Clutch re-redux: The Team India Fan wants more…


A day after India drew a Test match at Dominica against the West Indies, I still feel a sense of unease. Yes, a series win is a series win is a series win. However, I feel the same sense of disquiet and deflation that I felt after that 2007 drawn Test at The Oval against England.

A few days back, when writing on Sachin Tendulkar in the context of the clutch debate, I wrote that I was not in favour of clutch being applied to an individual in a team sport. However, I am a fan of “clutch” for a team. A great team has to cease these moments. India failed her clutch moment at The Oval in 2007. In my view, the team completely by-passed a clutch moment again at Dominica.

And that saddens me.

This team has been brilliant. Of that I have no doubt. I have sung the teams’ praises and paeans, just as anyone else has. I have been a vociferous supporter of this team. I am fan of this team. I have endured this teams’ vulnerabilities. I have tolerated her failures with poise. I have celebrated her recent successes with grace and dignity. I have been one-eyed about her failures. I have often been blind to her faults.

In that period, I have been a vociferous supporter of the principle that Team India Fans should learn to put up with the teams’ faults; that fans have to learn to be patient; that fans have to give the team rope.

But there comes a point in a team’s journey when the fan senses a clutch moment and wills the team to take that leap: A leap from being just ordinary, to being good, to becoming great. The point here is that India’s best victories have been back-to-the-wall victories. The Oval and Dominica presented the team with an opportunity to seize the moment, to make a difficult choice and become the enforcer at that point in time when opponents are sizing each other up. In my book, Team India was, instead, tentative. India opted for the soft option and did not become the enforcer. Great teams dictate the pace. And clutch moments like these become a habit. Just ask Rod MacQueen, former coach of the Wallabies and one of the most inspirational motivational speakers I have heard in my time. More on that later.

There has been much written about the Dominica result already by Andy Zaltzman, Samir Chopra, The Cricket Couch, A Cricketing View, et al. Team India coach, Duncan Fletcher has defended the draw offer too.

There are valid arguments in all of these pieces. All of these arguments are acceptable and accepted… I do have a bone to pick with the way Kartikeya Date makes the point in his conclusion, but to focus on chips and shoulders, would be to miss the forests from the trees.

Let us just accept that all of these points are valid and move on.

As Subhash Jayaraman says in his piece, this draw-offer has dominated social networking sites and online fora. He records that Twitter users have used labels and phrases like “Gutless”, “Wimps”, “Running with their tail between their legs” and such to describe the team. He continues that, “It is wildly inaccurate and highly melodramatic.” He also points to the melodrama of a Cricinfo commentary response that called the Dominica result “A black day for cricket”.

I will be the first to admit that I was also a tad melodramatic in the manner in which I expressed my initial disappointments online. I take that flush on my chin.

I will also post two Tweets that I posted just minutes before the draw decision was offered:

The more I see Rahul Dravid bat, the less I like the thought of him hanging up his boots/bat although it is, I know, inevitable.

This line will be eaten up for breakfast by VVS… #RememberKolkata (in response to Bishoo’s negative line)

***

There are people who are comfortable with the draw offer and argue their point vociferously. I admire them. I accept their points.

I am, however, not comfortable with the draw-offer. For me, a great team would have seized that moment. For me, greatness calls for the team to undertake such flights. And these aren’t flights of fantasy.

The chase was difficult. If it were easy, you and I would have been playing the game! We were not and we are not. Bishoo was bowling a defensive line. If he was bowling trash, you and I would have smashed him for fours! We were not playing. And Bishoo was not obliged to bowl an attacking line either!

For the record, I do not buy the ODI/T20 line of argument either that suggests “a run-rate of 4.5 runs-per-over is easy in a T20 game, so why not in a Test match?”. Those calculations matter diddly-squat in a Test match.

My line of argument is actually quite simple. I am happy for it to be called simplistic too!

Of the three results that were possible, a draw was the most probable result. I accept that. In my view, although an Indian loss was (remotely) probable, an India win was, it could be argued, more probable! And to support this argument, just take a look at the Windies’ bowling: If the West Indies thought they could win, why was Bishoo bowling a leg-stump line?

I readily accept all the arguments that have been mounted in favour of Dhoni offering a draw. However, I have no no idea why he would not go for a win, however minimal the chances of success.

A good team will take a 1-0 result. A great team ought to strain every sinew and aim for a victory with the tenacity of a pit bull terrier. I have aspirations for this team to take that journey and be a great team. Like Samir Chopra I will this team to “respond to [new] challenges”.

If India had lost 3 wickets in 5 overs in the process of going for a win, do we really think that the West Indies could bowl this Indian team out and claim victory (in, say, 10 overs)? Remember that on the same pitch, Fidel Edwards had batted for a little over 2 and a half hours with almost no sign of discomfort!

