December 15, 2008

A triumph of belief

England led in the match over three days and two sessions but what made the difference ultimately was India's belief that they would win

Sehwag has a delightful disregard for history, whether of the past 100 years or the last ball © AFP

It would be tempting to call this a match without losers. That the Test took place at all was a triumph. As Sachin Tendulkar said, after an innings that must count among his finest, a Test win or Test hundred cannot even begin to compensate for what was lost in Mumbai last month, but it can be said without overstating the importance of sport that after those dark hours India could do with a Test like this. And that Mumbai's most famous son piloted the team to the win made it even more poignant.

Already his innings had been a gem, crafted with technical virtuosity and mental fortitude, but that Sachin Tendulkar brought up the win with a delicate paddle, which also brought up his hundred, granted the perfect finish to a quite perfect Test. Individual milestones are not meant to matter much in a team game, but in this case, anything else wouldn't have felt right.

Remove the circumstances, though, and it would still count among India's most special wins. More than all else, it was a triumph of belief. England led in the match over three days and two sessions, but what made the difference ultimately was India's belief that they would win. England were resolute, resilient and resourceful, but somehow a touch diffident when it to came to decisive phases of the match.

They won a good toss and batted for nearly 130 overs, yet scored only 316. On day four, when it came to the charge, they scored only 57 runs in two hours. It can be said with hindsight that their declaration came not too late but too early, but that would be missing the point: they should have got at least 50 more. It was perhaps fear that held them back: what if we get bowled out for 50 fewer? That's the essential difference between good teams and great ones.

This is a significant moment for India's cricket history because that's the sort of diffidence that has sometimes in the past characterised their approach to cricket. Team after team, and captain after captain have been chipping away at the wall of self-doubt - secure the draw first, then contemplate victory - and this could well serve as a tipping point.

Seven years ago Nasser Hussain's England set India 374 runs in just over a day - admittedly a far tougher target than that in Chennai - and then too the openers, Deep Dasgupta and Shiv Sunder Das, put on 100 runs for the first wicket. But they consumed 54.3 overs for 119 runs and effectively ended the match - India finished with 198 at 2.04 runs an over. When, five years later Andrew Flintoff left them 368 to get on the last day in Nagpur, India mounted an audacious heist - but not until tea, by when Rahul Dravid and Wasim Jaffer had taken out 51.3 overs for 130 runs after the first wicket had fallen with only a run on the board.

That wicket was of Virender Sehwag, bowled playing an airy drive. Without Sehwag, the Chennai chase would have been inconceivable. He has a delightful disregard for history, whether of the past 100 years or the last ball, and thus is never weighed down by it. After he and Dravid fell short by three runs of the record score for the first wicket in Lahore in 2006, Sehwag casually admitted to never having heard of Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy, the then record holders. History would have deemed this chase virtually impossible. Never had a target of over 300 been chased down in India in the last innings, and in Chennai the highest successful chase had been 155 - but if he remembered anything at all, Sehwag would have thought of the 387 India scored against England in the first one-dayer last month. Sehwag is a man of incredible batting skills but his mind is pure genius: doubt is not allowed to hover nearby, let alone enter.

Gradually and certainly, India are moving towards a stage where to win is not a hope but an expectation. To call them the new Australia will be glib. Australia's reputation has been earned over a decade-long dominance. But India are acquiring an aura of their own

It was Sehwag who reinforced the belief in as emphatic a manner as possible, but it's been a belief that has been growing. After the third day's play, with England already ahead by nearly 250 with seven wickets in hand, Gary Kirsten, a man not given to bombast, said calmly that he believed his team "capable of anything". Harbhajan Singh's words on the first day - he waded into England's defensive batting and dismissed out of hand the chances of their spinners - may have seemed hopelessly misplaced by the second day, but they were born of a confidence that characterises him. And on the fourth evening, Gautam Gambhir, a mild-mannered man off the field, had absolutely no doubt that a fast-wearing and untrustworthy pitch wouldn't deter India from going for a win.

This belief didn't waver throughout the day. The fall of wickets didn't bring the kind of stonewalling that might have come on another day. Gambhir and Tendulkar ticked away, cutting, sweeping and daintily working the gaps after Dravid fell early; VVS Laxman kept it going with drives in front of the wicket that seemed beyond all batsmen till then; and Yuvraj Singh, his Test credentials under a cloud once again, simply glided on. The momentum was never surrendered.

Historic is a word regularly used for India's Test wins in the past eight years. "First Test win in England in 20 years", "first win in West Indies in 25 years", "first-ever series win in West Indies", "first-ever Test win in South Africa", "first win in Perth" - all these have been signs of progress, but also pointers to a miserable past.

Gradually, though, and certainly, India are moving towards a stage where to win is not a hope but an expectation. To call them the new Australia will be glib. Australia's reputation has been earned over a decade-long dominance. But India are acquiring an aura of their own.

