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What's with India's don't-win-but-don't-lose attitude?

The country's cricket, at all levels, is suffering because of players' reluctance to challenge themselves

Harsha Bhogle

February 15, 2013

Comments: 132 | Text size: A | A

MS Dhoni collects yet another series trophy, West Indies v India, 3rd Test, Dominica, 5th day, July 10, 2011
By agreeing to a draw in Dominica, India gave up their first chance of winning two Tests in a series in West Indies © AFP
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As I watched the last day of the Irani Cup unfold, completely inconsequential, and devoid of a challenge, I wondered what it is about our cricket system that encourages so many teams to play safe, to believe that getting the first-innings lead is all that matters. It bothered me - and I hope it bothers a lot of people - that a higher sporting goal, that of winning the game outright, seems to be so low down the priority of most teams.

Among the many responses I got on Twitter when I posed the question why, one came from Anand Halve, among India's foremost marketing analysts. "Do you think 'It's ok if you don't win but don't lose' is a reflection of a national mindset that goes beyond cricket?" he asked, and being the analytical sort, promptly followed it with another: "The Minimax vs Maximin criterion as a motto for living?"

The definition of Minimax in game theory, simplified, is (courtesy Wikipedia): "… each player minimises the maximum payoff possible for the other - since the game is zero-sum, he also minimises his own maximum loss (i.e. maximises his minimum payoff)."

At the start of day five of the Irani Cup, Rest of India were 413 ahead with 90 overs left in the match. Remember, it was a last-day pitch, and except on day one, a run rate of four an over hadn't been reached. You would have thought 4.5 runs per over would have been not only a safe enough challenge but also one that would have given their bowlers the best opportunity to take ten wickets. Instead, they batted on and set Mumbai 517 from a maximum of 67 overs.

When I asked Harbhajan Singh, the Rest of India captain, if he had contemplated a declaration overnight, he suggested that on a track like that, they didn't want to offer the opposition a chance. He was minimising the maximum payoff possible for the opposition (to win the game by chasing 413 on the last day) but also maximising his minimum payoff (to win on first-innings lead). In this case, aiming for his maximum payoff, winning outright, would have been excellent for cricket, would have given his bowlers something to play for on the last day, and would have thrown the gauntlet down for the Mumbai batsmen, who would have had no choice but to go for the target, since otherwise they had lost the game on first-innings lead.

And so we had another day of low-pressure, low-challenge cricket, which, as it turns out, is ingrained in India's domestic structure. The idea of challenging yourself to discover how good you can be is unfortunately considered outdated, unfashionable or just stupid. Which is such a pity.

To go back to Halve's question: is this a national trait, to effectively do just enough to get a favourable but sub-optimal result? And is this reluctance to take pressure reflected in a fragility that is manifest when pressure is inevitable? It is for the social scientists to examine whether this is a national trait, but on the evidence of a little bit of research, I have to conclude that it is an overwhelming feature of Indian cricket.

Let's start at the top and the now infamous Test in Dominica in 2011. India, leading the series 1-0, had to make 180 from 47 overs to win. Their worst-case scenario, a defeat, was remote. By the time they moved to a target of 86 from 15 overs, with seven wickets in hand, it had disappeared. India could either draw or win. They chose to draw rather than challenge themselves to win. The result was favourable (a series win) but sub-optimal (1-0 instead of 2-0). It suggested India didn't want to be pushed.

One level lower, we saw the mindset in the Irani Cup. Even more unfortunate was Mumbai's approach in their Ranji Trophy match against Gujarat. Needing 135 from a minimum of 41 overs to seal an outright win, Mumbai opted to dawdle to 65 for 1 from 27 overs, with opener Kaustubh Pawar scoring 15 not out from 88 balls. If you love bright, attacking cricket, you would have been particularly pained by the statement by the Mumbai coach: "It wasn't really going to matter eventually - whether we went for the target or not. The fact is, we have achieved the objective of qualifying." Mumbai allowed themselves to play dull, purposeless cricket instead of challenging themselves for a superior cause.

Go lower and at Under-16 level you have a similar attitude. It is inevitable, for youngsters to be looking at what senior cricketers do. Sample this from Mumbai v Jharkhand in the Vijay Merchant Trophy quarter-final. Mumbai made 360 and bowled Jharkhand out for 46. Facing a seemingly inevitable innings defeat, Jharkhand found themselves fielding again while Mumbai made 440 for 9, a lead of 754. They then left Jharkhand around 33 overs of batting. The moment Mumbai's lead went beyond 450 or 500, there was no competitive interest left in the match, and the only purpose was generating numbers - statistics that would look good on paper, batting averages. What you didn't get was a contest that would make those numbers relevant.

Worse still by batting on, you are looking at generating batting numbers rather than allowing bowlers to win the match in the fourth innings. By the time the bowlers are given their shot, there was no competitive element left in the game. How do you produce attacking bowlers who can win you a game in a 50-50 situation on the last day if they don't get the practice to do so? By minimising the maximum payoff possible for the opposition, teams, and therefore Indian cricket, lose out much more in the long run.

From time to time, the technical committee of the BCCI has tried to make winning outright more attractive than winning by merely achieving a first-innings lead, but committees cannot change mindsets that have been ingrained over generations. Till the mindset changes to one that rewards winning, India will have to live with batsman-dominated-but-largely-uncompetitive cricket.

Minimax might be a good concept in some business situations, even in some sports, but it is harming Indian cricket.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. He is currently contracted to the BCCI. His Twitter feed is here

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Posted by Prad81_viji84 on (February 18, 2013, 8:45 GMT)

points should be given based number of wickets taken by a team and runs scored against overs faced. Will help all departments to get better. Just an idea!! Take vote on these ideas!!

Posted by Shan156 on (February 16, 2013, 23:10 GMT)

@Cpt.Meanster, ok that is an excuse that you have been using for quite some time - that India don't do well in tests because they don't like it. I suppose if and when India beat Austraila in the test series to follow, you will change your stand. But, let's not go there now. You say that India are brilliant in ODIs and T20s because they love it. We have seen that brilliance in India surely against England even though they only won 3-2 and not 5-0 as many like you predicted. They also lost an ODI series just before that to Pakistan. And, that brilliance was nowhere to be seen when they toured Eng. Of course, it may be too long before for you since you think that Ind. smashed Eng. in the T20s also and that happened just 2 months back. The T20 series was drawn 1-1. How is that smashing? Only you could explain.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (February 16, 2013, 19:35 GMT)

@Nutcutlet: So here we go again friend. You and I are DIFFERENT. So why wouldn't you accept that there are critics of test cricket such as myself in the world ? Is it fear that stops you from doing so ? OR, plain ignorance to acknowledge a large group of people who will ultimately shape the future of cricket. Speaking of India's position in world cricket, I don't think anybody has the rights to determine that other than the BCCI and the Indian players themselves. It's very simple, India don't do well in tests and they don't like it. They are brilliant in ODIs and T20s and they love it. They smashed England recently to prove it so that isn't bad eh ? Besides, please do not insult Bangladesh cause they have some degree of pride too. In fact they would have done well against India compared to the boys from good ol' England who simply don't deserve to play ODI cricket. So you see, everyone has their preferences, there are no written rules with regards to liking a certain format.

Posted by   on (February 16, 2013, 18:18 GMT)

The system could be tweaked such that a team cannot bat for more than 225 overs putting both innings together. In addition to this a few more interesting rules will make sure the teams play good result oriented cricket.

Posted by   on (February 16, 2013, 18:08 GMT)

May be the system could be tweaked such that in the first innings a team is not allowed to bat for more than 135 overs. Let there be an upper limit in test cricket. and no more than 90 overs in the second innings. This will make sure a result always is there.

Posted by   on (February 16, 2013, 17:37 GMT)

it was appalling to see the best bowler of this ranji season bowling at speed between 120 and 127 km.the problem is the casualness with which we approach the issues around us. country cricket has more been like a formality than a serious event.see how pattinson or starc or faulkner haved quikly filled the void in australian fast bowling deparment if there was any.playing it safe may not be a bad strategy altogether but excellence has to be the watchword for those who administer and those who get administered.

Posted by Nampally on (February 16, 2013, 16:33 GMT)

@spinkingKK:Agree, Leadership is the driving force in Teams' attitude. Kapil & Shastri had lot of gumption to lead by example. In addition,a Captain needs a United, balanced team of best available Players. A good example of leader is Captain Cook of England who bent backwards to get KP into the side & united him in XI, after a huge rift with some players. Compare this with an inflexible Dhoni who managed to split the team into 2 camps on the OZ tour. Dhoni also lost respect of some via consistent benching of players like Rahul Sharma, Rahane, Pujara & Tiwary. How can the same players + Sehwag respect & give 100% effort under MSD's captaincy? Winning attitude is developed by the captain + 10 other in-form players who earned their spot on performance. Such a XI will be confident in themselves & in the team, being the best available. I would suggest eliminate "Politics" to achieve this first before we talk of winning.All theories are great but they do not always translate into results.