And finally, the fans… They had turned up in large numbers, for the first time in this series. Did the draw decision leave them short-changed? Yes. Are both captains to blame? Yes. Were the captains playing within the rules of the game? Yes, they were. But that is not my point. The fans had come to see an exciting finish. The team that was more in control will have offered the draw (assumption here). The team that had most to gain from the escape of a draw acepted it.

The team faced a clutch moment. The team did not cease it. I am disappointed. Perhaps India wasn’t ‘ready’ at the Oval in 2007. As @sidvee put it in a Twitter conversation I had with him as the draw action unfolded: “Dravid had the weight of history to contend with in ’07…[ed.]“ Here in Dominica we did not seize it either!

That said, I agree with Subash Jayaraman’s conclusion. He says:

“As fans, we often tend to think we know and understand things a lot better than the athletes playing the sport. It is quite easy to get in to that vortex and start questioning the character and testicular fortitude of players who had sacrificed a whole lot and surpass tremendous competition to get to where they are. I am not insinuating that the fans shouldn’t question the actions of their teams but to fundamentally doubt the players’ characters that have brought us wins, trophies and covered us in vicarious glory, is a little extreme. It would help us, and the team as well, if we can stay away from such “outrage” bandwagon.”

This is remarkably well constructed and put across in a seriously acceptable and emotional manner. It comes across as an honest and fervent plea, even to one who is still upset that the team stumbled at the altar of greatness. I accept the sentiments totally.

But then, this is the essential dilemma, for team and her fans. As John Eales, one of Australia’s greatest ever Rugby Union captains, says in his column:

Sporting teams and sporting cultures also fulfil one of the most basic of human needs – the longing to belong. Sporting clubs have some of the strongest brands in the world – fans want to be a part of the “team”. Think Manchester United, the Chicago Bulls, the All Blacks, or even the Sydney Swans. They provide an emotional connection between the people and the sport and supporters go to extreme lengths for their clubs.

Yes there was hysteria. But perhaps the Team India fan has evolved! Today’s Team India fan wants more from his/her team. The fan has evolved. It is not merely enough for India to rock up on the park and make up the numbers! That India will. The fan knows that. It is not merely enough that India puts up a good show. Her fans know that India will do that. That is a given! It is not merely enough for India to make it a good fight. Team India fans know now that that will happen. Good teams do that. And Team India fans know that the team is good.

The fan has evolved today. The bar has been set higher. The fan now wants India to play forceful cricket, attractive cricket, dominating cricket. This requires the evolution of a killer instinct that Steve Waugh’s team had. This requires the embracing of clutch moments like the one presented at Dominica.

There are points in time in every teams’ journey, where it stumbles. If we ignore the initial hysteria of the stone-throwers and the admirable tenacity of those who defend the team, there is a lesson there for everyone. And I take this from Rod MacQueen, one of the greatest Rugby coaches Australia has ever had (and coach of John Eales’ team): “The very essence of success is facing up to mistakes. If you cover up failure with excuses and secrecy, you’ll never succeed because you are not facing reality. The teams you see continually coming up with excuses are those same ones that don’t go on to achieve.”

I am a fan. I just want my team to achieve. And in my view, not trying hard enough to achieve yesterday at Dominica was a mistake that must offer a new learning for all of us as we undertake this important journey along with our impressive team.

– Mohan

Update: Dileep Premachandran completed his wrap of the West Indies series for The Guardian after the above post was written. Like many others, he has asked Keyboard Warriors (like me) to get a grip!

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18 responses to “Clutch re-redux: The Team India Fan wants more…

  1. bang on about the changing attitudes in the indian fans. we were competitive in 2003-04, now we expect to dominate. maybe that is a disconnect with the leadership in the team and the fans.

    while there have been plenty of good sides in cricket, there are only 3 immortal teams: the 1948 invincibles, the ’70s windies and the ’00s aussies. they have earned this not because of sustained excellence but by sheer domination, the weight of wins. india has an opportunity now to achieve that and we are on the clock. question is whether india seeks to join that elite company or just content with merely great.

  2. Sampath Kumar

    Mohan,

    I prayed whole night for the DRAW–for 100000 Rupees bet, if India had won, I would have won only 100000. Because of the draw I won 175000 rupees. I shall “shout” a coconut when you are in Melbourne for the Boxing day test.

  3. You do make a lot of sense, but the clutch siuation would have been true, if we had fielded a full strength team in the windies. Here we dint have sehwag, gambhir or tendulkar who could have won us the game with plenty to spare…Here was a young team and Dhoni might have felt that another couple wickets could have percipated a collapse…furthurmore the pitch was easy to settle down but tough to score freely…and with wides and bouncers permitted…15 overs could have been too little for scoring the 86 runs that were required…

    • @nikhil: I accept most of your points. But do you really think that we’d have seen a collapse on a pitch in which Fidel Edwards batted for 2 and a half hours without a single real difficulty. I ask again, “What is the worst that could have happened?”

