Sharda Ugra
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Senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

India's professional cop-out

The world's No. 1 team did not back themselves against a side struggling to find their feet at the highest level, and ended up looking both cynical and timid in the process

Sharda Ugra

July 14, 2011

Comments: 64 | Text size: A | A

Indian captain MS Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher,  watch a practice session, Dominica, July 5 2011
A defensive decision from the Indian think tank © AFP
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In a few days, India's walk-away at Windsor Park will be forgotten. Once the first ball is bowled at Lord's, the raging debate will be reduced to an old argument. From then on, any of those particular trees can fall in the forest and none will make a sound.

Until then, cricketers and cricket gurus, spectators and TV viewers, fans and friends, will be sorting out the whys and why nots of India's departure in Dominica with 15 overs left to bowl and 86 to get. We talk to each other, write in emails, or in the public space, to check whether we're missing something; whether it was really quite such an explicable or inexplicable thing. We communicate to quieten the phantoms of that event that are still hurtling around the brain. Every argument for and against is debated or shouted down, but some doubts are not easily silenced.

Would India have done this at home? Not even tried to win a Test?

Imagine the scene acting itself out against West Indies - or any team of similar standing - at Eden Gardens. Or on Kotla's schizophrenic wicket. Wouldn't the fans have been furious? Would it have been fair? What would the crowd have done?

Okay, switch things around: what if a born-again West Indies do the same to India in 10 years' time? Once again World Cup winners and world No.1, leading a series 1-0, West Indies, with seven wickets left, 86 to get, just decide to call the game off. What would we think of them?

There were 12,000 people in Windsor Park that evening. It was a full house, the best crowd seen during a series in which they've struggled to get crowds in for five ODIs featuring the World Cup winners (though without their full-strength team). Yet the crowd turned up in Dominica for a fifth-day party and India called it off.

Criticism of the Indian team is these days often hollered down by their more extreme "faithful" with the argument that the pressures of international cricket are not understood by those off the field. Those off the field - in this case, the world outside the game's 2631 Test cricketers - do have the right, however, to feel short-changed when an international team don't extend their own chances and a cricket match as far as they could have.

Cricketers often use a phrase when talking about how they stretched mind, body and their individual games to produce a dramatic, unexpected performance: they say they "backed themselves". It means that when the belief around them dries up and the task at hand appears impossible, the man in the middle tells himself, "This can be done and I can be the one to do it." It is a competitor's cussed refusal to stand down even though walls are crumbling around him. It is what champions do across all sport, it is their fingerprint in history. This was world No. 1 India, and they did not back themselves.

Dominica could have been understood by an earlier generation: had this happened in 2002 or 2006, when India were touring the West Indies without a Test series win in over three decades, a sympathetic observer would instinctively have had an awareness of a team's anxiety to get its ghoulish past out of the way. Hell, at times like those, the fan also endures a stomach heaving with butterfly stampedes.

 
 
Had this happened in 2002 or 2006, when India were touring the West Indies without a Test series win in over three decades, a sympathetic observer would instinctively have had an awareness of a team's anxiety to get its ghoulish past out of the way
 

Dreamers and "purists" can often be silenced into practicality by being told that eventually despite all their guff, getting the right result is everything. It is, indeed. In Dominica, could India really have clattered to defeat within 15 overs? When considering this worst-case scenario, did they believe that they had no one in their ranks who could seize faltering fortune by the wrist and guide it to safety? Fidel Edwards, West Indies' No. 10 batsman, stared a very real defeat in the face for more than two and a half hours against the more superior attack from the two teams, so the wicket was not about to spring to horrific life in the last hour of play.

The coach, Duncan Fletcher, magnificently snippy after the match, did what all coaches must and launched a resolute defence of his team when he said that scoring runs on that wicket "was difficult". Dominica was hosting its first Test, so maybe the air around Windsor Park felt a bit unfamiliar to all involved. It was, however, the 1999th Test match in the history of the game (and India's 451st); in this brief span of 134 years, it has largely been established that the best of Test cricket usually involves what is "difficult". Greats of the game are usually born in Difficult. What message does that send to Virat Kohli or even about him? Sorry, lad, it's too difficult. You really can't handle this. Let's finish the game quick, make up for Kingston and go back to our hotel early. We've won the series, anyway.

Just like football toned down a brand of ghastly tackles by calling them "professional fouls", it is perhaps time to create a new-age cricket euphemism: the professional cop-out. In Dominica, to the ignorant world of us zero-class cricketers, the Indian team ended up looking both cynical and timid. That's quite an achievement.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by Lallubhai on (July 16, 2011, 13:27 GMT)

I have followed Indian cricket since the early 70's and for the most part of it i was broken hearted with their failures after failures .The last few years we have won the World 20/20, Wkorld 50/50 , become & held onto 1st Test ranking & successfully run the amazing IPL that is the envy of all cricketing nations .I SEE THE GLASS AS HALF FULL . GO INDIA GO.

