November 19, 2010

A draw will be a loss

Sometimes a stalemate can mean more than the scoreline implies. For India it will be a question mark against their No. 1 status
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Normally both teams in a contest should be disappointed with a drawn series because the basis of competition in sport is to win. Indeed, in good sides the desire to win and the confidence that you can, serve as the 12th and 13th players. In lesser sides, where not everyone buys into the desire and the confidence, they might even be the 10th and 11th!

Sometimes, though, a draw can be seen as a victory. I can visualise Ian Chappell harrumphing into one of his beloved South Australian reds as he reads this, but holding sales volumes in a declining market or keeping a job in a recession can be wins where otherwise they might be seen to be lowly objectives. And such was the gulf between the two sides when they landed - certainly according to the official Test rankings - and so poor were the Kiwis in neighbouring Bangladesh that a drawn series in India would have been regarded as a mighty accomplishment for them.

And so, in a series where the bowlers have won only minor skirmishes, New Zealand must now fancy their chances of holding India at home. Indeed, thoughts might even drift higher, for each of their top six batsmen is in form (and Daniel Vettori has migrated downwards, to a more realistic batting position). Only New Zealand have taken 20 wickets, once, and that must hurt India much more, for they are playing in familiar conditions.

Much has been said about the wickets, and a lot of it completely justified, but it cannot be used as a reason to cover up other deficiencies. The bowlers must wish for more life in the tracks, and Dhoni's stinging "ten-day Test" remark was needed in an atmosphere where curators are intent on poaching the remaining bowlers. But a side that is ranked No. 1, and which seeks to hold on to its ranking, must be able to deliver more. All great sides have been built around great bowling. You either have four top bowlers, like the West Indies or Australia did, or possess a bowler in the top six, as the West Indies did earlier with Garry Sobers or Pakistan could with Imran Khan.

India's hold on that No. 1 slot is still tenuous, and as the batting ages the bowling must rise. But India's best four aren't giving anyone sleepless nights

India seek to reverse that by building a side around great batting. It has worked only in part, for India's hold on that No. 1 slot is still tenuous, and as the batting ages the bowling must rise. But India's best four aren't giving anyone sleepless nights, and it is 15 years since an allrounder played for India.

Pitches are the key variable in cricket but a favourable pitch cannot be the only factor in taking wickets. As batsmen need to score on treacherous pitches, so too must bowlers make an impact on featherbeds. A bowler who grows reliant on pitches is like a doctor who depends on a machine for a diagnosis. In the absence of a machine the doctor must have a fairly reliable estimate of what is wrong. So too with bowlers, who must grow their bag of tricks. In this series India's bowlers have been taking a wicket every 44 runs, and while that is not too different from what the New Zealand bowlers have done (a wicket every 43 runs), it isn't something you want to advertise.

Now in Nagpur, India have called on the callow Jaydev Unadkat again. It means that in Test cricket the selectors have anointed him as the No. 4 new-ball bowler, and so he must go to South Africa. (Didn't Abhimanyu Mithun look all right in Sri Lanka? And is he now seen as a poor investment?) What it also means, since a cricketer in the XVI has to be good enough to be in the XI, is that the selectors are confident enough (or desperate enough, in this case) to see him bowling inside the first hour of the first Test at Centurion on the 16th of December. And if that call has been taken, he must play in the one-day internationals against New Zealand as part of his initiation into the ways of international cricket.

In fact, given that Praveen Kumar and Ashish Nehra will return for those games, it might be a good idea to get Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma to play at least one Ranji Trophy match before going to South Africa. We saw in that cruelly fleeting series against Australia that Ishant got better as he bowled, and so the more he bowls in a game the better it will be for him.

But there is a Test match to be played before that tour. And even if Nagpur unfurls another batting pitch, Dhoni must demand that his bowlers win him a Test match. A drawn series must be seen to be a lost series for India.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on November 22, 2010, 13:40 GMT

    Whatever it is INDIA is No:1 no doubt on this. Why cant other countries do the same what INDIA has done & be No.1. There are many who cant digest this say lot of things. But the saying is Winner takes it ALL! holds good here.

  • dummy4fb on November 22, 2010, 12:33 GMT

    Hi Koushik_Biswas,

    Every country plays their 50% match on their home ground. Note that test usually not played on nutural ground.

