Aakash Chopra
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Former India opener; author of Beyond the Blues, an account of the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season

India v New Zealand, 1st Test, Hyderabad, 2nd day

The perils of defensive captaincy

New Zealand were in a position to put India under pressure on the first two days but Ross Taylor's captaincy was found wanting at crucial stages

Aakash Chopra

August 24, 2012

Comments: 28 | Text size: A | A

India's first innings was not the best of times in the field for Ross Taylor, India v New Zealand, 1st Test, Hyderabad, 2nd day, August 24, 2012
Ross Taylor and New Zealand had their chances in the Indian innings © Associated Press
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What would be the moments from the ongoing India-New Zealand Test so far that you'd look back on? The poise and persistence with which Cheteshwar Pujara executed his maiden Test century, young Trent Boult's bolt to Tendulkar, or the tact with which R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha spun a web around the hapless New Zealand batsmen towards the end of the second day. Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni's skilled batting display and Jeetan Patel's four-for may also cross your mind.

But if we observe more closely, we may realise that as much as this game has been about these defining moments, it has been equally, if not more, about the passages of play during which the New Zealand captain Ross Taylor let the Indian batting off the hook. While this doesn't take anything away from India, it gives a useful insight into Taylor and New Zealand's defensive mindset that has allowed the game to drift away from them.

Tests are a wonderful spectacle because they aren't so much about the final result as they are about the process. The team that wins more sessions also grasps fleeting opportunities, stays in the present and goes on to win more matches.

On a typical win-the-toss-and-bat-first-pitch, losing the toss can be very unfortunate. But for an XI that had included four bowlers who bowl seam-up, it could have very well been a blessing in disguise, because the deteriorating pitch can be exploited only if you have the right personnel. The pitch may offer a lot of turn and variable bounce on days four and five, but if you don't have quality spinners to make full use of the favourable conditions, it means precious little.

The pitch in Hyderabad, quite surprisingly, had a bit of moisture on the first morning. Chris Martin and Co responded beautifully to the opportunity by not only getting lateral movement off the surface but also by removing the three most experienced Indian batsmen quickly. When Virat Kohli walked in to join Pujara at 125 for 3, New Zealand had a realistic opportunity to spring a surprise on the hosts. Another wicket at the time could have opened the floodgates, given Suresh Raina's tumultuous run in Test cricket. But instead of inflicting damage with the fast bowlers, Taylor chose to continue with Jeetan Patel from one end till Kohli found his feet.

Instead of dealing with the present and tightening the noose, Taylor chose to give his fast bowlers a breather so they could last if New Zealand had to bowl 150 overs. Instead of finding ways to bowl India out on the first day itself, he was occupied with the thought of keeping his bowlers relatively fresh for day two. Spin from one end was never going to pose tough questions for the young Indian batsmen, and they prospered.

Life rarely gives you a second opportunity to fix your mistakes, but that opportunity means something only if you've learnt your lessons the first time around. When Kohli and Raina fell in quick succession towards the end of the first day, Taylor had the chance to undo the past. MS Dhoni's preference for spinners over seam bowlers is no secret so it was commonsense to bring back Martin or Boult as soon as Raina departed. But Taylor chose a part-time bowler in Kane Williamson to operate from round the stumps with just a slip in place. It allowed Dhoni to ease himself into some batting form.

Instead of dealing with the present and tightening the noose, Taylor chose to give his fast bowlers a breather so they could last if New Zealand had to bowl 150 overs. Instead of finding ways to bowl India out on the first day itself, he was occupied with the thought of keeping his bowlers relatively fresh for day two

The argument in favour of continuing with spin was that the second new ball was around the corner, and more importantly New Zealand were way behind the over-rate. Wouldn't you rather face some penalty than allow the opposition to run away with the game? In any case, over-rate fines are handed out on the basis of a team's over-rate in the entire match and not for one innings alone. Taylor, therefore, could have taken care of that matter in their second innings.

As far as the availability of the second new ball was concerned, well, it can only yield wickets if there's a specific plan to make it happen. Taylor had a deep point and deep square leg for both batsmen even with the new ball during the closing moments of the first day and also on the second morning, which not only allowed easy singles but encouraged the bowlers to pitch shorter. The best way to take wickets with the new ball on subcontinental pitches is to bowl a lot fuller, and if you start setting fields for bad balls, the chances of taking wickets diminish.

There's an old saying in India: "If you have got the wrestler on the mat, make sure that you crush him completely, because if he manages to slip away from your grasp, he will beat you to death." Whenever you are up against a stronger opposition, it's imperative to make every opportunity count and finish them quickly. The longer the battle, the slimmer your chances.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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Posted by   on (August 30, 2012, 7:37 GMT)

siddhartha87 on (August 25 2012, 20:07 PM GMT) - Love your comment and could not agree more.

