Failing to seize the moment lets Team India down
For the umpteenth time in the history of Indian cricket, inability to take the bull by its horns has cost India dearly. The latest addition to India’s woeful tale of missed opportunities is the recently-concluded Test series in South Africa.
Victory in the First Test at Jo’burg was a well-earned one. Though the credit for it solely belonged to the bowlers, especially Sreesanth. He pushed his game to a higher level, and surprised not only the South Africans, but some Indians too. It was difficult to recover from 84 all out on that sort of a pitch, and although they scored the highest total of the match in the fourth innings, the first innings lead was just too much to handle.
No one expected India to win at Durban, where India notoriously capitulated to 100 and 66 in the two innings of a test of that ill-fated tour of 1996-97. But India gave themselves a chance in the first innings even after losing the toss, once again because of some excellent bowling by the seamers. However, as has been the case for so many years now, they allowed the tail-enders to get too many, and they ended up scoring 330 instead of 270, which hurt India badly. Add to that the woeful showing of India’s top order in both innings, and you have a test defeat. The fact that the match ended one hour into the final session on Day 5 can be a bit misleading – because almost 100 overs were lost to bad light and rain.
Come January 2, the third and final test, the deciding test, and Lady Luck surprised both the captains when Dravid won the toss for India on what was called “an Indian pitch”. Harsha Bhogle later commented that such a pitch could have only been made by some sort of a treaty between the two governments. “It was almost as if we were playing in Eden Gardens”, Graeme Smith said after the first day. Indeed it was the best possible situation that the Indians could hope for to win their maiden Test Series in South Africa.
Having won the toss, the Indians were looking good for a big score, so big that they’d not have been needed to bat again. But some remarkably poor lower order batting left them languishing at 414 all out, with the last 5 wickets falling for just 19 runs. Again, when South Africa were batting, they had a golden opportunity to atleast get a lead of 100. But some extremely baffling tactics against the tailenders meant that India could only muster a lead of 45 runs, which though by no means enough, but was still an advantage in the context of the game.
Now was the defining point of the series – India needed to make 250-300 with a considerable rate to give themselves a golden chance of winning a rare series in South Africa. They just needed to see off the new ball for 10 overs, and then the pitch certainly had no demons in it to hold off such a famed Indian batting line up. But there were other things that the could do the damage, and as is always the case, Team India ended up screwing themselves up not because of anything in the pitch or the bowlers, but due to sheer lack of intent. How else could you explain their playing 65 overs, and getting bowled out for a paltry 170, when their initial target should have been playing no more than 70 overs and getting to about 250 ? And given the way it rained the next day, India would certainly have saved the game if not won it.
For me, almost 60 % of the blame for the defeat goes to the listless batting in the middle overs by Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, both of whom are considered great players of spin, but weren’t able to get a debutant left arm spinner away. India played out 10-12 overs in that period and did nothing, scoring just about 15 runs, and nothing to suggest that they were a team eager to put pressure on the opposition and win the game. No one other than Dinesh Karthick and Sourav Ganguly, till he was out, showed the eagerness to win.
The Australian commentator Ian Chappell believes that India are a wonderful side but they have a “mental block” which prevents them from winning overseas. I never believed in it but sorry to say that after witnessing the debacle at Capetown, I am forced to agree with it. Which leaves the Indian think-tank with a lot of thinking to do. As long as the attitude doesn’t change, the results won’t.