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.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Hetal on December 24, 2008, 16:17 GMT

    Well said UdayM. Cannot disagree with what you said and i question the articles posted by S Aga and Andrew Miller. If i am a captain of team who is already leading the test series, why would i take a risk of throwing it away. i would like to add2 more 0 at the end of your %. Plus i think Dhoni did a good thing by having players achieve their own milestones to keep their motivation level to perform high.

    S Aga and Andrew Miller are just crying "sour grapes" here.

  • vishwanatha on December 24, 2008, 15:17 GMT

    I do believe at the end of the day, they should have declared earlier but thinking on practical lines would suggest to go for centuries because in a country like India, media reduces the performance of players to just statistics at the end of day and writers like you just say...Well how many hundreds did he get?....It is this obsession for statistics and fame that has led to this mentality..... Would you write this article without your name being published under any circumstances? Every one wants his share of fame, it all looks so fairy from outside...but inside, even we aren't prepared for it as well.....Why blame only the players?

  • Ravish on December 24, 2008, 14:27 GMT

    Suppose Dhoni declared early and lost the match and a chance to win the series. Does one think we would see this writer coming to his defence? Not a chance. Suppose Dhoni declared at lunch with an impossible target to chase does one think England would have bothered to chase? Some of the writers just write to create a controversy to get more hits to the site. It is also ironic that cricinfo writers defend Dravid while criticizing Dhoni. India might not have lost the match because of Dravid. It is also a fact that India did not win the match because of Dravid. With players like Dravid who play "not to loose" rather than to "win" test matches will loose even more lustre. His first innings was ultra boring to say the least.It is not test cricket that is boring per se but people like Dravid with their defensive and negative mindset even in first innings of the game that make the game loose its fans.

  • ravi on December 24, 2008, 10:37 GMT

    "At lunch, with the lead 367, there was no way England could win" This phrase in the article sums up the whole scenario of the match on day 5. Even if England came out to bat after lunch they would have played for draw, why is everyone still pissed off about Dhoni letting Gauti and Yuvi to get centuries? Let the two guys bat rather than have already tired Indian bowlers bowl till end of the day? India lost quick wickets in the second innings which made them play slow just the way england did in the first test. Why is everyone suddenly talking so much about playing fast in tests? If you want to see 6s and 4s go to youtube or wait for IPL, test matches are played exactly how the Mohali test was. The only negative about this test match was its loss of time!"Thankfully, neither batsman scored a century." What does that supposed to mean? Mr. Aga is happy that these guys didn't get a century!!!! seriously how is cricinfo allowing such material to be on their site

  • Uday on December 24, 2008, 10:05 GMT

    Dear Mr. Aga

    I have never posted my comments and this is the first time I am giving my blatant views. I think Dhoni was 1,000,000,000 per cent correct in not declaring. Why he should declare? We had won the first test and we are about to win the series, there is no way a person with commonsense will declare.

    As pointed out by someone else it is very easy to write and comment. But if india would have lost this 2nd test then everyone would have chewed Indian team and the captain.

    The reason what Dhoni has given that he wanted to see centuries of Gautam & Yuvi is just to keep some guys quiet. He is a very decent person to give such a reason.

    If any other team would have done similar thing (of not declaring !!!) then whole world would have appreciated them but now India has done this and some guys are trying to protest (??!!!). My full support to Dhoni, team and the associated decision takers.

    Chak De India.. Chak De your opposition and some of the article writers. Go ON

  • venkat on December 24, 2008, 8:12 GMT

    When Dhoni thinks there is no chance of a Result he should not have declared at all. That owuld have given an opportunity to Harbhajan, Zaheer(may be a 50 each to Ishant and Mishra) to score a century!

    Dhoni is lucky but a good thinking Captain. But he needs to learn to respect the opposition. I fail to understand his decision to bring Yuvraj when KP came to bat in over no.3. The whole world respects the ability of KP and ot bring a so called left spineer to bowl with new ball is ridiculous to say the least.

  • Jairam on December 24, 2008, 7:20 GMT

    Agree 100%, and it was so disappointing to hear Ravi Shastri talking at lunch-time on the 5th day ( of-course the English commentators Lloyd and Lamb agreed with him in the Christmas spirit and all that ) about how important the centuries would be for Yuvraj and Gambhir. Oh come on, Yuvraj had already showed his class in that brilliant match-winning partnersship with Tendulkar in Chennai plus the brilliant second-innings knock in Mohali when the seniors had failed. Centuries don't matter,when will we ever get it, a few years ago it was Sachin who was pouting at being denied a double century in Multan and it looks as though the statisticians and record-wallahs still hold sway over the match-winning instinct.

  • Prakash on December 24, 2008, 6:50 GMT

    I think all of us indians need to get our heads checked . If you are in that position of closing a series and winning it . It was a correct decision . They face all the music in the press had they lost . Another thing Dravid had to give up his captaincy due to this same reason and against the same opponent . I draw to this conclusion that we indians just need a reason to complain . These guys have done a superb job this year barring the sri lanka tour . Give them a break .

  • Sage on December 24, 2008, 6:24 GMT

    Excellent article and I strongly believed that every essence in that article was carefully analyzed. I was very happy when India defeated England in the 1st test. But the way Gambir and Dravid batted in the 1st innings depicted volumes that the match was heading for a draw. It was very surprising to see India batting for so long in the 2nd innings. Dhoni should have set a decent target and made a match of it. I recalled how Ian Chappell used challenge teams when he was the captain of Australia. Some targets were so achievable. But that what made him the most challenging captain in the history of test cricket. He had faith in him team. Now I consider Dhoni a lucky captain. A personal milestone does not matter than bringing victory to your country. The best example was Sehwag's batting in the 1st test match when chasing a target. He scored only 83 but that earned him player of the match. I still remember how Imran Khan declared the innings when Miandad was 280 not out.

  • Subramanyam on December 24, 2008, 6:12 GMT

    I agree with Aga fully. The rot set in on Monday itself when, with a 150 run lead, India batted as though they were desperate to save a test. The scoring rate of all batsmen was awful. Gambhir seems to thrive only when his partner at the other end is also thriving. When Sehwag is blazing, Gambhir is also aggressive, but with a patchy Dravid or an overcautious Tendulkar or Laxman at the other end, Gambhir goes into his shell. Every game should be played with a purpose to win and that is what the Olympics teach us. When we are ahead in every way, we should have tried to force a result. Continuing batting beyond lunch on the final day set a very poor reflection on the abilities of Dhoni as an attacking captain. Playing for individual centuries in the given situation is pointless. One only hopes this was an aberration and that India gets back to its new found aggression with a will to win.

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