Posted by tushicomeng on (February 16, 2013, 14:39 GMT)

@Debdip Your suggestion will lead to all 4 innings being played and more results, but I think the problem we need to address is that bowlers also try to take wickets. We need bowlers in our national team who can take 20 wickets. Limit on number of runs or max runs will not help that cause. First innings lead should not be incentivised with so many points. Making the final timeless might be another way. Players need to win the match outright. They won't get a win by lead in the first innings only.

We can only make some suggestions. BCCI need to look at past records, format which have worked in other domestic circuits and come up with a sophisticated system.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (February 16, 2013, 13:30 GMT)

@Sir.Ivor: Thank you for your kind words. I do look forward to India's resurrection in Test cricket terms but I sense that there isn't the genuine commitment in the places that count. Capt MSD has enthusiasm for ODI & t20 formats, but has frankly admitted that he finds Tests ( 'Days cricket', he calls it) a burden; it's something which doesn't chime with his outlook or disposition. He is a poor Test capt, whilst being v good elsewhere. And as there are rich pickings to be had from the IPL, it's human nature to feel that TC doesn't bring comparative rewards, in financial terms. It's a pity that the only reward that seems to mean anything is $$$ to a lot of cricketers. One can have too much & greed does kick in. If only the bigger picture was appreciated! And then there is the ambivalence of the BCCI who have an unhappy knack of failing to communicate any sense of direction for Indian cricket beyond IPL & anti DRS. They do not offer the leadership India requires, IMO. Kohli capt? Yes!

Posted by spinkingKK on (February 16, 2013, 13:24 GMT)

can some one time-travel and make Ravi Shastri as the Indian captain instead of Mohammed Azharuddin? That would have changed the culutre of the Indian cricket forever. Shastri had the same fearlessness as Kapildev and always competed with tooth and nail and played the sport sportively than just for gains. If your opposition team is good enough to chase down a huge target with the bowlers you got, they deserve to win. After all, win and loss is part of the game. I remember in one of the olympics games, India's hockey captian Dhanraj Pillay, saying that they wanted a win against Poland to qualify for the semi's. They socred one goal and held on for that lead unitl the last minute before Poland equalized with a late goal and broke their hearts. All they had to do was to play the game sportively and let the best team win. India was the best team and they would have won. but, they played it safe and ended up losing. We are not sportive!

Posted by bford1921 on (February 16, 2013, 12:46 GMT)

Cpt Meanster obviously prefers the easy limited over version of the game, where you only have to deal with 10 overs, or even worse, 4 overs from the best bowlers in the world, unlike tests where you get as many overs the best can bowl, hence why measuring the brilliance of a player is by their test stats. Chris Gayle, as fine a batter as he is isn't a better player than say Tendulkar, Lara, etc, if I focused on 20/20 I might think otherwise. Same applies to the bowlers i.e Malinga or Steyn?, etc. So many skills to admire, not just the ball going to the boundary

Posted by Sir.Ivor on (February 16, 2013, 12:43 GMT)

Nutcutlet I have always find your comments very balanced and seldom over the top.I like you, love Test cricket.While I find the 50 over format acceptable, the 20/20 version irritates me for its sheer imitation of the real thing. I simply detest it. I agree with you that unlike the last test match, the present one between Pakistan and South Africa very even so far and very interesting. It is following the path similar to the one between India and South Africa in 2010/11, when India batting last needed 170 to win with Tendulkar and Laxman well set amd on course to win. That would have made the series in India's favour.But it was not to be because of bad light and rain.I am mentioning this game because you should know that not too long ago India were very good. It is a cycle and they have lost the plot even if only for some time to come.From the looks of it the rebuilding is on well and you can expect them to be a good side again in a year from now. With probably Virat Kohli as captain.

Posted by ntalgeri on (February 16, 2013, 12:39 GMT)

Funnily, Mumbai have lost to a strategy that they themselves have championed all these years. Bat Bat Bat zzzzzzz, and win on first innings lead. This has become our cricketing culture , is responsible for India developing batsmen rather than bowlers of any repute and has hurt us. And people lament the lack of Mumbaikars in the Indian line up, Ha!

Posted by Nutcutlet on (February 16, 2013, 10:09 GMT)

@Cpt.Meanster: here we go again! If you've been watching the SA v Pakistan Test from Capetown, you wouldn't dismiss TC with such emotive adjectives as 'lousy & dull'. Absorbing, fascinating, even riveting would be my preferred description of the current test -- but there again, I'm quite sure that my patience is greater than yours & I appreciate the journey whilst you may only be concerned with reaching the destination. India seldom plays TC these days that would merit the praise I gan give in bucket-loads to Ajmal & AB de V, so I sense your exasperation with yr national team's lethargic attitude to TC. Perhaps it is time for India to let go of the gold standard & introduce paper currency in cricketing terms. There is neither the will, nor the enthusiasm for much more national ignominy on theTest cricket stage. The kitchen's too hot, so leave it. India has had 60+ years of national sporting pride carried by her Test cricketers. It's gone. Time to play lots of t20/ODIs v B'desh instead.

Posted by Sajjid1992 on (February 16, 2013, 8:19 GMT)

Great article by Harsha: Same way if you look at the scorecards of 2 out of four Q-Finals Ranji Trophy you can judge the defensive mindset of the Captains, they were not playing for victory.For instance in 2nd Q-F between Saurashtra v Karnataka why Saurashtra prolonged their 2nd innings to 5th day the should declare when Pujara completed 250 and give Karnataka a target of around 500 but they play on because they know they are in S-final on 1st inns lead. Same in the 3rd Q-F between Mumbai v Baroda, Mumbai should declare at over night score 171/1 with the lead of 547 but they play on and kill the match!!!

Posted by Sir.Ivor on (February 16, 2013, 5:18 GMT)

It is nice to see many management chaps throw their hats in the ring and talk about cricket in the jargon that they feel so comfortable with. Harsha a management professional himself, has been able to draw out these bright young men to discuss about cricket. And now in the leadership context. The important thing is for the people reading theory is in not getting lost in just diagnosis rather than coming to grips with execution. Nampally's unhappiness with management jargon is understandable considering that in the end there have been very few workable solutions prescribed.How about a simple formula to bring out the attacking instincts in leaders.Selflessness and leading from the front ?Motivation not just to play the game but to win at all levels.I have always believed that a nation's history plays a big part in the mindset of its people.Also the strict upbringing. Maybe that is why most Indians are docile and not just in cricket.You cannot play to win if you are scared of losing.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (February 16, 2013, 2:35 GMT)

As LOUSY and DULL as test cricket already is, India's approach to the format is equally lethargic and pathetic. As an Indian fan, I stick my neck out to say that a considerable amount of Indian fans themselves do not favour test cricket. It's very evident in the way crowds gather in the morning of a test match in India. Compare that to an ODI or T20, the results are staggering and astounding. This attitude has also rubbed onto the players who would rather play T20 or ODI cricket compared to tests. I do recognize test cricket's history and place among the cricketing elite. But the harsh reality in India is that young cricketers view the sport along the lines of financial incentives. Playing an ODI or IPL game pays a lot more than wearing the Baggy Blue test cap. An attitude change is needed and this is where the BCCI has really failed as the custodian of Indian cricket.

Posted by Silverbails on (February 16, 2013, 1:37 GMT)

Too true, Harsha!! And, as Halve has said, it's not only cricket but the whole of Life where this attitude prevails. It's really disappointing; I mean, what's the POINT of playing a sport IF there's no intention of winning by NOT risking losing, even though the odds may be heavily stacked against the latter result!! Far beeter to have tried and lost than not to have tried at all, to paraphrase a famous saying. As you say, Harsha, the classic result was that final Test against the Windies in 2011 when India had a definite chance to win the Series 2 - 0. That chance may NEVER come again for Team India. For positiveness, one only needs to look at the legendary 1970's Windies team: no challenge was too great. 3 - 0 in India in 1983-84 says it all!! And, you only need to look at the attitude of the Aussies...tough, uncompromising, and to play to WIN. India needs to wake up...there REALLY is no place to draw, when a win is on the cards!! Mindsets and authorities need to change...