Posted by S.N.Singh on (July 16, 2011, 12:28 GMT)

I AT ONE TIME THOUGHT THAT INDIA SHOULD HAVE GO AND GET THE RUNS IN THE LAST INNINGS AT THE WEST INDIES. BUT WHEN I CONSIDER WAHT HAD HAPPENED IN THAT SITUATION, I THINK "INDIA AND DHONI DID THE RIGHT THING. LOOK AT IT THIS AT A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. ON THE WHOLE SERIES, ONLY DRAVID AND LAXMAN WITH RAINA REALY GET OF. INDIA DID MADE A TRY BUT LOOSING MUKUND FIRST BALL, THEN DRAVID,THEN RAINA, THE FAST SCORER IN THE GAME, ONLY LEFT HARBHAGAN TO GET THE RUNS ON A FAST SCORING RATE. THE WAY THE TWO SIDES WERE PLAYING THROUGH OUT THE SERIES, VERY SLOW SCORING AND WEST INDIES HITTING THE DOWN, ATTACKING THE INDIANS BODY. I THINK THEY DID THE RIGHT THING AND NOT TO GO AT THE BOWLING. IT WA A SERIES OF ATTACKING THE BATSMEN ON BOTH SIDES AND NOT ATTCKING THE WICKET? THE PROBLEM IN THE 2ND. AND 3RD. TEST INDIA DID NOT PLAY MISHRA, MISRA WHOULD HAVE MADE THE DIFFERENCE. THE WEST INDIES PLAYERS WERE GUSSING AT MISRAH BOWLING . THIS IS THE BIG DIFFERENCE WEST INDIES MADE TOO MUCH RUN

Posted by Percy_Fender on (July 16, 2011, 12:23 GMT)

Nampally's comments are absolutely brilliant. I agree with him totally that if Mishra had played in lieu of Munaf, India would not have had to play the second innings and this silly debate would never have taken place though we won the series. In my opinion on the lines of Nampally's thoughts, Harbhajan was the villian of the piece even if he got his 400th wicket and looked as if he was Shane Warne himself and has even talked about being disappointed if he did not get to 600. Harbhajan is a big stumbling block and must go. In fact I thought Raina is good enough if Mishra also plays. Harbhajan should go back to the drawing board and see if he can get back the confidence to bowl at around 49/50 mph with flight and drift.Till that happens, he should be kept away. A match winner is one who can run through a batting not just boost his own life time tally. However, I think Munaf is coming back to his expected pace and that is good news. He can be a handful on wickets with some juice.

Posted by raj_canada on (July 15, 2011, 23:49 GMT)

@ Ms. Sharda Ugra: I have two questions for u.. Have you swallowed a dictionary??.. Why do u have such a captious mind on Indian players/BCCI?? That was not a flat track to score easily and also u remember that it was not a T20 where the track was prepared freshly.. It was the '5th day West Indies pitch'.. By the by, u r a good writer though (if u avoid this 'pessimist' journalism)

Posted by crickeyt on (July 15, 2011, 23:31 GMT)

I can't understand the Indian fans posting here who are satisfied with a mere series win. India lost 2 points in the Test rankings because they did not push for victory. And rightly so, since a series against the 8th ranked side should have been won by more than a 1-0 margin. In the larger scheme of things, with a Test championship now in place, the Indian team needs to stop thinking about series wins and start maximizing the points they can earn. The only way to do that is to win as many Test matches as possible. For the Dominica Test, both Fletcher and Sharda are not correct - it was a draw neither due to weather nor timid batsmen. The chase was a tough one to begin with, but India got into that position due to toothless bowling that could not dislodge a number 10 batsman for a more than a session.

Posted by sachinrh on (July 15, 2011, 15:09 GMT)

I really want to believe my own theory.the whole efforts were to allow West Indies to Draw. in order to promote cricket in Dominica & indirectly support growth of cricket/economy in west Indies. to make sure one of the oldest beauty in the cricketing world survives. wow I feel so good being an Indian. its impossible to believe, #1 Test ranked team, world cup winner, T20 champs, IPL folks habitual of carrying T20 hammer, Legends of test cricket on the crease, Best young talent, coolest captain & most destructive Oneday player, game changer Bhaji, formidable lower bat order (if Fidel can bat for 37 ovr),slow but batsmen friendly pitch.et al.. pls do not tell me any other reason for offering a draw. in total disbelief, I did not move away from the screen, untill they stopped transmission. then I question myself.. wasnt it the West Indies, who after their worldcup defeat came, demolished, demoralised & went back with 3-0 test & 5-0 ODI win. I will go with my first line & Shardas first para

Posted by   on (July 15, 2011, 14:20 GMT)

hardly convincing,,,,,,,just celebrate d rise of indian cricket sharda,,,,,even aussies in their prime played out 4 draws on the trott against a lowly ranked kiwis,,,,that too in their own backyard. Its too easy to criticize and write out flaws of a team while sitting cozily in an A.C. cabin but dont u think d captain of worlds no 1 test team deserves a little more respect....

Posted by   on (July 15, 2011, 10:01 GMT)

The fans were short-changed. The umpires should never have allowed the match to be called off with 1 hour left. On the one hand people scream and shout about test matches not attracting people, and on the other, when people do turn up or tune on their TVs, matches are called off by the players. This is ridiculous.

Posted by Shantanu11 on (July 15, 2011, 9:16 GMT)

What's the point in continuing this endless debate?? Obviously there are 2 schools of thought here... one thought the best way was to play safe instead of going for glory by taking risk... other thinks being a champion one ought to behave like champion - belive in own abilities and keep trying to win in difficult situations... I think both lines of thinking are right in their own perspective.. whats the point in micro-analysing the decision for so long... I am not supporting Dhoni either but I can very well see the reasons behind his thinking... fair enough.. he is the captain and has acted what he thought was best in that situation.. to say the least I dont see this as obvious and biggest blunder by India...

Posted by anuajm on (July 15, 2011, 6:33 GMT)

Specially considering the fact if its a rule rather than an exception!!

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