Ian Chappell
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Former Australia captain, now a cricket commentator and columnist

Defence doesn't pay

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

Ian Chappell

October 12, 2008

Comments: 20 | Text size: A | A

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.

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Posted by NYC-ToPgUn on (October 14, 2008, 18:05 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..

Posted by idontknowidontcare on (October 14, 2008, 4:31 GMT)

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

Posted by dhiren464 on (October 13, 2008, 14:17 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

Posted by Viswanathan on (October 13, 2008, 11:34 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?

Posted by dhiren464 on (October 13, 2008, 10:40 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.

Posted by EdgedNTaken on (October 13, 2008, 7:47 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 !

Posted by MadhuK on (October 13, 2008, 4:44 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?

Posted by subhajit on (October 12, 2008, 21:21 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.

Posted by Aloke_Mondkar on (October 12, 2008, 17:14 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!

Posted by EdgedNTaken on (October 12, 2008, 16:55 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.

Posted by Gaurav25 on (October 12, 2008, 16:54 GMT)

I agree with Ian Chappell. India has got a very arrogant Captain in form of Kumble. He does not try anything different as a captain. Its a joke that country like India with huge passion towards cricket and with strong body like BCCI, has captain Kumble. He has been non-performer himself, for a very long time now. Its high time that he should be kicked out if he is not retiring himself. For one player, team and match result for team can not be suffered.India is playing test matches with 4 bowlers. With Kumble as one of the bowler, it effectively reduces the team to 3 bowlers only. Although, he has taken more than 600 test wickets, his average is very poor around 30 runs per wicket. He has been an average cricketer except very few remarkable moments in between.

Posted by fsdb on (October 12, 2008, 12:04 GMT)

I have often thought Kumble's captaincy is too defensive - a bit like his bowling. He certainly looks very aggressive and acts very aggressive but the faculty of forensically analysing an opponent's weakness and probing those vulnerabilities seems to have bypassed him somewhat. There is no doubting Kumble's lionhearted commitment and indeed on the last difficult tour to Australia it was an asset but his increasingly patchy bowling performances must also play no small part in sapping his self confidence as a leader.

Once again Ian Chappell gets to the heart of the matter, illuminating aspects of the game which are a mystery to most of us - Ian we are not worthy! How fortunate we are to have someone steeped in the spirit and lore of the game able to impart his wisdom to a subaltern generation!

Posted by TwitterJitter on (October 12, 2008, 11:52 GMT)

Absolutely agree, Chappell. It appears that Kumble has lost all his confidence not just in the team but in is own bowling or batting. He himself has been a dead weight on the team. No player should be in the team just because he is the captain. It is time for a risk taker like Sehwag or Dhoni to take the test mantle from Kumble.

Posted by plumbunion on (October 12, 2008, 11:49 GMT)

Worryingly, India's vaunted middle order has come unstuck yet again. Yes, Dravid ground out a typical, hard-working 51 and Ganguly played well for his 47, but what India needed was a capital innings from at least one of them. Kumble has historically performed near his best when he has had a cushion of runs to bowl against. Also, one feels Kumble's own bowling form is affecting the way he leads the team on the field.

Although the Aussies did get the Indian top order out cheaply, I am not convinced that Ricky Ponting's "aggressive" mindset had a great deal to do with it. The ease with which the tail was allowed to play at a crucial time when Ganguly got out, was hard to fathom. As far as I am concerned, Ponting missed the opportunity to go one up in the series - easily. Admittedly, there's no Warne, but neither does India have Bishen Bedi. This match has become interesting. It needn't have.

Posted by AravindZ on (October 12, 2008, 10:41 GMT)

Absolutely spot on. Anyone who saw the first day's play would agree...Kumble may be a dignified and well spoken man, but he has a lot to catch up on strategy...I propose Sehwag for captaincy. Salute his bowling achievements for 600+ wickets, but high time he starts thinking about following Ganguly's footsteps (in captaincy....nah! but in announcing retirement :) /.swami

Posted by abhishekthakur on (October 12, 2008, 9:42 GMT)

Australians are clearly the thought leaders when it comes to cricket, notwithstanding their dominance on the field. Indians, especially those of the older generation, have a long distance to go before they catch up.