Posted by sceptic64 on (February 15, 2013, 23:28 GMT)

Abimanyhu - re: " I remember my father talking about an England- West Indies test in 1984 ...West Indies needed 342 in 78 overs... on a day 5 pitch [and] got there in 66 overs courtesy a breathtaking double ton by Greenidge"

I have to make allowance here: it is clear that you are not old enough to know that game, or Gordon Greenidge or the circumstances. I am: I watched that innings. But note this:

1/ At the time, WI were utterly dominant: you may remember Waugh's Australia? Same thing. 2/ Greenidge: he had a bad knee. If he limped to the crease - as he did that day - you knew you were in trouble.If he couldn't run, he only hit boundaries. Imagine an on-form Sehwag, but with, say, twice the talent. From memory, he ended up 214*, btw..

Under the circumstances, England were right to try and avoid defeat. But Greenidge was on form. Gomes came in at no3.Who was next? IVA Richards. Then Clive Lloyd.

They could bat too.

The players to whom Bhogle refers are not in that league

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 22:27 GMT)

Very well written.."the don't win but don't lose attitude" is quite evident in the longer format.(4/5 days) at any level.. but it may not be the players' attitude only. If we go another level lower say in gully cricket when a player starts playing the game there is only one attitude i.e. to win the game.At a higher level it may be because of the coaches, administrators as mentioned in the Mumbai -Jharkhand example.. so that has to change as well. Also at the highest level it can be said that the Indian team wanted to ensure a first series win in West Indies so they played it safe.

Posted by PPD123 on (February 15, 2013, 22:17 GMT)

Very good article. I guess risk taking is a function of the individual driving the ship and the environment in which he is operating. By way of not encouraging risk taking at a grass root level, we are developing individuals who are becoming risk averse. 2ndly, the environment - we as a society are equally to blame, the media is also to blame. Take for example - In the forthcoming series against Aus, Dhoni tries to be adventerous and goes for results and say declares 420 ahead with 100 overs to play and Aus get there 7 wkts down and Watson scoring 180, the entire country and the media will come down heavily on Dhoni, for decl and going for a win, rather than appreciating a brilliant inngs of 180 from Watson or a decent bowling performance from one of the bowlers to have Aus 7 down. So I guess there has to be a change allround, with how cricketers think and play, and also around how media and supporters follow the game.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 20:27 GMT)

Stop giving any points to drawn matches, just like Tests. Zero points for draws. Then, we'll see captains and coaches drive their players and their teams for wins.

Posted by Nampally on (February 15, 2013, 20:14 GMT)

@Sir.Ivor:I agree 100% - exactly my thoughts too!. I had made this point in my comments on A.Chopra's article. Limiting the overs/innings over 2 innings will get a Result. Also the 90 overs/day is the regulation in most Tourneys.4 days @ 90 overs/day fits the format too. This only leads to a Result. But the "attitude change" depends upon the Leadership. It starts from BCCI to The Selectors & to the Team Captain to bring about that winning attitude. Indian team have clearly shown lack of intensity & determination to buckle down & fight back. It was evident in all 11 out Tests lost in the recent 3 series. Firstly the Team has to be the best one available picked on Form, Fitness & Performance. Next a captain who unites it into a team not divides them & thirdly Leadership on the field to get the best out of his XI. This has not happened in recent Losses.Neither the Selectors nor the Captain fulfilled the above requisites.Unless it happens there will be no self confidence & teamwork to WIN!

Posted by RealSelector on (February 15, 2013, 19:48 GMT)

The rules need to be tweaked towards encouraging the teams to take 20 wickets. For that, in case of a draw, the points system should reward the team which has taken more number of wickets. This will serve dual purpose - first, make those tall 600+ first inning scores fruitless, since the team needs time to pick wickets - more wickets than what it loses to score those tall scores. Second, make the teams try to take wickets instead of being defensive. It will also force the ground staff to prepare sporting wickets to give advantage to the home team. I do not know if there is any ICC rule governing first class matches that states that only first innings lead shall be considered for awarding points in case of a draw. If yes, my arguments above do not hold water; else I believe it is worth a try.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 19:19 GMT)

Wonderful article Harsha. This mindset; as you mentioned; precolates to almost every competitive activity that Indians indulge in.

The will to win is missing and the thrill of the chase is also missed in the process.

At least as far as cricket is concerned, I believe that wins should not be awarded on basis of first innings lead. In test cricket, a game is considered a DRAW, if a result is not conclusive. The same should be the case in Ranji trophy as well. This change would bring massive changes in the midset of our cricketers.

I hate to admit it, but I admire the spirit of the aussies, and I wish our mentality leans more toward theirs.

Posted by jhabib on (February 15, 2013, 19:19 GMT)

"… each player minimises the maximum payoff possible for the other - since the game is zero-sum, he also minimises his own maximum loss (i.e. maximises his minimum payoff)."

This seems representative of the Indian cricketing mindset from my personal experience in playing Cricket with them.

"Don't concede any boundaries, singles are OK" was the advice given to me by my Indian captain and team mates when I was bolwing.

"Don't lose your wicket, look to take singles and stay on" was advised when I went in to bat.

Our team only scored 74 runs in a drab 20 over game with 2 wickets to spare. Our primariliy-Indian opposition went on to win in the 17th over having lost 6 wickets.

Having played cricket elsewhere, usual advice was to attack as much as possible in the short format of the game.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 18:56 GMT)

fantastic observations,..probably the best article on Indian Cricket for some years..The ONLY reason that India cannot aspire to be world beaters in test cricket for a sizable period ...If you cannot have attacking bowlers who can take 20 wickets you cannot win ..hardly matters whether you keep Dhoni as the captain or change Dhoni with ..well Priyanka Chopra or Vidya Balan as captain...the main thing is attitude..Indian ckt is batting dominated & no plans fr bowling..for generations in domiestic ckt teams thrive on 1st inng lead to win games.& invariably the 4th & 5th days of ranji,irani games are meant for raking up batting statistics..hence bowling culture in our cricket has dissappeared..Unlike Pakistan we do not have anything to fall back on once our batting flops in intl matches.we play catch up ckt..BCCI is to be sqarely blamed for this..reduce ODIs ,T20 games,,,reduce time period of IPL..scrap 1st inng wins in Ranji games..limit 2nd inngs to 100 ovr per inngs & hv outright win

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 18:42 GMT)

the problem lies in giving 3 points for a 1st innings lead and 5 points for outright win. 1 point is given where 1st innings can also not be completed. if for all draws only 1 point is given irrespecive of first innings lead, then only our domestic structure will improve and then only there would be a killer instinct to get an outright win.

Posted by mumbaiguy79 on (February 15, 2013, 18:36 GMT)

It will go a long way if we can reduce the number of teams in the domestic cricket competition. Why does the state of Maharashtra and Gujarat for instance has 3 teams each? Does it make sense? Look at where the Maharashtra and Vidarbha cricket teams are and where Mumbai is relatively? Does no good IMO.

Posted by ARad on (February 15, 2013, 18:27 GMT)

I am not sure if commenter Nppinte made a typo earlier and thus said 'batatons' instead of 'batathons' but it works either way. I don't know if Indian players have an intrinsic (i.e., genetic) attitude that affects them but I can see how it is a response to playing conditions (based on rewards to batsmen, rewards to teams, playing surfaces) which guides the attitude. (I wonder how many Ranji captains are bowlers...) Why suffer on the field going for a win when it does not produce any reward? BCCI should use the 'carrot' approach if it wants to develop match-winning bowlers. Change the reward system (points for outright wins in FC cricket, change the playing surfaces to reduce the number of batathons, reduce the importance given to franchise leagues such as IPL that does not permit players develop sustained stamina, etc.) and you will see fundamental improvements in Indian results within a decade or so.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 17:32 GMT)

Dont agree with the generalization of a cricketing mindset to a national mind set...As of right now India continues to make strides in terms of entrepreneurship which would not have been possible with a "minimise loss" mindset. While to some extent it is true that the spirit of a nation is reflected in its sporting achievements (as evident from India's sporting rise during the "India Shining" phase) it cant be generalized.

Posted by Nampally on (February 15, 2013, 17:19 GMT)

Harsha, "Expected value or Bayesian Principle", is the best Realistic approach, going by the modern theories.It is the lack of confidence in self & in the team that leads to rather pessimistic "Maximin" attitude. Harbhajan's attitude, as ROI captain clearly signifies it. As for the existing attitude in the Ranji of just aiming at the First innings lead, look at it realistically. All matches are played on flat pitches. No side has dominant bowlers to capture 20 wkts. A realistic remedy is to play (a) On spiced up pitches or (b) Specified overs/innings matches. Since (a) is difficult, the easy way out is (b). This will lead to a Winner in every match as in Hazare tourney. India also needs more dynamic leaders who are trained to Maximax attitude or follow Expected Value approach.This will mandate selecting a (XI + Captain) picked on current Form, Performance & Fitness.This has been rarely done in India.Without providing these requisites, the Team India attitude will never be a Winning one

Posted by SDHM on (February 15, 2013, 17:14 GMT)

As someone who isn't familiar at all with Indian domestic cricket, can someone tell me what this first innings lead rule is at all? To me, that seems utterly, utterly ridiculous if so - eradicate the possibility to win a game like that, and watch captains get a bit more aggressive at least.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 17:06 GMT)

I think that the reason behind the first innings lead was to have results and teams gets points and they qualify. I have a proposal on this matter. Lets give each team 100 overs max in an Innings or 450 runs which ever is earlier. that will lead to results also.