  4. Well written Sir.. Captures what a lot of us feel about how good this Indian team is. The draw wouldnt have killed us, and there are enough good reasons to shake hands before the mandatory overs, but this team owed it to itself to make the Widnies bowl out until the last minute of the last day – because they are that good.

    Cheers,

  5. Hey Homer:

    And that’s my whole point. The expectation bar is higher…

  6. Shrenit Tendulkar

    Hopefully after reflecting on this match dhoni realises that he made mistake. We are still not good at being enforcer. We thought this team is bit different but same thing happend earlier in mohali test vs england in 2008, 3rd test in nz in 2009. Since 1994 we haven’t won more than 1 test match in away series (except zim & bangladesh). We had numerous chances to win that elusive 2nd test during this period. Hopefully team realises how actually good they are.

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  8. India has won a series, won another one abroad. India continues to be at the top of ICC table by a clear 9 points. This was achieved with team without 4 of it’s big players. It did so with 3 players making their debuts during the series. It has provided us with the juicy prospect of watching Praveen Kumar alongside Zaheer Khan in conditions favoring swing bowling in England. In Abhinav Mukund, it has provided us with a real alternative for an opener in the future who can handle tough conditions. It has allowed Suresh Raina to erase bad memories of short pitch bowling and prepared to take on Chris Tremlett and co. So many and many more positives!

    All we can think of if a decision made in one session and in stroke dismiss the collective intelligence of Dhoni, Dravid, and VVS. I was not fortunate enough to watch the last session but tend to agree with Dileep, Get a Grip guys!

    • I have replied separately to your other points. The question I have for you is: Do you think Praveen Kumar will play “alongside Zaheer Khan in conditions favoring swing bowling in England”?

      I am not sure. I think the bowling line-up will be: Zaheer, Ishanth, Sreesanth.

  9. @smangalam

    I do agree that this was an under-strength team. It was also an under-strength #1 playing the #8 team in the world. But all of that is moot, really.

    I have no qualms with the result. And for the record, I have *never* really worried about ANY result. I have always been more worried about HOW we play the game and less by WHAT we achieve as a team. If we play “well”, the “what” takes care of itself. And the word “well” has, embedded in it, characteristics that I have talked about earlier…

    And yes, a lot of positives emerged. And just in case I had forgotten these, you have painstakingly enabled an accurate refresh. Thank you.

    I also applaud (and have talked about) the massive strides that Team India has made in recent years. I have celebrated it wildly and written about it substantively. So let us please set aside “knocking the team” as motive.

    My objective in writing this piece is actually simple: The team decided that it will pull down the shutters. Why? What is the very worst that would have happened?

    And why bring Dhoni’s intelligence into question? My point is neither about his perceived lack of intelligence, or any unintended notion that mine is superior (or, indeed, vice-versa)! It is *method* that I questioned, not ability or intelligence or skill. I am not qualified to talk about ability, intelligence or skill. I believe I might have more than a passing interest to bring into question “method”.

    So, strictly from the restricted/restrictive context of method/process, I ask again: “What is the very worst that would have happened?”

    And perhaps that is ALL I am asking really.

    And given your interest in my health and my intelligence, you may be interested in knowing that my grip has actually tightened, thank you very much! :-)

  10. @sam: I am not going to be in Melbourne for the Boxing Day Test, unfortunately. So you are going to have to find someone else to “shout” your coconuts to/with. :)

  11. Another good article. As an Indian cricket fan, even I thought the match shouldn’t have finished this way. They should have played a few more overs, gone for the win or fought for a draw (had the situation become worst). Imagine Laxman fighting with the tail to save the match or win it. Dhoni might have deprived us of viewing one nail-biting finish.
    Surprised that many of you didn’t mention it, I think the real moment that India should have seized was when WI were 8 wickets down and India struggled to take the 8th man out. I am not a Bhajji-basher but in the absence of Zak a lot was expected of this senior cricketer. We did miss someone like Kumble who likes to clean up the tail. Had India got the wicket of the 10th Man earlier, this discussion wouldn’t have happened at all.

  12. Dhoni is a engima..He was all out attacking in the second test and asked the windies to chase 280 around 3 runs per over..I can’t imagine any former Indian captains in Ganguly,Dravid or Kumble taking this punt. Again the same Dhoni during India’s tour of NZ set a target of 600 runs in the third and final test where India failed to get the final 2 wickets and were content with 1-0 series victory.
    Hence this decision of shutting shop in the final test against Windies seems to have some precedence as seen in the kiwi tour.

    India did have their clutch chase against OZ in Bangalore where they scored at 4.5 runs per over to overcome the target of 200+.

    For some weird reason India seems content to play at the level of the opposition..The kiwi series at home and this Windies tour is a case in point..I can’t imagine Dhoni opting out of the chase if the opposition happen to be one of Eng/OZ/SA.

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