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

Test cricket deserves better

A match that could, and should, have been fought to a rousing finish was allowed to meander to a miserable stalemate

One of the sport's marquee contests merited a better finish © Getty Images

Test cricket deserves better than the execrable final day that was served up at Mohali. A match that could, and should, have been fought to a rousing finish was allowed to meander to a miserable stalemate, thanks to India's misguided obsession with personal milestones, and the equally daft decision to limit one of the sport's marquee contests to a mere two Tests.

Let me clarify one or two points. India richly deserve their series win because they were the better team. With the exception of VVS Laxman, each of their top six batsmen produced contest-turning performances in at least one of the matches, if not both, and in Zaheer Khan they possessed the stand-out bowler on either side. If I was to draw up a composite eleven for the series*, it would be dominated seven-four by Indians, with Graeme Swann just sneaking into the spinner's vacancy on account of his attacking intentions.

But it is not enough in the current climate merely to be the better side, because Test cricket is fighting for its life in the face of the Twenty20 revolution, and every game that fails to spark the imagination feels like another step towards extinction. So-called "purists" who write in to complain that I am just another thrill-seeking bandwagon-jumper are missing the point. There is a massive difference between a draw where one side battles to safety in the face of overwhelming odds, as India managed at Lord's in 2007, and a stalemate such as this. The punters at Mohali voted with their feet, and who - in the circumstances - could blame them?

With even a micron of intent, Mahendra Singh Dhoni could have been sizing up a shot at his fifth victory in five Tests as captain, a statistic that would have counted for much, much more than Gautam Gambhir's second Test hundred in the game, or Yuvraj Singh's first against any team bar Pakistan - feats that, karmically, were both missed. Instead, Dhoni's only notable entry in the ledger was also the most farcical - the moment he took off his pads and came on to bowl the last over of the match, his second in Test cricket. Last week's historic victory in Chennai breathed new life into the old game, and South Africa's follow-up was a fillip like few others. Today's drudgery, however, was a sad and untimely regression.

Test cricket needs saving from itself as well. Nobody could have foreseen the need to reschedule the Mumbai Test, but to choose a venue so far north that fog and bad light were an inevitability was not the ideal solution. Having said that, the real flaw was in the game's stiff-limbed regulations, which still - even in this professional day and age - require the players to break for full-length lunch and tea intervals. There are no such qualms about pushing on through the evening session if the light is deemed acceptable - at Perth last week, play on the fourth day finished at 8pm after three straight hours in the field. A measure of flexibility would have restored several lost overs to this contest, and improved the prospects of a proper finish.

The ebb and flow of Test-match cricket requires give and take if it is to capture the imagination in a world dominated by instant gratification. That is as true of the pitches as the tactics, and it compounds the frustration that the curator actually did a pretty good job on this occasion. Here, as at Chennai (and Perth for that matter) there were trustworthy challenges offered to the batsmen on each side, pace and bounce for seamers and spinners alike, and a degree of degradation that made batting on the final days in both games more tricky that the scorelines suggested.

Nevertheless, in 13 overs in the delayed morning session, Yuvraj and Gambhir batted with such poise and purpose that a declaration seemed inevitable. They added a hefty 82 runs in that time, stepping across their stumps to slap England's bowlers with the same violence they had shown throughout the one-day series. It was an affirmation both of the lack of intent India had shown throughout the fourth day, and of the vulnerability of England's bowling when the attack is taken to it. India could well have established such a position by stumps the previous evening, but as it was, with a lead of 367 and two sessions to bat out, what in all honesty did India have to lose?

Test cricket is fighting for its life in the face of the Twenty20 revolution, and every game that fails to spark the imagination feels like another step towards extinction

Everything, it would appear, although that timidity hardly tallies with the dominance that India have enjoyed all throughout England's visit this winter. Five one-sided victories in the ODI series should have been ample proof of their superiority when it comes to setting and defending targets, but apparently not. I would sooner have seen England return home with a 2-0 defeat (either pipped valiantly at the post, or skittled ignominiously - either would do), rather than dribble out of the country in such a low-key fashion - especially after the dramatic circumstances of their return.

But a dribble it must be, and as they board their flight from Delhi tonight, England will have more than a few issues to contend with ahead of their squad announcement for the tour of West Indies on December 29. What is to be done with Monty Panesar, whose strategies at times seemed as bereft as his form? Can Steve Harmison really be trusted as a spearhead for the Ashes next summer, and will Ian Bell ever deliver his best form when it most matters?

Overall, England's experiences in this all-too-brief Test series were beneficial - they held their own for long periods against arguably the form team in the world, and can only emerge stronger - but for the last few days of the trip, they must have wondered why they went to such lengths to get the show back on the road.