Posted by Raghu1948 on (February 15, 2013, 17:04 GMT)

One of the best posted article with full analysis. Harsha's background and intelligence should be utilised better by BCCI . But who cares about Indian cricket in that set up. PDR

Posted by NarayanShankar on (February 15, 2013, 16:55 GMT)

What about, for domestic cricket, having only 1 innings with 2 days' play? If the 1st innings is all that matters, why have 2 innings and 3 or 4 boring days? This would be one step higher than ODIs as there would be no limit of 50 overs and, at the same time, there would be need to score rapidly and declare to get a win.

Posted by Nish_US on (February 15, 2013, 16:47 GMT)

Anand Halve is spot on - It is in the national mindset and exists even outside of cricket...

Those few that challenge themselves, take the risks with the confidence that they can bounce back, wit the beleif in their ability... well those are the few that you read about in the news.... but the majority of us 99.99% of the population just are content to end the day just the where we started it.

Posted by xylo on (February 15, 2013, 16:21 GMT)

@ AsherCA: hope you thought at least once on your "strict" measures...

1. Let's say Dhoni is not selected for the next 6 months. Who will be the stand-in captain next? Kohli. One match, and he is not selected for the next 6 months. Oh, and also the team. At this rate, we will have Agarkar and Dighe in the XI in no time. And, you would expect the team to win.

Let's see what would happen if they are "punished" further by suspending the players from the IPL. That would mean all star attractions would be suspended...and you will have classy players like Ganguly, Kumble, Wasim Jaffer, SS Das, and maybe even Ravi Shastri and Gavaskar playing in the IPL. That would surely thrill the crowds, and the IPL would be a huge success.

Posted by Nppinte on (February 15, 2013, 16:19 GMT)

Brilliant article. Maybe at some level Indians are status quo-ists with a defend first mindset- 4000+ years of predominantly defensive battles show that. Just don't understand the absolute belief in the value of a first innings lead. Was disappointed by the new committee that overhauled the domestic season last year did not get rid of that concept. I think the Ranji trophy entrants to the QF and up should be decided solely based on the 8 teams with the most wins in the previous rounds. By cutting that first innings 'rope' teams will be forced to attack with their bowling. It might make Indian international test teams more brittle in the short run, but atleast there will be more wins. Incidentally I think- Balaji as TN captain did try this- declared with a lower first innnings lead in one of the batatons early in the Ranji season, but didnt get any results from it, with the National Highway pitches. Maybe next time- like the Cholas who campaigned in SE asia...

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 15:41 GMT)

I think one of the ways in which we can make this first inning lead more interesting as well as more result oriented would be: To restrict the advantage of first inning's lead to 10-20% of the first innings total. Once the team playing second exceeds 10-20% more runs than the first innings total, the advantage of winning with first inning lead should be removed, and the test should resume with normal ICC format (Draw will be a result if the second playing team fail to restrict the opposition). This will be more challenging for the captains because once they exceed that specified lead they will have to decide if they want a draw or if they want to win. Competent captains will always go for a win.

P.S. To me: Given a choice of winning on first innings lead I will always go for first innings lead and play safe. Hey, Winning is all that matters!

Posted by AsherCA on (February 15, 2013, 15:37 GMT)

If BCCI is serious about eliminating this safety-first nonsense, they can start with steps along the below lines -

1. Captain of the team - will not be selected for National Team for at least the next 6 months. 2. All members of the team - will not be selected for National Team for at least next 3 months.

Appropriate suspensions from IPL equivalent to Leave Without Pay.

I for one would never select Harbhajan to represent India as a bowler - a person who knows that a bowling attack he leads will not be able to stop a Ranji Trophy side from scoring 4.5 an over for 90 overs cannot represent India against Australia. Also - there would be no need to explain to Harbhajan OR the media why he is excluded - by refusing to declare on the 5th morning, Harbhajan Singh has announced to the world that he is not good enough to bowl out a Ranji Trophy side...how can we trust him against an International side ?

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 15:30 GMT)

The solution is quite simple - restrict the number of overs per innings. In a five day match there are 90x5=450 overs. No team can bat for more than 125 overs. Then there is an incentive to score quick runs and in that process lose wickets too.

Posted by ansram on (February 15, 2013, 15:27 GMT)

The points system must reward attacking play. For example setting a target via a sporting declaration must carry some points. Rate of scoring must carry points and slow scoring must attract minus points. Faster scoring always results in matches with decisive outcome.

Posted by mathewjohn2176 on (February 15, 2013, 15:15 GMT)

Posted by Pras_Punter on (February 15, 2013, 11:06 GMT, Both 1983 World Cup and 2011 World Cup are real wins. If you believe india beating Australia in QF in 2011 World Cup is real one ,then india's 2011 World Cup win is real or should I say Australia losing to india in QF is a make-believe one? You can choose anyone among this statsments.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 15:10 GMT)

sir one point about batsmen/players attitude especially about settled one /seniors!! they score some runs/perform in one match and their places are guaranteed for another 10 matches and they are also easily satisfied.

Posted by Nampally on (February 15, 2013, 14:45 GMT)

I like to simplify the issue to ground level rather than indulge in technically savvy wording like Minimax Vs. Maximin. The basic problem is that present formats encourages "Playing it Safe". For example if the Ranji games stretching over 4 days were made into 85 to 90 over games/innings, it would be possible to have one innings/day. In addition a Winner in who outscored the opponent over 2 innings on Day 4 or earlier.It is a simple result orientated practical approach. The second reason is wrong leadership qualities in the modern era. Leaders are encouraged to stick to "Defence is the best path to victory". Captain MSD is the best example. With this approach, there would have been no Onasises rising from a Deck cleaning Boy to a Billionaire! Even Amitab Bachan showed what initiative & adventure can lead to. Old format "Attack is the Best form of defence" is dead. The sense of adventure & individuality is lost in the modern Mumbo Jumbo of theories e.g.Minimax Vs. Maximin- Be Yourself!

Posted by doors666 on (February 15, 2013, 14:33 GMT)

This is a problem that needs to be fixed by the board. They need to change the rules to encourage the teams to win. Loss - 0, first innings lead - 1, win - 4 points. For a player or captain, attempting to go for a win should be considered a huge positive in selection matters. People opting fro draw with useless drab batting should get a -ve in selection matters.

They also need to make sporting pitches. And by sporting i mean where a flat track bully should not be able to score more than 20 runs. Bowlers are a part of the game and they should be given equal preference, if not more, irrespective of the format of the game. The best IPL was the one that was held in south africa.

Our board is under a misconception that people come to see a match to see fours and sixes, they couldnt be more wrong. People come to see exciting cricket. A low scoring match is always better than a high scoring one because bowlers also have a say in the outcome:).

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 14:26 GMT)

It is rightly said that "to win a test match, you should be ready to lose one". Maybe we cannot change the attitude of Harbhajan Singh or MSD or any other national player, but we can force habit of winning outright at domestic level. More important is that Coaches or any player should be refrained from making such silly statements. From a team who boast 40 Domestic titles, it was an irresponsible behavior.

Posted by alarky on (February 15, 2013, 14:16 GMT)

Harsha, I'm not for once surprised at the current playing attitude of almost all the Indian cricketers (batsmen and bowlers alike) with the exception of Virendah Sehwag. The reason being, for nearly a whole quarter century now, this is the type of play to which they have been exposed. It is the type of play that has been practised by Sachin Tendulkar, the face of india cricket itself for the overhelming biggest share of his incredibly long career; and which has helped him to be mentioned among some of the greatest players of all time. Unfortunately, it is the same attitude for which he is being justifiably criticised - that is, he takes no chances whatsoever - hence, the reason why the "win" column of his career score sheet has been so poor in test cricket. it is also the reason why many pundits think that he's great, but not necessarily in the class of the Bradmans, Viv Richardses, Laras, Soberses and Pontins. You can't blame this generation of youths - that's what they've learnt.