Posted by   on (August 27, 2012, 21:43 GMT)

His game has suffered too. dropped catches, no big score or meaningful innings since he was captain. McCullum is a better player and always played with confidence. He'd be a better option. But NZ is the golden child of cricket. with very few players playing and in a low quality domestic competition, the nz cricket team are like a rare orchid that is beautiful but hard to find. Every player in the world would go through much heart ache, walk long distances and forge in the unknown to be part of team that has more meaning than any other. "Played for australia?" big deal. "India" billions of them. NZ "wow! that would be amazing...'

Posted by beejaytee on (August 27, 2012, 6:44 GMT)

I wonder if NZ made the right call promoting Taylor over Baz. I was all for it at the time, but the few times I've seen Baz captain, he seems to lift. Ross just seems like the captaincy is a weight around his neck. His batting is always a bit hit-and-miss, but his poor fielding seems to show how muddled he is at the moment. First step is getting the right team on the paddock though. It won't be a silver bullet, but NZ need to play to their strength, which is seam bowling. Martin, for all his heart, is not going to routinely get 2 or 3 early. Southee or Boult just might. Both these guys', and Wagner and Bracewell's, figures would be much more flattering if the slip fielders would help them out a bit. Patel or Nethula, or both, need the seamers to get sides to 3 or 4 down before they can do their thing. Risk the over-rate and go hard at 'em! 2nd Test: MG, Baz, Kane, Ross, Franklin, BJ, Wagner, Southee, (Bracewell/Patel), Nethula, Boult.

Posted by Lankan_Pride1981 on (August 27, 2012, 1:37 GMT)

Get under 19 indian captain in the team he is a star all the best india

Posted by venkatesh018 on (August 26, 2012, 7:36 GMT)

The defensiveness of Taylor started with the selection of the XI itself. They needed to pick 5 bowlers. Neil Wagner would have been very useful in place of Flynn or James Franklin(who is basically an average batsman who bowls friendly trundlers)

Posted by   on (August 25, 2012, 22:14 GMT)

The NZ cricket team is, as a whole' simply not up to the stadard of first class international cricket. Bangladesh, Zimbabie, Ireland---that's NZ's league. This Indian tour is just a waiste of space, money and effort. It would have been more useful to send the team to play against a few club teams in Indian,for practice. Instead we have a disgrace.

Posted by siddhartha87 on (August 25, 2012, 20:07 GMT)

its funny that akash chopra comments about being defensive

Posted by   on (August 25, 2012, 17:40 GMT)

Amazing, nobody bothered mentioning the same negative Captaincy of Dhoni in those 8 overseas tests with both ENG & AUS. Instead The fab four were blamed. Everyone gets old, true, but they took IND to no1 with a very weak bowling unit. That team never won series in SA & AUS cos of negative captaincy, not lack of opportunities. They are past their best but only Kohli & maybe Pujara actually earned their place. Something to note, Sehwag & Dravid got their maiden Test Century in SA, Ganguly in ENG & think Laxman got it in Aus, certainly Kohli as well. So Kohli as a big career ahead. As for the others who were given places, don't expect much when they tour SA(my home) in 2013

Posted by chapathishot on (August 25, 2012, 14:03 GMT)

Ashley Brackstone : But would love to see the Poms and Aussies soon in India and how well this team does against them.I feel Poms might have a really hard time with their inept batsmen playing spin but Aussies will do better

Posted by Princepurple1979 on (August 25, 2012, 13:25 GMT)

The moment Dravid and Laxman allowed youngsters to get into the team, Pujara has shown it was a right decision. Now Sachin also has to follow suit, as I believe it would really painful to be a youngster like Rahane in Indian team, who has to sit on bench, while watching a 40 year old sachin paddin up.... and to all those who say Sachin is in the team due to his ability, the way he got out clean bowled in this match,plus the last 8 test matches proves it's otherwise..

Posted by   on (August 25, 2012, 10:56 GMT)

@sharidas, I think you need to get your understanding clarified on yorkers. Tendulkar did get bowled on an yorker.

Posted by   on (August 25, 2012, 10:20 GMT)

Pitches prepared for the home team, so it is little wonder what the outcome of the match... Would like to see an overseas tour of India soon, maybe England, SA or Aust with this current Indian line up :)

Posted by sharidas on (August 25, 2012, 8:21 GMT)

Looking at the pitch taking turn, I think, India could have fielded one more batsmen and two more spinners for this match. Goes to show the sorry state of our pitches which make our batsmen great at home and vulnerable when they go overseas. Possibly the reason Ross Taylor used Patel early on.

Posted by Pd11 on (August 25, 2012, 5:13 GMT)

Good, bad or ugly, the point is ever since Cricket came into existence, especially test cricket, defensive mind game was ever existent. The difference, ofcourse, was the way defensive techniques/tactics were utilised. ROss Taylor or any captain for that matter is no different, they all follow the same character. Also, let not talk about the captaincy thinking hat, as Indians, we poke our nose in everything. Interestingly, players, who never had an oppurtunity to further their career, failed often, goes on to display their writing skills to befool the likes of sane individuals. Phew!!! One question, why this kolaveri di??? I know this question bears no resemblance to the discussion or the points highlighted; however, stop being judgemental about someone's tactical acumen. They may not be good, but definately ain't the worst, specially when their respective boards have showed trust and saw some quality to assign the role. For now, let's enjoy Cricket as it is on...

