October 12, 2008

Defence doesn't pay

India's containment tactics in Bangalore were inexplicable - especially from a bowler captain such as Anil Kumble

Kumble has been reactive in the Bangalore Test, while his opposite number has tried to make things happen © Getty Images

My grandfather, the former Australia captain Vic Richardson once advised me, "Son, don't think any tactic you try as a captain is new. They've all been used before. Like an old suit - keep it long enough and it comes back into fashion."

I'm not absolutely certain who made the early posting of a boundary-saving deep point and a backward-square-leg fieldsman as fashionable as an Armani outfit, but I'd guess Michael Vaughan in the 2005 Ashes series. Ricky Ponting quickly followed suit in the same series, and now this ultra-conservative tactic has reached epidemic proportions.

The weakness in the ploy is, it provides easy runs to the batsman who is sensible enough to accept gifts that are freely offered, and it ignores the fact that it's not possible to contain the top-class players. Ponting and Michael Hussey provided ample evidence of this in compiling wonderfully controlled centuries in Bangalore.

It's surprising enough that batting captains don't understand how offering easy singles can lead to dire consequences, as well as offend a bowler's sensibilities. So it's a huge shock to the system when Anil Kumble, a captain who is a bowler, falls into the same trap.

Former Pakistan allrounder Imran Khan quite correctly stated: "A good captain understands bowling." There are times when watching Kumble's field placings it's easy to forget he has taken more than 600 Test wickets. Bill Lawry, the former Australia captain, was a batting captain who understood perfectly one of the captain's commandments: "Thou shalt not give away easy runs." Lawry's approach smacked of a captain who thought, "The bastards never give me easy runs so I'm not going to concede any to their batsmen."

In an era where there are a multitude of limited-overs and Twenty20 games it's not surprising that modern captains are more adept at containment than their predecessors. However, it pays all captains to keep uppermost in their mind that the best containment policy is to dismiss a batsman. This axiom applies in any form of the game and was highlighted by Shane Warne's outstanding leadership in winning the initial IPL competition. Warne has a gambler's instinct and one of his greatest assets as a captain is he takes that intuition onto the field.

There's a wonderful example of the gambling captain in a story concerning Sir Garfield Sobers in a late-1960s limited-overs match. In the 50th over of the innings the opposition needed six runs for victory and Sobers' team needed two wickets. Bowling himself, Sobers claimed the first victim caught by the second of two slips, and won the match by having the No. 11 caught at leg gully. Sobers and Warne are captains who believed in the adage; "The best form of defence is to attack."

In an era where there are a multitude of limited-overs and Twenty20 games it's not surprising that modern captains are more adept at containment than their predecessors

The big difference between Kumble's captaincy in Bangalore and that of Ricky Ponting was the Australian captain's desire to make things happen, while his Indian counterpart waited for the batsmen to make mistakes. Ponting made the Indian batsmen think, he made them feel on edge, and he let them know in no uncertain terms that he was trying to dismiss them.

There's got to be a rhyme and reason to what a captain is doing in the middle; his moves have to relate to what is happening in the game and they should be designed to make life difficult for the opposition. Kumble, a citizen of Bangalore, might as well have hung out a sign welcoming Ponting and Hussey to the Garden City.

Rather than bemoan the fact that he no longer has a Warne or a Stuart MacGill to utilise favourable Indian conditions, Ponting has got on with the job of devising a plan for the attack he has at his disposal. That is one of the prime jobs of a captain: to fully utilise his assets and get the best out of his team.

There are times when Ponting is a little quick to resort to boundary-saving fieldsmen and 2005 was a perfect example. However, there's no doubt he's also a very resourceful captain, and one possessed of great determination.

He has had an excellent match so far in Bangalore. He scored his first Test century in India and he has out-manoeuvred his counterpart by utilising resourceful and positive captaincy. That is a winning combination that will never go out of fashion.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ayush on October 14, 2008, 17:05 GMT

    As always chapell is never tired of blowing the australian trumpet. I completely disagree with him when he says ponting had an excellent outing. Ponting surely got his first test century in india, but i think he would be pretty dissapointed to have lost this one after winning the toss and getting 430 in the first innings. It was a very average performance by the Oz's. Infact I agree with Zaheer that this is the most defensive Oz team in a while. Looks like they have already resigned to the fact that they will be losing the series and draws are like consolation prizes..

  • Arvind on October 14, 2008, 3:31 GMT

    MSD was by far the best of the 3 captains in this game, Ian Chappell does not even mention him once.

  • dhiren on October 13, 2008, 13:17 GMT

    to vishwanathan,

    Whether Kumble takes 10 wickets in an innings or 20 in a match is not the issue. It is his captaincy that is not showing enterprise. He is a very respected cricketer, even in Perth he & the whole team showed they are fighters. The steel of the captain reflected on the whole team. Nothing to take away from that. But as you saw in this match the field set, the mindset was not on attack. Infact both the captains were pretty much defensive and that is why we have a drawn test match. No one is willing to risk both are playing the waiting game. None will get the fielders in to prompt the batsmen into playing a big shot. The batsmen simply take singles. Scoring rates are slow, and a slow pitch didnt help matters. Both sides found it very difficult to take wickets in a bunch. Test cricket doesnt needs good pitches and dare say more inventive captains or else the crowds will stay away. Lastly the team that will take its chances will win. Not the one that lays back and waits

  • Viswanathan on October 13, 2008, 10:34 GMT

    It is funny how people claim that Anil Kumble is not as attacking a captain as Ponting. I agree that Indians have not had an attacking captain since Sourav Ganguly, but we should not forget Kumble's captaincy during the test series in Australia. He stitched the team together during crisis and brought home a Perth victory. How often does that happen? I feel we should give any cricketer the benefit of the doubt for atleast 2 tests and then decide who they really are? Would all you guys eat your words if Kumble played the next test and scalped 10 wickets in the match and won us the game?