Posted by Munafis810 on (February 15, 2013, 13:46 GMT)

A drawn test at international level is better than a loss at international level. However this safety first atitude in local/domestic cricket is not good

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 13:30 GMT)

As true as the article is, India lost all those 8 tests in Eng and Aus only because they focused only on winning and not on surviving for all the 5 days. The path to victory is first saving the test and then going for the kill. If Minimax is the way for the team that is certain of winning, what about the teams that are getting bowled out of for less than 50 as in the example given in the Jarkhad Vs Mumbai under-16 match? If they were followed on, the match would have been over in less than a session, At least the Mumbai batsmen got some batting practice and the Jarkhad failed miserably in their bowling too which implies that they are already comprehensively beaten. If that's the case what's the point in going in for the kill anyway? If the things really need to change, it should start with the management of course, but ultimately its the 22 players on the field and ALL of them should give their 100%, not just the winning team.

Posted by Atul on (February 15, 2013, 13:29 GMT)

Since changing the mindset of the country is too far reaching, lets stick to Ranji cricket. Forcing the teams to go for the win seems to be the only option to me.

I thought this year's points system was better than the previous system, but Mumbai still qualified inspite of having only 1 outright win in the group stage.

One change can be that the top 2/3 teams with the most outright wins go through to quarters. Points will come into play only if both teams have same number of wins.

Applying this formula to this year's Ranji, and Mumbai lose out to Gujarat in Group A.

Since the knockouts would still have to be decided based on first innings lead if there is no result, the quarters can be done away with and replaced with the following structure - The top teams (most wins) from Groups A and B qualify for semis automatically. Some sort of playoffs can be played between second placed teams from A, B groups and the top team of group C.

Posted by PrasPunter on (February 15, 2013, 13:18 GMT)

@ spinkingKK , exactly my thought. Read my message post earlier. It is fair to say that , though india did well to win calcutta 2001, we were overtly attacking, trying to chase 375 in 75 when we could have easily drawn the match !! And same case with Adelaide 2003 as well. If not for captains like Border or Waugh, test cricket would have been buried long time ago !!

Posted by The_Manimal on (February 15, 2013, 13:13 GMT)

Aakash Chopra had on this website suggested an interesting points system, where there are batting points for every 50 runs scored until 450 runs or 125 overs whichever is earlier. Similarly, bowling teams get points for every other wicket. So a side batting past 450 runs or 125 overs would not have incentive to bat on, but would rather be dis-incentivised as the bowling team could still score points for wickets! I may not have been precise, but I guess that's the drift the BCCI's technical committee needs to take. Then again BCCI has its own minimax-maximin approach and resistance to change policies! I guess the change has to come from the top!

Posted by bford1921 on (February 15, 2013, 12:57 GMT)

This is an age old problem where test cricket used to be dreadful, teams happy with the draw, 5/6 test match series littered with 1-0 scores, or worse.. Mark Taylor's teams went for the win, with a preference to lose than draw. Steve Waugh took this on, with all that came with it, faster scoring in particular helping to force the case, particularly against teams who were still happy with the draw. However, when sides can win on first innings, with as little effort as possible they will, these are professional sportsman, if you want them to play for the win it needs the proper incentive. Once it is habitual in first class cricket it might become second nature in test cricket!

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 12:46 GMT)

Back to back matches captains prefer to rest their bowlers,to accommodate IPL we have to bear all this

Posted by spinkingKK on (February 15, 2013, 12:32 GMT)

What a great article! This goes beyond cricket. We Indians have this habit of looking for gain on everything. This is a country which is known for its philosophers. However, when it comes to practical life, we focus just on gains. People should try to be more sportive. The very first test match I ever watched was the tied test match in Madras. That match wouldn't have been possible if Alan Border didn't make a sportive declaration and setting a target of 348 for the Indian batting line-up which had Shivlal Yadav batting at 10 and had Gavaskar, Srikanth, Kapildev, Ravi Shastri in the line-up. Border loved the sport more than he loved GAINS. Ravi Shastri and Kapildev also loved sport and the match was a classic. Australian captains continues to play the sport the way it ought to be. But, after Kapildev, I haven't seen an Indian captain who is ready to be pushed. Once again, this is Harsha's best article ever!

Posted by Trapper439 on (February 15, 2013, 12:18 GMT)

Any captain who doesn't back his bowlers to defend 413 over 90 overs on a fifth day wicket is a coward who is actively insulting the talents of the bowlers in his own team. There, I said it.

What on Earth was Harbhajan Singh thinking?

Posted by PrasPunter on (February 15, 2013, 12:09 GMT)

Would it also depend on what the captains want ? - remember the famed tied test in Madras ? The indians required as many as 347 on a final day pitch which they pursued very bravely - and see what we got - one of the all-time classic contests - I also remember another instance when the indians captained by Tendulkar, upon chasing some 310 odd runs in close to 100 overs against SL in SL, shut shop very early on day 5 - tendulkar and dravid scored just 8 runs off around 50 balls each - thereby killing the contest.

Posted by postandrail on (February 15, 2013, 12:04 GMT)

To see the results and rewards of a "going for the win" attitude you don't need to look much further than Australia 2000-2009. 101 Tests, 71 wins, 15 losses, 15 draws. In fact I would venture the opinion that Steve Waugh's aggressive attitude to scoring quickly helped save Test cricket.

Posted by Tigg on (February 15, 2013, 12:03 GMT)

Easy fix. Remove the 'win by first innings lead' rule. I don't know what the points structure is for India but maybe they should follow the county scoring system more? Big points for a win, very few points + small bonuses for a draw or defeat.

It's made the County game more attacking as sides try and force the result. 25 points is better than 10.

Posted by doubtingthomas on (February 15, 2013, 11:26 GMT)

Something that keeps the dough ringing in. Any system when optimized for efficiency would behave in the similar way, find the equilibrium point between input and output. When both are quantifiable, we get mechanical performances. But sports is not all quantity, there's a fair bit of qualitative factors involved. This approach is bound to blow up in their face anytime now.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 11:26 GMT)

Harsha, I think we ourselves are responsible for such mindsets. The mindsets needs to be changed from root level.

"lets play for win' attitude is simple missing in such instances. I think, thats come from our own Rules in Domestic Cricket.

Just remove the 1st Innings Lead funda yaar, get the Points Table in Tests also. If you get 1st Inngs lead, you will get a bonus point. Thats all... why we value the 1st Inn lead so much ?

BCCI and Our own Cricketing Mindset is the reason for such attitude, frankly speaking I did not expect such reply from Bhajji who himself is quite an attacking sportsman...

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 11:16 GMT)

This kind of stale draws can be avoided by limiting no of overs per innings to about 100. So in a 4 day game a minimum of 360 overs will be available. The first innings of both teams should have 100 overs and the the second innings a max of 80 overs.

Posted by Scheduler on (February 15, 2013, 11:08 GMT)

And that is the reason India continues to produce World Class flat track bullies and really useless administrators and umpires.

Posted by PrasPunter on (February 15, 2013, 11:06 GMT)

"But many may agree that the 1983 WC win outclasses the 2011 WC win. " - obviously real wins are way better than make-believe ones.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 11:04 GMT)

Excellent analysis! Indians are interested in batting averages only

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 10:15 GMT)

It is not Indian cricket alone but we as a country tend to protect what we have rather than go seek more! Whether you driving on the road or standing in queue at a railway station this behaviour is omnipresent. We are always told from our childhood that wanting more is bad!

Having said that - this is appalling. The English county point scoring systems gives you a disproportionate benefit if you get an outright victory and does not penalize you heavily for drawing a game! I think there is no carrot or incentive for a team to go win a match!

Posted by Amit_13 on (February 15, 2013, 10:07 GMT)

Harsha, this is quite deep rooted and I think we missed the boat with latest chance. When India got to no. 1 in tests, it did feel like the target was set to be number 1 in the rankings. Whereas S. Africa, Australia and Windies of the past have set out to be champion sides. I almost enjoy watching Pakistan more than India as there is a certain 'silliness' in them that they are always trying to win irrespective of the odds and are 'mercurial' in their ways. Ultimately, its not that the answer is wrong, we just asked the wrong question to begin with.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 9:21 GMT)

Harsha, unfortunately we live in a country where the public is intolerant towards failure of their cricket team and where in the media relishes failure more than the success of the Cricket team because it provides more fodder for their analysis programs , run talk shows where in we have even people like 'veena Malik' analyzing our teams performance and telling them how they should have played. So who is willing to take defeat sportingly in this country ? Right from the public, media and even the former cricketers and hence cricketers at the top level are willing to be "safe rather than sorry" and it is this attitude which obviously transcend into the grass root level of Cricket. I don't think their attitude is at Fault.

Posted by Simoc on (February 15, 2013, 8:31 GMT)

Indians do not seem to be competitve people in most any sport. With a huge population like China, you can be certain the talent and ability is there but the urge to win is not. They're comparing with themselves rather than internationally. It would be better for India if they were good at many sports like hockey, tennis, football (one day), running, and not have a nation revering cricket.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 8:29 GMT)

I think to make outright wins a lot more attractive, the extra points given for first innings leads should be cut down. Let's say a match in a match between Punjab and Karnataka, Punjab score 500 all out in the first innings (in a day and a hald) and then bowl out Karnataka for 150 (in 3 sessions). If Punjab bat on again and make another 300 at quick pace and then Karnataka to score 650 odd runs in less than a session, the points should be evenly split. Punjab should not gain the extra points just for the sake of having score more in the first innings. When such penalties are levied on the teams only then will the mindsets change and Ranji matches will then become more important and interesting in the view of players first and then the people who follow it.