  • diri on November 22, 2010, 7:39 GMT

    Koushik_Biswas- Wake up. India are number one because they play most of their matches at home. SA on the other hand hardly play at home and have won series all over the world in the last few years

  • gmoturu1 on November 21, 2010, 21:55 GMT

    the reason why NZ saved the first 2 tests is entirely because of dead pitches. the final test is gonna be a innings defeat for them. if india can take 40 wickets on the flat indian wickets then they are certainly not a bad bowling unit.

  • TIGER_THE_KILLER on November 21, 2010, 17:24 GMT

    I DONT THINK INDIA IS NO 1 IN TEST.YES INDIA WIN AGAINST AUSTRALIA.BUT MOST OF THE TIME THEY WIN IN THEIR CONDTION.WORLD KNOWS IT IS VERY DIFFICULT TO BEAT INDIA IN INDIAN CONDITIONS.BCCI ALWAYS HOLD ANY SEIREIS IN THEIR COUNTRY.EVEN THEY HOLD INDIA SRILANKA SERIES TWICW IN A YEAR.THIS IS THE TACTICS TO KEEP INDIA NO 1.BUT WHEN INDIA PLAYED OUTSIDE THEY FALLS TROUBLE LIKE 15/5.N INDIA ALWAYS FALLS TROUBLE IN BIG TOURNAMENT IN TOUGH CONDITIONS.WHETHER SOUTH AFRICA,BANGLADESH,AUSTRALIA THEY PLAYED HOME N OUTSIDE CONSEQUENTLY.THTSWHY THEIR CRICKET DEVELOPS.N INDIA STILL IN 80s.I THINK SOUTH AFRICA N BANGLADESH NOW DOING WELL.THEY R PROVED IN TOUGH CONDITION.INDIA IS NOT A PROVED SIDE.THEY WILL IMPROVE IF THEY MAKE A SPORTING WICKET WHETHER BOWLERS N BATSMAN HAVE EQUAL CHANCE.NOT TO MAKE BATTING PARADISE TO MAKE THEIR BATSMAN AVERAGE UP.BUT CRICKET DOSENT IMPROVE.

  • dummy4fb on November 21, 2010, 16:07 GMT

    India, England and South Africa each won 2 test matches in Australia during that period. But the later two are thrashed away by Australians in their home series. But india somehow kept them quite in india as well. Do you know any other team who has done better then india in their own country against australia. India is not as deserving as australia but they are the no 1 team now.

    And the so called weak bowling line up took 20 wickests of Aus. with players like langer, hayden, ponting, gilchrist, Martyn, Waugh. During last 15 years pakistan has best bowling line up (Wasim, Waqar, Shoaib, Saqlain) but they were not able to challenge Australia. Pakistan bowling is good but when they come in front of Australia they looks ordinary. They got several chances to play with australia but they never won a test against them.

    Can you tell me what wonder pakistan bowling has done in terms of winning.

    And India's weak bowling line won test matches in SA,NZ, England, and West indies as well.

  • U.A.1985 on November 21, 2010, 13:16 GMT

    Prtoblem wityh India's no.1 ranking is that they have the strongest batting line up but they cant reckon that they have a bowling line up stronger than a 7th ranked team i.e. Pakistan. And I am talking about a depleted Pakistani bowling line up (without Amir and Asif, the two A's)

  • U.A.1985 on November 21, 2010, 13:11 GMT

    "For those who says india is not a no 1 team. India has won 12 test matches vs australia in last 15 years while australia managed to win only 10." How many of those were played in India?

  • dummy4fb on November 21, 2010, 13:10 GMT

    same bowler has taken 40 Australian wicket any team will take that...now against a side that just happy with draw ...our bowler has become uselss

    i already know this will happen.....

    harsha bhogle you know nothing about cricket......

  • anObserver on November 20, 2010, 19:30 GMT

    Quite agree, the dominant world no. 1 Australia in its days have won rows of test matches consistently and was quite relentless on its opponents. Considering McGrath and Brett lee coupled with batsman like Hayden, Waugh brothers and pointing with the king of spin Shane Warne it was quite obvious that they looked a great side. Comparing India to them, the great little master with dhoni and mighty Sehwag holds up the batting side but we miss consistent and quick bowlers from our side.Performance too is not consistent faded dravid and volatile Raina inspires less but still the dual is on. The couple of draws against New Zealand cannot hide that India is a side build on the batting is rising slowly and slowly on bowling front too and with a brilliant first day at the third test points to it only.

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