  • dhiren on October 13, 2008, 9:40 GMT

    No doubt that Anil's Captaincy lacked imagination. But Ian i really have to disagree that ponting showed the batsmen he wanted to get them out. Even for Harbhajan at times there were 4 boundary riders. Great Captaincy that??? They scored 250 odd on the first day test pitch. Unfortunately the spinners didnt take wickets. Maybe due to the Kumble injury. But as far as i am concerned both Captains are not taking the initiative. The fact that you think Ponting is doing it makes me feel you are wrong here. I respect youa and your views a lot but you are wrong here. Ponting isnt the brightest of Captains, just that he has a wonderful team. However we will now see this test of captaincy as Mcgrath, Warne & Gilly have now gone. Take Pontings record against the Indians as Captain and you will see what i mean.

  • Mandar on October 13, 2008, 6:47 GMT

    To MadhuK: Please stop this Us Vs Them slanging match every time someone criticizes an Indian player. Ponting's tactics havent hurt his team's chances whereas Mr Kumble's certainly have. For one hour Indians showed aggro and matched Aus blow for blow. MSD was in chrg.The majority of responses here are good enough indication of what the consensus is. Kumble is past his sell by date, BOTH as a captain & bowler. He is unimaginative, very defensive, & totally bereft of ideas. He was always a below average fielder, but now he has started dropping straight forward c & bs as well. Viewers have always been witness to Kumble's scowling visage whenever someone misfielded when he bowled but he conveniently forgot that he himself wasn't a Jonty by any stretch. I can bet my house on the fact that one of two things are certain by the end of this series: A) Kumble wont make it till Nagpur. B) He will continue to struggle in picking up wickets. In case you are wondering, I am an Indian. Bring on MSD !

  • Madhu on October 13, 2008, 3:44 GMT

    Thanks for your analysis Ian. But as usual it is one-sided. You have stated that Ponting had the desire to make things happen, whereas Kumble drifted. But don't you think Ponting's similar field placing tactics were not exposed due to India's top order collapse due to different reasons? Ponting has been as negative as Kumble in this Test but no mention is made of this - 245 runs on the first day of a Test match on a plum batting wicket - give me a break. Ponting is a captain with lack of ideas when the going gets tough and this is well documented. Ponting's "winning combination" - your prognosis for this series is premature and reeks of bais. Kumble is a demonstrative captain, and his tactics were greatly appreciated in the series against Austraia. He is suffering from lack of form and there might be a general lack of confidence - so cut him some slack, please will you?

  • Subhajit on October 12, 2008, 20:21 GMT

    The best part of the 4th days' game was the odd one hour after lunch, before Kumble took the field. Dhoni was leading the side and he strangled the batsmen with imaginative field placing backed by some good bowling from Ishant, Zaheer and Harbhajan. They bowled to a middle-leg line with a pack onside field to Ponting and attacked off stump to Katich. Runs dried up and Ponting fell to the trap. It matched the hype and quality of the game played between these two sides. Then Kumble came in. In an over he pushed the point back to deep. Both Hussey and Katich started stealing singles and astonishingly the intensity dropped in a couple of overs than what we have seen when Dhoni was leading. I did not understand what Kumble was trying to do differently when Dhoni's plan was working, but that's precisely the point when I knew India was anything but winning the match. They can still snatch a draw, but win is out of question. That one hour made things clear that it's probably time for Kumble.

  • Aloke on October 12, 2008, 16:14 GMT

    The cricketing acumen that Chappell possess never ceases to amaze me. It would be a pleasure to see him captain today. Kumble is well past his use-by date both as a bowler and as a captain. Its time we give people like Chawla/Ojha a chance at test cricket. I am willing to bet that between Benaud and the Chappell brothers, there is more cricketing acumen than all our Indian cricketers (past and present). I wish we could have used their advice more often. Shane Warne for Coach/Manager/Strategist!

  • Mandar on October 12, 2008, 15:55 GMT

    Absolutely spot on Chappelli. A lot of these so called 'experts' have failed to recognize that India's home advantage has been slowly & surely negated, emasculated, nullified call it what you like, due to a number of factors. India still manages not to lose home test series but they invariably have to scrap it out with even teams like England. Point is, visiting teams have started winning test matches on our own turf. Dead-as-dodo pitches for starters, lack of quality spinners, emergence of better than average medium quicks & last but not least decoding and complete sorting-out of ace leg 'spinner' Anil Kumble. Get your pads outside leg stump & play with the bat, Kumble is no better than a club bowler. England stumbled upon it, RSA thrived on it, & now Aus are using the ploy like it would go out of fashion soon. I havent even started about Kumble's captaincy here. Today when MSD was in charge, I could see a new India, sadly AK woke us up from a sweet dream as soon as he came on.

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