Posted by Rahul_Paharia on (February 15, 2013, 8:13 GMT)

For the first time I disagree with Harsha. We cannot expect teams, for that matter anybody, to take risks when the returns are not commensurate. In the Irani trophy game, what is the gain that ROI could expect by taking the risk of asking Mumbai to chase a gettable target, when they could win the trophy without taking any risks. The solution lies in incentivizing teams to outright wins. This was applied in this Ranji season, and the result was that we had far more outright wins than in the past several seasons. Risk and reward go hand in hand in all spheres of life. Cricket is not very different.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 8:10 GMT)

It is deep rooted, started by the likes of your eminent co commentator Sunil Gavaskar carefully and see you will spouting this theory so often that you wonder how he ever played competitive cricket.I realise that he was a part of a very weak team that thought a draw was a satisfactory result.Today India is not so weak but some of the mindsets continue and Dhoni seems to have become a "safe" captain thanks to the criticism he has been receiving. But it is not so much about the way the game has been designed, people will use the rules. I remember Steve Waugh using the rules in the 99 world cup and it was not a pleasant sight. But as long as defeat is viewed as disaster this mindset will continue. Who wants criticism? I remember Gilchrist"s challenging declaration which enabled Butcher to lead England to victory . Since it was a dead rubber, it did not matter so much . But I can stick my neck out and say Clarke is a more aggressive captain than Dhoni. Ramanujam Sridhar

Posted by SachinIsTheGreatest on (February 15, 2013, 8:09 GMT)

When things are bad everything looks awful. India cricket is down in the dumps so all grades of cricket look to be suffering with some malaise or the other. Harsha Bhogle is doing a Sharda Ugra here - conveniently fishing in troubled waters. How did an India mindset suddenly change in the last 3 years? Didn't a Sehwag-inspired top-order bludgeoning set India on the road to chasing down 387? Or even if it did not come up didn't India attempt an audacious chase of 200 in 25 overs against England in 2006-07. Indian cricket is very much on the backfoot and when we delve into the negatives we have to remember those same negatives would not have been so magnified if the team were winning.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 8:09 GMT)

Infact what is more startling is that for Mumbai there are India players playing SRT , Zaheer (who played less though) and they too agreeing to such spineless cricket !!! As a senior pro isn't it on them to tell the younger lot to go and play attacking cricket rather than be subdued ? That is where the difference would be , had these senior pros shown to break these kind of rigid mindsets in first class games then it would start to rub on the other younger lot .

Sorry to say , that Dominica test was the start of our Downfall .

Posted by tickcric on (February 15, 2013, 8:04 GMT)

Watching the Irani Cup match I could not understand why do we allow 1st innings lead to determine the winner. For Irani Cup & Ranji final we can have 6 day matches. In almost all cases we will get a winner, if not, let's settle for joint champions. For rest of the Ranji matches we need to be innovative in our point system. Somehow we need to allot points for overall performance. An example is County cricket where they give out bonus points for positive batting and bowling performance (based on the performance of first 110 overs in each teams 1st innings) in addition to the points for the final match result. The main point is to ensure positive cricket we have bring in the run rate and/or strike rate aspect while making a points system.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 7:47 GMT)

It is baffling as to why such a phenomenal batting line up resorts to defensive tactics. No other team in recent time has had such a brilliant reservoir of batsmen than India. Aren't we, the fans, and media to be blamed for this defensive mindset? Whenever they lose, we are the ones who pounce on them like rabid wolves. Maybe that's what prevents them from taking risks.

However, the lack of quality bowlers is a serious worry. There are still no replacements for legends like Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. The pitches in First Class cricket have to change. They are too flat and most of the times the teams play for the first innings lead. Whereas, if you compare that to Australia and South Africa, their First Class matches are very competitive and result oriented.

Posted by anuradha_d on (February 15, 2013, 7:47 GMT)

The defensive mindset emanates from the role models at the top.....i.e Dhoni He treats test matches as a burden that has to be gone throuhg.....because relinquishing captaincy in test matches opens up threat of anotehr leader taking over entirely. and he doesn't play any otehr form of First class cricket.

The rest down the line follow the national icon.

Posted by KeerthiChandar on (February 15, 2013, 7:25 GMT)

I am worried that it has taken so much time for people like you to write about this. When I watched Irani cup match, it was frustarting to see no bowler clocking speeds or posing threat to Mumbai batsmen, how long are we gonna blame the pitches? Do we have bowlers to take 20 wickets on a green top? I remember what Srinath said during the tour of Zimbabwe that the bowlers go carried away with the pace and bounce on the wicket tht lead to Zim scoring more than 150 even after losing early wickets. So you are right, the mindset and maturity levels have to change among the players. Disgusting to hear Harbhajan say 400+ could not be saved on the last day, is he not a bowler with more than 400 wickets in Tests? Time that we bring in some aggressive minds into administration, sport should be played fearless.

Posted by Kunal-Talgeri on (February 15, 2013, 7:20 GMT)

@Srinivasan Narayanan: I respectfully disagree. When we are on a playing field, it is the rules we set for ourselves. That is the space for players to perform and display their attitudes, free of administrative haggles. A classic example is Pakistan, whose domestic cricket structure is not as evolved as India's. The individuals on the field have egos, but still play with a free spirit. Also sample the Zimbabwean team of the late '90s, or Indian teams in 1983-85. Thankfully, in the literary arts and sports, it is about pure imagination.

Posted by Vivekaks on (February 15, 2013, 7:16 GMT)

Also... test cricket became interesint in the last decade, with players like sehwag, Gilly pietersen coming in. and not only that...they produced results. before that, there were only drawn matches and far and few in between did we have a win. The approach shud be to score runs...once runs are scored at a fast clip...there are very good chances all the 4 innings will be completed...and that wud ensure to a large extent that the match had a result.

Posted by Vivekaks on (February 15, 2013, 7:12 GMT)

Harsha....i have been waiting to see someone write an article about this first innings lead mindset in the Domestic Circuit. Its just not teams, its the batsmen too who are ensuring they bat long hours sacrificing the strike rate. come on....on docile indian pitches, you are talking about a strike rate of 35-45...and not that the current crop of bowlers are so difficult to play. so why is there a constant endeavor to score runs, no matter wat happens to the result of the match. if you look at most of the centuries scored at this years Ranji Trophy,you wud see a pathetic strike rate. all these guys are looking to catch the selectors eye, but my point is...if u can score at a fair clip on indian pitches against not such quality bowling...why wud the selectors pick u to play against quality oppositions on foreign pitches... i clearly remember Rajasthan won 2 of their trophies with a similar mindset of batting long hours. Rules need a revamp.there shud b an emphasis on winning matches.

Posted by sportofpain on (February 15, 2013, 6:51 GMT)

Well the senior players set the tone. I couldn't believe that they didn't chase down 86 in 15 overs with 7 wickets left. I would have dropped the senior player sin the team then and there. You play the game to win matches - nothing else matters. In the process you might lose some but you will win more. But unfortunately the attitude is of safety first. This happened in New Zealand as well when we could have won 2-0 but played safe and only won 1-0. As a junior cricket player when I was first given the reins of my club team, we ended up winning 7 out of 8 games. I'd set attacking fields - even 4 slips, gully, forward short leg and leg slip to attack at times. Heck we were not going to lose and I wanted to win. The next year we won the 5th division championship and got promoted to 4th division. But I was playing at the plankton level. The big fish don't have this attitude. Kapil was the one person who played with an attacking midset & perhaps Tiger Pataudi (RIP) & Bishen. Minority tho!

Posted by gauravk on (February 15, 2013, 6:47 GMT)

I completely agree with what Srinivasan Narayanan has suggested. We cannot just blame the players and coaches for playing a dull draw rather than going for a kill. Their prime objective is to qualify for the next stage of a tournament or win the championship by any means. They can not be blamed for playing a risk-free game to achieve this objective because if they fail to qualify in an effort to provide a more entertaining game, they will be sacked/blamed for playing unnecessary risky cricket. I am sure if rules are changed to remove/reduce the benefits of first innings lead, players and coaches will definitely try to go for outright result rather than playing for a dull draw. This also takes our attention to bias towards batsmen in cricket and poor bowling performances in international cricket. Under current rules, a good batting performance can give favourable result in domestic cricket but this is not true in international scenario.

