What is more important, victory or batting practice?
What is more important for a touring team, batting practice or victory? To the Indian team currently in Zimbabwe, it appears that batting practice takes precedence over victory.
Even granting that the Indians huffed and puffed their way to a win over the CFX Academy, admittedly an inexperienced bunch of lads, there is no doubt that two victories in their first two matches on the tour would have been a tremendous morale booster for the Indians. Even in the match against the academy boys the Indians had it in them to wrap up the match in much faster time. But instead of enforcing the follow on, they needlessly went in for a second time for some batting practice. And who enjoyed this "batting practice?" Harbhajan Singh, Sairaj Bahutule and Zaheer Khan.
In the tour opener against Zimbabwe A too, the Indians had the opportunity to win the game inside two days and despite the second day's play being washed out. They had a first innings lead of 161 runs and could have enforced the follow on. But they opted for batting practice and ended with a dismal score of 150 for seven. At least on that occasion they had the excuse of giving their frontline batsmen, most of whom had failed in the first innings, some valuable time in the middle. It is another matter that most of them failed for a second time.
While practice out in the middle - whether batting or bowling - is important, surely there is no doubt that victory is more important. More than anything else, a win boosts the morale of the touring side. Almost as important, it puts the home team on the defensive. If for example the Indians had won both their matches - a distinct possibility - then there is no doubt that on June 7, when Zimbabwe squared up against India in the first Test, the home team would have been more cautious and that itself would have been a psychological advantage for the tourists.
Three examples of touring sides of yesteryears come immediately to mind.
Don Bradman's 1948 Australians swept everything before them, winning 25 and drawing nine of their 34 first class games to end the tour unbeaten. Granted this was a formidable side but they developed a ruthless streak, scoring runs at an astonishingly fast rate and giving their bowlers enough time to bowl the opposition out twice. A feature of their performance was the double quick time they raced to victory, many of them in two days.
Thirteen years later, another Australian side adopted much the same approach. Though Richie Benaud's side was not as strong as the 1948 side - they had severe limitations in bowling - they still adopted an aggressive approach, declaring often before close on the first day, closing their innings a second time too in an all out bid to achieve victory. In the majority of the matches, their enterprise was rewarded with triumph.
Contrast this with the approach of another Australian team in England, the 1956 side led by Ian Johnson. From the moment they arrived, Johnson made it clear that the Test matches were all important and they would utilise the county games for batting and bowling practice. The upshot was that while they lost a few first class games, they did not win any and their morale was anything but high on the eve of the first Test. Under the circumstances, is it any surprise that while the 1948 team ran roughshod over England and the 1961 side despite their obvious limitations, won the series, Johnson's squad lost the rubber?
A victory is more than just a victory. As I said, besides doing much to build the touring side's confidence, it also puts the home team under pressure. In my book, a win is more important than any amount of batting and bowling practice.