Posted by sifter132 on (August 25, 2012, 5:04 GMT)

I'm yet to see proof that bowlers actually DO pitch is shorter with a deep point. It makes sense in theory, but I think you'll find NZ was bowling relatively short even BEFORE they had a deep point dispatched. THAT was their mistake - their length, not so much saving 3 runs everytime it went to a deep point. I say make the Indian batsmen score straight down the ground, the area they are least comfortable with. Bowl at the stumps looking for LBWs and bowled, 5 men on the leg (3 in front of square), a very straight mid off and extra cover, a slip or two/gully. That would be my 'defensive field'.

Posted by shibuvin on (August 25, 2012, 4:42 GMT)

Attacking or defensive!!! When you are on the field, you will be knowing the reality. Not by sitting in the cushion chair in the air condition room. You can write about anything, as a critic.....

Posted by sharidas on (August 25, 2012, 4:18 GMT)

The first sign that a batsman is getting older is when they become vulnerable to yorkers. This can be checked out if one looks at all good batsmen towards the end of their career....need I say more ?

Posted by   on (August 25, 2012, 4:15 GMT)

I wrote in a comment on yesterday commentary along the lines of.. Rosco Taylor choice as a captain reflect a "lets lose as best we can" attitude as aposed to playing to win attitutde, WHICH is seen by Brendon McCullum, I really do think NZ cricket made a mistake in chosing Ross over Brendon as the NZ captain.

Posted by S.N.Singh on (August 24, 2012, 23:52 GMT)


Posted by nlambda on (August 24, 2012, 23:49 GMT)

You should send this article to MS Dhoni. Tomorrow once nos. 9,10,11 start batting he will place 6 fielders at the boundary, as he did in Aus, Eng, and WI.

Posted by   on (August 24, 2012, 23:11 GMT)

i remember being energised reading cricinfo articles in past...not anymore....are you short of decent ?!...the quality has gone down significantly off late...even the daily reports are are a drag!

Posted by Naresh28 on (August 24, 2012, 22:37 GMT)

Ashwin continues to amaze all with his batting skills. After todays showing it makes him the lead spinner for India.

Posted by Ruchit on (August 24, 2012, 21:25 GMT)

Well if you think about it... Kohli was caught at second slip... Dhoni would not have 2 slip fielders if the batsman is as comfortable as Kohli was.

Posted by ac_Indian on (August 24, 2012, 20:56 GMT)

Your articles are starting to carry redundancies these days, its almost as if every 2-3 days you have to write about something.

Posted by Raki99 on (August 24, 2012, 20:28 GMT)

Even a ranji trophy winner should be able to beat the team of newzealand. No biggie over here lets get england.

Posted by Nampally on (August 24, 2012, 19:50 GMT)

Whilst the first day belonged to C.Pujara, the second day belonged to the Indian Spinners, Ashwin & Ojha. The same 2 spin Duo had won the West Indies series for India.Thereafter Ojha was benched for the reasons best known to Dhoni. India's bowling strength in Tests has always been spin.By benching the spinners consistently (Rahul Sharma & Ojha), these spinners never got a chance to show their capability. So it is heartening to see India with its Weakest bowling in the World shinning thru' spinners. That is why the Day 2 belonged to the triumphant spinners. The same Duo will win the Test match too.As regards Taylor's tactics, it must be noted one of their seamer Bracewell had gone of the field due to muscular problem. So his tactics on Day 1 had been significantly influenced by unknown nature of this injury. He had more aggressive field on Day 2. However it was 5 dropped catches by NZ that hurt them badly irrespective of Taylor's tactics.If catches were taken India would have got<300!

Posted by BG4cricket on (August 24, 2012, 19:18 GMT)

Terrific article Aakash. It has certainly been a test to forget for Taylor between his dropped catches, poor leadership in the field and to top it off no runs when his team needed them desperately which is a shame for the match as he is their number 1 chance of giving India a run for their money. Notwithstanding, I think you have captured the essence of what is wrong with NZ cricket at the moment and that is they do not believe they can win. These sort of negative tactics right throughout the innings merely give confidence to the opposition and permeates through your own team so that they become timid and brittle because they value not losing more highly than winning. I know they are a bit of a limited side in terms of raw ability but they need to find ways to best use these skills (much like the Kiwi teams of old) to chase victory rather than merely avoid defeat - their cricket will be better for it !

Posted by citizenkc on (August 24, 2012, 18:29 GMT)

Good article, Aakash. You're right. Defensive captaincy rarely pays off. Of course, Dhoni has been guilty of this many times in the past as well. NZ has a pretty good pace attack, even if none of them are express. Their nagging length can get them wickets. Bowling short is not going to help. Also, playing Patel over Wagner is a bad decision. Wagner bowled pretty well in the WI (as did Southee) and he is a pretty solid batsman. It appears that NZ came to India with the idea of not losing, rather than winning. That never works because ultimately you end up losing!

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Aakash Chopra Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

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