Posted by Ranta on (February 15, 2013, 6:46 GMT)

Adding on to my suggestions. Match referee can slash your points from already scored points if you don not play with in the spirit of wining or tried to take it to a tame draw. And for this very reason a cricketer who has had taste of highest level of cricket doesn't enjoy playing at domestic level in India as there is no competitions. Its a statistical delight, not players delight, who prefer to win. And that is the reason players are not released to play domestic, even if they are not required and are to warm the benches. Indian domestic cricket needs overhaul of not just point system but approach with which its played. I read a interview of Ambati Rayudu few years back before ICL thing. Where in he said he liked scores of 50's that helped team win rather then big hundreds for nothing. There are very few in domestic circuit of think like that. Indian cricket needs more with play to win attitude only that can change our system as its invariably what happens at the top is copied.

Posted by Ranta on (February 15, 2013, 6:35 GMT)

Very nice article. I am cricket fan by that I not suggesting just international cricket but domestic also. But left following domestic for this reason only dull draws & attitude of cricketers & support system to just play for first innings. I started following domestic cricket this season again with a hope of better cricket after almost ten years. But the truth is, This thought process is deep ingrained in us. So many matches were shown on TV. But all they were tame draws. I don't mind a draw long as it involves fantastic cricket being played. Indian cricket at domestic level is hardly intriguing. I would like to recommend few things here. 1. Remove first innings lead system, if at all we are to decide, add two innings score, have minimum over to be played for that to happen and then see no of wickets that fell. and get runs per wicket the one who is better gets the win. This keeps play for all four days interesting. 2. Allow match referee to penalize teams not playing to win.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 6:34 GMT)

A best option might be to give each team 2 innings of 90 overs each. If a team gets out before 90 overs, good. Else they have to declare at the end of 90 overs. This ensures that every match has a result and the team wins not just based on its batting abilities to get a first innings lead but also on its bowlers ability to take 20 wickets or contain the batsmen.

Another option is offcourse to make the pitches sporting enough to allow bowlers to take 20 wickets.

Posted by venkatesh018 on (February 15, 2013, 6:31 GMT)

Thankfully, Harsha has chosen to address one of the real problem areas of Indian cricket. The format of first class cricket (and Tests) is in itself not a dull one. Actually when played between evenly matched teams, Tests produce glorious passages of play everyday. It is the way the modern players approach it, like what Bhajji did so negatively in the Irani Trophy final, coupled with the administrators who don't give a damn when curators lay out dead, lifeless pitches for important matches(and a small matter of the absence of DRS) which actually give an impression to the younger generation that all longer-format cricket is unwatchable which is very sad.

Posted by TheOnlyEmperor on (February 15, 2013, 6:29 GMT)

The attitude to win comes out of pursuit to excellence. When one works towards excellence, one doesn't even contemplate failure, just as a student who aims to max a subject doesn't even think of failing to pass the exam. Competitive spirit sets in when one plays a tight game, with no leeway to the competition. In cricket, that means not a single extra run granted, not a single extra ball bowled and running hard between wickets. A team that plays tight cricket is an enjoyable team to watch. A team that saves 30 runs on the field is admired for professionalism and the captain for his leadership. A bowler who bowls a tight line making the batsman difficult to score is invaluable as he will invariably get the batsman to make mistakes. This is the value system that needs to be incorporated at all levels of sport by the coaches and captain, day in day out. The spirit to win is reflected by the +ve uplifting energy on the field. Alas Indian cricket has a long long way to go!

Posted by Longmemory on (February 15, 2013, 6:28 GMT)

In addition to the points made in this article, consider this: one of India's leading wicket takers and a supposed match-winner who is on the comeback trail was the captain of the RoI team: Harbhajan Singh. He didn't have the confidence in himself - or the rest of his bowlers - to get 10 wickets on a final-day pitch in the 4th innings - against a team that had no chance of winning. What does that say about Harbhajan? Or maybe its precisely because he might fail to bowl Mumbai out in 90 overs on a final day pitch that he chose to declare with *only* 67 overs to go. In other words, its about alibis. The media is complicit in this as well: given his longevity pretty much every innings of Tendulkar from here on will break some innocuous record or the other. Who cares? Not anyone who knows cricket - but the media will blare it out as yet another 'achievement.' Pathetic just about sums it up.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 6:25 GMT)

"Not going for the kill" mindset is ingrained in our Indian psyche. This is true not only in sports but also in other fields as well. The best example is the state of affairs in our Research and Development sector where we are unable to compete with leading countries such as USA or China. The best research is not conducted in India because we compromise on several aspects right from the time scientists are recruited. This is from my experience after working with US, Chinese, and Indian scientists. What I like in other countries is that they go for it, willing to take the risk to achieve the best possible result. In India, we work for save ourselves first and as a result we play it safe.

Posted by Ven61 on (February 15, 2013, 6:19 GMT)

I think it is a matter of incentives that trickles down from the top tier. If incentives outside the cricket field are a hundred times the incentive for victory, it encourages a behavior wherein the individual in only concerned with his chances for the off-field incentive.

The feeling is that teams and victory matter less than my own benefit. If I can somehow get into IPL, or somehow stay in the Indian team, that is best. My personal off-field incentives will kick in. What drives me to make my tea win?

I believe that a cricketer's out has changed in the last few years. So has the outlook of administrators, commentators and 'experts'.

Posted by CricIndia208 on (February 15, 2013, 6:06 GMT)

At least India does not get bowled out for sub 100 scores like Pakistan.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 6:01 GMT)

This attitude also has to do with the kind of confidence you've on your bowlers. As we all know, We've always had Sachin, Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Saurav Ganguly as role models. We do not have confidence that our bowlers will be able to take 10 wickets. And now that's not good sign as to win any test match May be domestic or International, you should be able to take 20 wickets. This cannot get more simpler than this. I dont see scenario changing unless we have some bowler who can be "Sachin Tendulkar" of Bowling. Perhaps producing just Anil Kumble was not good enough. We need that bowling culture to develop in this country. What is very disturbing for me is that despite having such a known bowling academy in India such as MRF Pace academy, We're not benefited of it as the other country's paceman have.

Unless we develop this atmosphere for bowlers, We'll keep facing such problem.

Posted by athem79 on (February 15, 2013, 5:57 GMT)

An excellent correlation. This needs lots of changes in the system. If this was a situation in a corporate world - Any manager would bring in a change and is possible by rewarding his team for taking greater risks and punishing for failures. I am not a great fan of IPL but to correlate the current scenario I would like to give an example. Many teams are rewarding players who perform and punish those who dont - Saurav Ganguly, one of the best cricketers India ever had. Unfortunately, he was not a successful T20 player and everyone knows what happened in last three IPL series with his selection.

If similar aggression is implemented in international cricket. Things could do wonders. In order to bring change in Indian cricket, cricketing authorities should ask the coach / manager / selectors to take risks. Reward the team and the captain for better performance. Reward the selectors for a better team selection and vice versa. Calculated risk gives better results than taking no risks.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 5:55 GMT)

In a sentence : You criticize players like Suresh Raina and co. for being way to aggressive for Test Match cricket and thus unfit for a place in team; on the other side you complain the Team for not being agressive enough to be looking for outright wins, not having enough risk apettite. Would you make you make up your mind please !!

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 5:51 GMT)

Good article but there was one point that was just mentioned very lightly - the obsession with statistics. We are a nation fixated with numbers - ask anyone and they will reel out statistics of Sachin Tendulkar's centuries and Gavaskar's mountain of runs. Very few will talk about the wins that we have had in (overseas) conditions. That is one of the basic instinct of any cricket player in our country - numbers!

Posted by Jaggadaaku on (February 15, 2013, 5:44 GMT)

Well said Harsha. I have been thinking the same way as you about Indian domestic cricket for a very long time. In county cricket in UK, not the first innings only a matter, if any team want to have more points in draw match, they have to perform better in both of the innings. In some instances, the team once follow-on and played well in second innings, got more points than the opposite team. In Ranji trophy, every time the team plays very slowly and watchfully in the first innings and try to make more runs than the opposition in order to get 3 points, they never try to win the match. In Indian domestic cricket there are only 4 points for every 4 days match while in county cricket in UK, 20 points for every 4 days match. In last Ranji trophy, Saurashtra won 2 matches and lost 1, and Mumbai won only 1 match and lost none, and they both got qualified for semis. However, Gujarat won 2 matches and lost none, but couldn't qualified for semis. I didn't believe it.