Chennai wasn't a Kolkata-like win. That was a miracle, a once-in-lifetime thing. This one has been achieved with a certainty of purpose, sealed with a clinical finish. One way of looking at it would be that India got out of a situation they should never have allowed themselves to be in, for they were the better team. The other is that a win like this likely to engender a belief that any match can be won till it is lost.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Johnny on December 17, 2008, 19:49 GMT

    Great match especially under the circumstances, I hope this euphoria doesnt overflow into forcing our brave lads to go to Pakistan and play cricket. What people especially Pakistanis fail to grasp is India is quitting the Pakistan tour because they hold Pakistan accountable party for the carnage in Mumbai. Fact: there are terrorist camps in Pakistan, Fact: those terrorist camps are spouting buggers bent on destroying India, Fact: Pakistan isnt doing enough to combat them. This is the reason India SHOULD refuse to tour. In anycase India is flush with money, with test victories and plaudits from around the world. No one cares for Pakistan, India shouldnt either. India has NO obligation to Pakistan whatsoever. If Pakistan doesnt get cricket or if its people yearn for it so much then tough noogies, go play in that bookie infested desert with pals Zim , SL or Bangladesh.

  • babai on December 17, 2008, 18:41 GMT

    well if not the best one of the finest run chase obviously.. well done team India..

  • babai on December 17, 2008, 18:38 GMT

    Time has come to kick out Dravid out of this time just as he did with Ganguly.Life has come full circle for him....

  • SENTHL KUMAR on December 17, 2008, 16:06 GMT

    India's win at chennai reflects a very simple strategy believe that you can achieve anything if you play to your potential.Sehwag, Gambhir,Tendulkar and Yuvarj have displayed that.Dhoni's simple strategy of drying up the runs when he realised that England is going to increase the scoring pace.He had used the same strategy against Australia had yielded very good result again but the difference against england was bowling in a attacking line resulted in 57 runs with 5 wickets.Allowing Sehwag to continue his style of play and sending Dravid at the fall of Sehwag's wicket signalled positive signs about the approach of the team towards the target as well as about Dravid even though he failed to score but his contribution for the victory.Well Done Team India!!!!

  • Prince on December 17, 2008, 14:54 GMT

    What this win has done is that it has knocked the stuffing out of England.England now know that even a target of 400+ isn't safe enough for this vibrant,ever-ascendant Indian team,& I presume that this thought must be going on in Pietersen's mind over & over again.Steve Harmison & Monty Panesar were extremely ordinary.In fact,Panesar has 120 odd wickets from about 35 games,whereas Mohammad Rafique had 100 wickets from 33 tests,& that too bowling mostly in a single innings.It's so surprising to see Panesar getting so much attention.In Chennai,even Yuvraj was a class apart from him!With Dravid,the case of dropping him is shameful.The backbone of Indian batting from 2001-2006 deserves more leeway.However,he has been off-form for 2 seasons now,& this should also be kept in mind.We have seen Sourav & Kumble being forced to retire,& we certainly don't want that to happen to Dravid.

  • Shashhank on December 17, 2008, 4:54 GMT

    When we are all saying that england scored only 57 runs in the 2nd session of day 3...We are forgetting that it was a brilliant spell of swing bowling from our premier bowlers.They have to be given credit.About the victory,under MSD we have learnt to believe that impossible in nothing.Dhoni will go on to be one of the best captains the world has seen.

  • Aloke on December 17, 2008, 2:16 GMT

    Lets give some credit to Dhoni and his captaincy (attitude) here. In the past we have failed miserably in 4th innings chases. If the target was anything over 250 on the 4th day, we would go into our shell and as a result loose more wickets and end up being bowled out. All previous examples of non-chases had captains like Dravid, Kumble and Gavaskar at the helm of affairs. This team has a different mindset and has changed and like in a corporate environment, change comes from the top. I guarantee that without Dhoni as captain, the same Sachin who scored the runs at a fair clip would have gone into his shell (like against Pakistan in 2005-06). Even if that target was non reachable, we would go into our shells, try and block every ball and loose even faster. Dhonis attitude means that we will not only win matches we would have otherwise drawn, we will also draw matches we would have otherwise lost. Call him lucky or anything but he is giving the results!

  • Sisnaraine on December 17, 2008, 1:57 GMT

    It not easy for me, I(U.S.A.) have to wake up 11.p.m to 6.00a.m. to see cricket in India and other countries.I alway stay up to see Tendulkar,Sehwag and Dhoni bat. With Sehwag, I am always afraid he will out anytime. Looking at how the wicket was playing, I know that we would win. For five days cricket, we need to have our player to concentrate the way they did. We have players Yuvraj and Dhoni who can have a go in the time of need. It is not the batting the problem, it is India's bowling and field placing. I still think Dravid will come good in the next match. Cricket lovely cricket. S.N.Singh. (USA)

  • Amit on December 17, 2008, 0:18 GMT

    Indeed an excellent match.One of those matches where you dont see any losers potentially.Indias self belief,Sehwags swash buckling innings,sachin and yuvrajs experience and calmness all led to this great victory.We also shouldnt forget the excellent batting of strauss and collingwood.

  • Yamal on December 16, 2008, 20:32 GMT

    Team India Rules! Watch out World! This is only the tip of the iceburg. There are pleany of great cricketers lined up to replace ppl like SRT, Dravid and VVS as we have seen what the replacment for Ganguly has done in Chennai.

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