indian type and shamelessly pursue individual records?

The 10 overs that followed told you what you needed to know. Only 35 runs were scored. Thankfully, neither batsman scored a century. Yuvraj was run out by a direct hit from short fine leg and Gambhir sliced one uppishly to point. At that point, the declaration was applied. England had 43 overs to get 403 runs. Piece of cake.

There's no guarantee that India could have bowled out England in 55 overs after lunch. But given the winning culture that's taken root this season, and the fact that the last six English wickets added just 22 in the first innings, it was certainly worth a go.

At Bangalore last December, Anil Kumble bowled seam-up and Pakistan were seven down within 48 overs when bad light saved their blushes.

It came down to priorities. What mattered more? The chance, however slim, to win a Test match? Or utterly meaningless second-innings centuries for two of your batsmen? Of course, they would have mattered to Gambhir and Yuvraj, who have just seven hundreds between them, but in the context of the game, they would have meant nothing. Only someone obsessed with statistics would consider such a hundred worthy of consideration. Those that know anything about the game would tell you how a match-turning 83 [Sehwag in Chennai] is infinitely more valuable.

It's a shame that a team that has encouraged such selfless cricket fell into the selfishness trap in Mohali. Dhoni himself cares little for personal milestones. Time after time, when quick runs have been needed, he has come in and sacrificed his wicket in their pursuit. That attitude must permeate right through the team.

Gambhir batted 577 balls in this Test match, almost as many as Rahul Dravid faced in Adelaide [616]. One match is unlikely to be remembered even 12 months from now. The other will never be forgotten as long as India plays cricket. That should tell you something. Centuries don't matter. Victories do. By denying itself the chance to accomplish what mattered by pursuing what didn't, Indian cricket let millions of fans down today. It wasn't how such a great year should have ended.

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