Posted by KrishnaRao on (February 15, 2013, 5:40 GMT)

The media also needs to change, and should be more objective in their praise/criticism. Remember 1986 Australasia cup in Sharjah, when India's most circulated newspaper screamed, "Kapil needs to learn 1-2-3's"? When Mark Taylor did not enforce follow-on in one of his very early series as captain (vs Pak), Ian Chappel was all praise for Taylor's captaincy even though AUS did not win that match. Sure, Mark Taylor had become one of the greatest captain in Cricket history (Waugh has better winning percentage, but Taylor is universally considered a great captain by the past captains of AUS).

Posted by Prats6 on (February 15, 2013, 5:11 GMT)

Good one Harsha. Thought provoking article finally on Cricinfo. I believe this attitude is ingrained in our system but people who are successful are the ones who do not follow it. Cricket under MSD unfortunately is reeking of this attitude. We need a change more than ever.

Posted by raj_kash on (February 15, 2013, 5:07 GMT)

It truly is pathetic, this tendency to target first innings lead, and then play safe. When Test matches are not decided on first innings lead, why this aberration in our domestic cricket? To my mind, the least the BCCI should do is to award equal points to both teams at pre-championship stage for a draw, regardless of who got the first innings lead, and for championship matches (i.e. the finals in a tournament which determine who will keep the trophy), a draw should entail sharing the trophy for six month each. That would put paid to the tendency of trying to become champions at a much lower level of attainment. Let's usher in a system where teams realise that they are not a champions unless they actually BEAT the other finalist!

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 5:07 GMT)

This attitude exists right from the time of Mr. Sunil Gavaskar where he score 36 not our chasing 300

Posted by Sir.Ivor on (February 15, 2013, 5:07 GMT)

If this attitude has to change, all first class games in the longer format in domestic cricket like Ranji, Duleep,Irani, etc should be made made 90 overs each per innings.That will alongwith a change in the points system to completely favour outright wins will ensure that such drudgery in this game is removed. If players are good they will manage to score well and in fact as fast as we want it to be for good spectator response and for the future of the longer version of the game at the highest level. Batsmen with a good defensive and attacking technique on sporting wickets will come to notice against bowlers who will find their effort more rewarding. This will enable them to take steps in improving their skills also. I wish the Harsha and other intelligent writers of this game will support this suggestion and get it implemented. That seems the way to go to get out of this rut. Indian cricket can only benefit from this change

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 4:56 GMT)

Another way of forcing the teams to play for a results is restrict the first innings to 100 overs and the second innings to 80 overs thereby making the teams go for outright results.

Posted by Jodam on (February 15, 2013, 4:55 GMT)

A Rule can be enforced in which a penalty in points is levied on teams who are not willing to go for the win and play safe. By this one can be sure that teams will push hard for a victoty

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 4:55 GMT)

Blaming the mentality by itself is not enough. What caused that mentality? Ranji trophy current year as an example - a team with lesser number of wins, but more number of first inning lead managed to qualify. Remove the possibility for this, we could have a different attitude towards the game.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 4:47 GMT)

I agree with Rangeet Choudhury remove the first innings lead winning altogether. Draw would render equal points to both the teams. Also if necessary remove the knockout games in the Ranji Trophy. The winner should be the team with most points in the whole season. In Irani Trophy game f the match is drawn then the trophy should be shared by the two teams. This will force the teams to play for winning the game and not just take the first innings lead.

Posted by bighit14 on (February 15, 2013, 4:37 GMT)

Spot on!!! If only the domestic games had a result, it would have generated more interest in people's mind too + players having an aggressive mindset (especially bowlers)

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 4:25 GMT)

Why does this sound so similar to paying off the minimum due for a credit card always and never paying the whole amount ever.... Something most of us tend to do... This certainly is the attitude.. Do just enough to survive..

Maybe the concept of "santosh" (being content) in Indian culture... Don't yearn, be happy with what you got.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 4:17 GMT)

I think the biggest issue is the track on which our majority of the domestics games are played. Flat track with the combination of the present rule we have is only ruining the Cricket in India

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 4:17 GMT)

A good article on Indian cricket by Harsha Bhogle.. I am very Fond of the English Language written/spoke By Harsha Sir.. Take a Bow sir.. If Indian Cricket Players Change their Mindset in all Formats Of Domestic and International Cricket then we can expect some good cricket..

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 4:16 GMT)

A game is played a win. So 'safety first' is obviously a load of 'youknowwhat' !There could be phases when one plays defensively; but that only as strategy to win!

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 4:15 GMT)

The fix is simple. Remove the concept of first-innings lead winning altogether. If it is a draw, it will be a draw and points will be shared. If necessary, nobody wins any test cups at all. Curators will prepare sporting pitches, players will play sportingly.

Posted by s.abhyankar on (February 15, 2013, 4:15 GMT)

Amazing and to the point article , this is one of the frustrating aspects of Indian cricket and rightly put here by Harsha. Completely agree on the point that it's the change in attitude is the need of the hour and not some reward which is the only thing that is looks like working these days. One more thing I would like to add is - the domestic game is now more and more focused on individual performances and an outright win for a team is passe , that is very disheartening for true game lovers.

Posted by raj_che on (February 15, 2013, 4:09 GMT)

Nice article, very true that most of the ranji teams palyed safe, one exception was Tamilnadu who declared at the right time on 3 to 4 occassions to force for an outright victory but ended up losing first innings lead ultimately were out of the competition in the qualifying stage itself.

Posted by deepak_sholapurkar on (February 15, 2013, 3:59 GMT)

thought provoking article from Harsha after a long time. really good one.

Posted by Rahulbose on (February 15, 2013, 3:51 GMT)

How much risk to take for a win, seems to me is a personal trait and will be unique for each team captain and group of players. Extrapolating these to draw broad conclusions about a whole population ( 1 billion plus Indians for example) is baseless. You need to sample much more data to draw the bell curve, anecdotes about extreme examples don't prove anything.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 3:50 GMT)

There are so many things that are bad about Indian Cricket and this is just one of that.

Posted by saikarthikg on (February 15, 2013, 3:45 GMT)

True... Hope there is a change in the attitude of administration and make outright win, an only way to seal the game with an upper hand. Without any "try to win" attitude in the A class matches, how do u expect the same players who are promoted to International level to have a "must win" attitude? You want India to win in the International arena, make A class matches as tough as possible to get the best of the talents & quality.

Posted by 123cric on (February 15, 2013, 3:40 GMT)

Harsha, we are a number crazy nation. In every aspect out life. A Tendulkar century but Indian loss is OK for us thats our Psyche. An Aussie team whereas always play to win. This is also a reflection of our society. Risk averse and self contentment is deeply engrained in our DNA.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 3:20 GMT)

BTW who started this first inngs lead theory..most ridiculous ever...just scrap that.. I suggest this system: for normal win 4 points..inngs win 6 points..in case of draw just 1 point each..normal loss 0 points..inngs loss...-2 points

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 3:16 GMT)

India could be a bit innovative here, allow team 150 overs each and 4 days to play... this would help the results part of things and make captains more aggressive, also if a team takes 10 wickets they must be rewarded for the effort. Secondly make 3 pitches per stadium , 2 for domestic and 1 for international matches, 2 of them must pace and spin type wicket, and every team needs play on one of them alternatively. Make it difficult to maintain status quo, else all you will get is more of the same..All wins must be give 10 points and a draw 2 points each while give the team loosing 1.5 points for playing the match , make the difference so high that the teams are indifferent to drawing matches..

Posted by ns_krishnan on (February 15, 2013, 3:14 GMT)

Have this point share. 10-0 for an outright win, 3-2 for a draw. That surely will change things.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 3:11 GMT)

Great article, Harsha. This 'risk-averseness' is all permeating in India. I think the press should go after coaches and captains who take such a route. Let them atleast answer in the court of public opinion on why they play a sport if they dont want to win !

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 3:05 GMT)

Well said Harsha. Yes indian cricket will go down with this attitude fed into our younger gen cricketers. BCCI need to take the indian cricket to the next level but its not happening i afraid.

Posted by   on (February 15, 2013, 3:02 GMT)

It is very simple. Get rid of the first innings lead points entirely. When teams are tied for points, use it as a tie-breaker to decide the order. Get rid of the knockouts, so that teams don't just aim to "qualify" but play serious cricket throughout the season. It works well in football and all other sports, why not cricket? The Ranji trophy should be won by a team which plays consistent good cricket throughout a season, not by a team which just "qualifies" with first innings lead.

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Harsha BhogleClose
Harsha Bhogle Harsha Bhogle is one of the world's leading cricket commentators. Starting off as a chemical engineer and going on to work in advertising before moving into television, he is also a writer, quiz host, television presenter and talk-show host, and a corporate motivational speaker. He was voted Cricinfo readers' "favourite cricket commentator" in a poll in 2008, and one of his proudest possessions is a photograph of a group of spectators in Pakistan holding a banner that said "Harsha Bhogle Fan Club". He has commentated on nearly 100 Tests and more than 400 ODIs.

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