What is more striking is that Australians fine-tune even the minor aspects of the game. An example is appealing. They don't seem to appeal unnecessarily, but they become vociferous whenever the decision is close, forcing a result in their favour more often than not. Indians, on the other hand, seem to appeal for just about anything, just for the sake of appearing and appearing aggressive. This also explains, albeit partly, the Indian team's problems with sledging. Although Zaheer Khan has shown the way in dealing with it- both after the Jellybean-gate in England and here in Bangalore, much to Brad Haddin's chagrin!

Posted by Ed_Lamb on (October 12, 2008, 8:51 GMT)

Not having satellite TV I haven't been able to watch any of this match and comment on Kumble's field placings. But interesting to hear Chappell's observations on the Ashes 2005....Ponting was out-manoevred by a smarter (and luckier) captain in Vaughan during that series. The game where the deep fielders particularly came into play was the 2 run win at Edgbaston when the Aussie tail had their boundary hitting options severely limited. Against tail enders Vaughan was right to make them face as many balls as possible to reach their target while still keeping the catchers in, but against top-order batsmen - as Chappell says - it rarely works. Just look at the way Symonds was gifted his first Test hundred by Flintoff's field placing at Melbourne in '06.

One of the finest examples of attacking captaincy recently was Dhoni in winning the Twenty20 World Cup, so India have a ready-made captain in waiting if they are looking for a more positive approach.

Posted by don69 on (October 12, 2008, 7:44 GMT)

At no time did I get the feeling Kumble was actually leading the side from the front, as a captain should. This was very different from the Kumble in the Australian tests, where he was constantly active. Ponting, on the other hand, was always involved (so was Clarke for that matter). He was chatting to the bowlers, moving the field around, looking to try something different. I'm not sure Ponting was all that aggressive in his fields, some felt pretty ordinary to me. However, Chappelli is right on that "makings things happen" can be just as good as setting 6 fielders around the bat. If the batsman feels he is constantly facing something new, it is hard for him to get really set. The Aussie bowling stocks may not be at their highest right now (Lee was certainly not on top of his game) but look at the division of overs. This is the first time in a long while Australia could use 6 (SIX!) bowlers for better then 13 overs each, and that's without resorting to Katich.

Posted by amargoradia on (October 12, 2008, 7:23 GMT)

Hello Mr Ian,

I am Amar Goradia from San Francisco, USA. Well, I do agree that Kumble's captaincy was very ordinary and Ponting has made some smart field placement. What do you think about defensive field placement which Ponting had applied even for tailenders. I agree he is trying to break some scoring opportunities for these Indian batsmen as they rely heavily on boundaries but at the same time, I felt this is loosing away the charm of Test Cricket where we are used to see some quality cricket played, especially from teams like Australia. I am really interested to hear your take on this.

Regards, Amar

Posted by Sorcerer on (October 12, 2008, 6:17 GMT)

I concur with what Chappell has remarked on. It's difficult to imagine Dhoni being a timid skipper like Kumble. The current skipper's field settings off his own bowling in this Test told the tale of a bowler whose bowling prowess is suffering from a free-fall. The highly-draining and largely fruitless Series in SL has hugely dented Kumble's confidence but you would have hoped for a better and more resilient mindset from the captain than what he has hitherto demonstrated. It's time for Kumble to go and make way for someone like Piyush Chawla.

Kumble, however, cannot be solely blamed for the defensive ploys garnered. Tendulkar and Dravid were there too and did not come up with much-better advice - I guess the seeping confidence owing to their own poor form has resulted in this pervasive apprehensive gameplan from the veterans, but this has surely given the Aussies an early advantage in the Series.

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Ian ChappellClose
Ian Chappell Widely regarded as the best Australian captain of the last 50 years, Ian Chappell moulded a team in his image: tough, positive, and fearless. Even though Chappell sometimes risked defeat playing for a win, Australia did not lose a Test series under him between 1971 and 1975. He was an aggressive batsman himself, always ready to hook a bouncer and unafraid to use his feet against the spinners. In 1977 he played a lead role in the defection of a number of Australian players to Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket, which did not endear him to the administrators, who he regarded with contempt in any case. After retirement, he made an easy switch to television, where he has come to be known as a trenchant and fiercely independent voice.
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