How India let Bangladesh off the hook May 21, 2007

Drifting away

How India let slip a chance to enforce the follow-on merely illustrated the unhealthy dependence on Kumble to snip tails

By the time VRV Singh ended Mortaza's innings, it was too late © AFP

On the fourth morning of the Test, given a slow flat track, and that 173 overs of play had already been lost, it was baffling to see India come out to bat and not declare at the overnight total of 384 for 6. Soon, information seeped through that Anil Kumble had been suffering from high fever and would not be available to bowl. That explained the safety-first approach. And how India let slip a chance to enforce the follow-on merely illustrated the unhealthy dependence on Kumble to snip tails.

All through the day, when Bangladesh kept gifting away wickets, Indian bowlers and fielders were in the right place at the right time. But when Mashrafe Mortaza and Shahadat Hossain put their heads down to apply themselves and make the bowlers earn wickets, India just reinforced the common view: they just can't apply the finishing touches, especially when Kumble isn't around.

Indian captains, be it Mohammad Azharuddin, Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid, lost their spirit of enterprise; the bowlers started landing length balls on a regular basis; the fielders lost alertness; the shoulders drooped; and a long wait started - for a mistake from the batsman, for inspiration from somewhere.

When Hossain joined Mortaza, Bangladesh still needed 39 to save the follow-on. But in about 18 overs of sensible batting and unimaginative bowling, it had been averted and 38 more added for good measure.

The wickets had arrived quite regularly till then. When this one didn't seem forthcoming, India started to worry. When they started giving Mortaza easy singles, they had lost the first part of the battle. There were men on the boundary hoping that Mortaza would hole out off Ramesh Powar, but he kept clearing them with ease. Two bowlers - RP Singh and Powar - who didn't look like getting wickets kept bowling until Bangladesh had come very close to avoiding the follow-on. When a change was finally sought, with three runs required and Mortaza on strike, Zaheer Khan was about to bowl with five fielders pushed back on the fence.

When the absurdity of the situation was realised, one of them was brought in. Powar dropped a difficult chance first ball, and with that went India's chance to go for a win that had looked unlikely before start of play but became a definite possibility by tea after the manner in which the Bangladesh top order batted.

Sachin Tendulkar, who came on to bowl after the follow-on had been avoided, troubled the batsmen right away and eventually got the breakthrough. Why was he not brought on when things had started to drift away? Even Mortaza acknowledged later that playing Tendulkar was difficult as he was a big turner of the ball with many variations [his googly got Hossain's wicket]. VRV Singh, who had not had a good day, bowled accurate stuff when he was brought on, as opposed to too many wide ones bowled by RP Singh and Zaheer.

As India were going for the win, the possibility of slowing things down, a common tactic when tailenders are thriving, was ruled out. Kumble was missed too. All those failings could just be hindsight for an outside observer, but on reflection, hindsight is foresight for great captains and teams.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer with Cricinfo Magazine