* Composite eleven 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Gautam Gambhir, 3 Andrew Strauss, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Kevin Pietersen, 6 Yuvraj Singh, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 Andrew Flintoff, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ishant Sharma.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andy on December 25, 2008, 22:46 GMT

    An excellent article Andrew. True, a 2 test series inevitably becomes a goal of win one-draw one and in that degree, India succeeded wholesomely and Dhoni's decision to 'stat' his team mates is forgiveable in a new captain, even if a surely wiser decision would have been to go for the win. I hope that does not become a precursor for complacency so soon after achieving the dominance so many arrogant supporters 'insist' on, as I cannot imagine any of the great Aussie sides letting England off the hook the way Dhoni did. However, I think the criticism of Dhoni is premature - I believe he is destined to shepherd this Indian side to Australian-style success over the next few years - if they can keep Ishant fit.

  • Hirendra on December 25, 2008, 21:25 GMT

    History shows that Dhoni and India did what was required based on how the match progressed. It's called checkmate in chess and Dhoni made sure of this by batting until there was no chance for England to win this match and at the same time eliminate any possibility of a tie in the series. If the personal records came by the way of achieving this move then so be it. Nice article by Andrew when you look at cricket on the whole but does not in my opinion carry much merit in regards to these two test matches. One could say sour grapes.

  • Srikanth on December 25, 2008, 18:39 GMT

    The real culprit is the BCCI for choosing Mohali as the alternative for Mumbai. They are morons truly if they didn't know about the fog and bad light around this time of the year. Seems like they just wanted to please certain influential people by choosing Mohali where as there so many other better venues in the country. As usual, sport and sportsmanship comes 4th or 5th in India always.

  • Sage on December 25, 2008, 9:09 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.

  • Vikas on December 25, 2008, 7:25 GMT

    Why make such hue and cry over the last match. Onus of interesting finished lied with the England team, not on Dhoni. He did the best thing. Had England done the same then everybody would have called it a master strategy. Why do teams outside the subcontinent so poor loosers??? Its high time that Iandian supremacy in cricket should be accepted by everyone.

  • Ranil on December 25, 2008, 4:51 GMT

    Andrew Miller is absolutely right. India played negatively and not like the way a better team should have played. With a 150 run lead Rahul Dravid playing 19 balls without a run and then getting bowled for a duck says it all. Dhoni,s captaincy was defensive and negative. He did not try to force a win. The poor crowd endorses it was boring cricket.

    Ranil Mendis

  • Ravish on December 25, 2008, 2:12 GMT

    The reason India did not go for win is because of Dravid. Take it from me that if and when Dravid scores a hundred on a flat pitch from now on, India will not win. It is because he will take a whole day and a half to score a hundred and at such poor scoring rates, it is impossible to set a defend able target for opposition on flat pitches. The only result will be a draw. If cricinfo needs to find a culprit, it is Dravid, the ever defensive, "negative minded" batsman. It is high time India let him go. He is too selfish to go back to domestic cricket and get his form back and tries fighting his personal demons on our time. Even his duck in second innings took him eighteen balls. He apparently forgets all his strokes (knows only blocking the ball) until he reaches 50 or 60 for which he takes about 300 balls. That will bore all TV audience to death and kill off any realistic chance to win the game.

  • KISH on December 25, 2008, 1:39 GMT

    The composite 11 is good, except the captain option. Why on earth you want Dhoni to be the captain, after writing about how Dhoni's decision to bat on was bad for the Test cricket? Please, I will not make him the captain of my backyard team. A captain should, atleast, understand his responsibility to the fee-paying general public. He has an obligation to entertain those people. If not for the future of the Test cricket, he should atleast provide an entertaining cricket to the fee paying public. He failed. Only time the Mohali test had life was when Kevin Pieterson and Flintoff hammered the Indian bowlers on the third day. Dhoni wants to make sure he wouldn't lose the series. As if the world will end if England pulls off a most unlikely win in Test history. So, basically, he doesn't trust his team's abilities.

  • Andrew on December 24, 2008, 22:34 GMT

    I think the greater disappointment is that we even have 2 test series at all. How much do 2 tests tell you really, and should this count as a series? I don't think so. I think the minimum number of tests in a "series" should be 3. India will now be remembered as having won a series against England. England won a series against Australia when they won the Ashes. Spot the difference.

  • Krishna on December 24, 2008, 22:11 GMT

    Frankly speaking, whats the big deal!!? Yea, India wanted centuries. But even if they would put England to bat, the chances of a draw was much greater. The chances of bowling England out was highly unlikely!! if that is the case, then why not play for personal milestones. Let the england team suffer chasing the ball. They sure like to talk a lot while fielding, then lets just give them a chance to do what they are best. It really is not a big deal. Dhoni is not a selfish cricketer. He has always done what is best for the team. The media only likes to hype up information to get more visitors. Go India!

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