Daily Archives: 14 October 2008

Barbs fly…

After the drawn 1st Test played out at Bengaluru, each team and each set of fans will probably scramble to take the higher ground in the victory-stakes. Australia will claim that it was good to start the tour off with a draw rather than a loss. The Indians will claim “moral victory” because, after being on the back-foot right through the game, they “won” by enforcing a draw. Either way, the scoreboard will always call this a “draw”! Moral and psychological victories are for psychologists, plenty of dollars being expended and expensive leather couches! A draw is a draw is a draw!

Nevertheless, the barbs and scrambling for position has commenced!

Zaheer Khan already fired the first salvo when he said, “I have never seen an Australian team play such defensive cricket, which is a good thing for us,” at the post-match interview. Is he right? He need not be. It is just his view.

I am not a big fan of players using post-match, man-of-the-match interviews to fire barbs at the opposition. It was not in good form, in my book. Podium-interviews are to recognise your teams’ efforts, applaud the opposition, thank the sponsors, collect the cheque and make a hasty retreat. Yet, Zaheer Khan did utter those words.

Instead of accepting it and analysing it as nothing more than an opinion, several radio stations here in Melbourne do what some Australians do best — mock the opposition and run them down. A local radio station continued to play a clip from his interview in which he says, “I wanted to raise my bar” and pillory the Indian pace bowler rather than analyse what he was actually trying to say about the defensive tactics adopted by Australia. Yes, nice one guys. Shallow, no doubt. But very Australian! How is your Hindi, guys, I wonder? Naah! Let’s not go there. But more seriously, I reckon that that is the best form of respect that Zaheer Khan can get! Australian media seems to hate in-your-face sports-people. Wonder why?

So was Zaheer Khan right? He need not be. It is his view. Ricky Ponting provided a strange counter to Zaheer Khan’s barb in which he attacked the number of drawn games India play and added that Australia was the only one doing the running in the drawn Bengaluru Test.

Mahesh has provided an excellent analysis to counter Ricky Ponting’s wild (in my view) claims.

If you thought that the pre-tour lead up was without much of the customary, distasteful and disrespectful Australian reporting, you can bet your bottom dollar that it has erupted like a never-extinct volcano. There are reporters erupting wildly everywhere!

Take this vitriol-filled and bitterness-soaked gem from Channel-9’s sports reporter (as reported in the Indian Express). Here are some of the gems:

  • Serial offender Sourav Ganguly firstly persuaded the umpires to go off. Then when play resumed, Ganguly made Australia’s fielders and partner VVS Laxman wait an eternity because he’d apparently ‘forgotten to put his thigh pad on’.
  • Please! Can’t you be timed out in this game?
  • The spectators were the obvious losers in the entire exercise.
  • The players got something out of it. Pedantic officials got their moment of the glory. But billions of fans and more importantly — the game itself — got nothing out of this farcical finish in Bangalore.
  • With the match in the balance, a crucial hour’s play on the final day was lost, with not one, but two stoppages for bad light — when at times the sun was shining!
  • Umpires strutted about like Emperor Penguins, holding out their light metres — a device that like performance enhancing drugs should be banned.
  • If Test cricket continues to produce farcical finishes like this one in Bangalore, this great game’s Bradmans, Gavaskars, Tendulkars and Pontings will also be soon forgotten… Even by their mothers-in-law!

I did think, at the end of day-1 itself, that Australia’s tactics defied belief. I did decry this so-called “new age cricket”. This is un-Australian, in my view. I do not like it. I do hope Australia junk this and adopt Australia’s style of positive, dominant cricket. I knew then that this new age nonsense won’t get Australia to victory! I admire Australia’s tenacity and resolve. But this new age nonsense is chanelling that tenacity and dogged determination down the wrong channel; the boredom channel. Australia needs to play like they have in the past: attractive, dominant, foot-on-the-pedal stuff. They were, instead, trying to play like India in India! Why? Is this Guru Greg Chappell gone mad? Surely, this is not a Ricky Ponting theory? It can’t be! I can understand choking four-scoring opportunities for the free-wheeling, fat, old, puffing, lazy and immobile Indian batsmen. But it was inconceivable to me that Ricky Ponting had a spread out field with 25 overs to go, with India intent on saving the game! This is new age cricket? What was the worst that could have happened had India hit 4 sixers in a row at that point?

Australian tactics in this game did leave me a bit dumbfounded. This is not quite the dominant, foot-on-the-pedal Australia that I have seen in the past. And I can’t imagine that this emanated merely from being a quality spinner short! This is, I believe, management theory and hype running amok in the dressing room.

So, in my view, Ricky Ponting did get it wrong. The match ended in a draw. I do believe that after being on the top from the moment he called the toss correctly, Ponting let this game slip from his grasp. Apart from one single session in the game — session-9 on day-3 when Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan batted — India didn’t dominate any session comprehensively! Yet, the result was a draw! This can’t be an easy pill for the Australians to swallow. And for this, they only have themselves and their “new age nonsense” to blame. What is wrong with “plain cricket”? Will someone tell me?

— Mohan

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Australia have themselves to blame

Australia could have well won this game. They didn’t and they only have themselves to blame. They didn’t play the aggressive, positive, fast paced cricket they were used to playing – instead they had a safety first, defensive approach and yet Ponting says

We were the only ones in the game trying to take the game forward. We played aggressive cricket. I am not surprised by the way they played, the Indian team do play a lot of drawn games.

Let me point out a couple of things –

  • In the first innings, Australia scored 430 runs in 150 overs at the run rate of 2.86 and the majority of its runs were scored by the top order of Katich, Ponting and Hussey. Compare that to India where the lower order scored a good percentage of the runs and yet ended up with a run rate of 3.02. Ahem, but could you point out who played more aggressively, please?
  • In the second innings, the Australians wanted to make sure that they were in a position where they couldn’t lose the game and decided to bat out the overs scoring at a run rate of under 2.5 for over 50 overs of the game. Over fifty overs! And very rarely in their innings did the strike rate ever get to 50 or over. 

A safety first approach is fine, but saying that they were the only ones trying to take the game forward is a bit rich. In fact, a safety first approach is exactly what the Indians did too. Without a win in sight and on a fifth day pitch with variable bounce set with an unlikely target of 299 of around 80 overs, they decided to shut shop and play for a draw. And the Australians would have probably done the same too. The Australians never for once in the entire game reached an over all run rate of 3.75 and yet, they think the Indians should have gone for it on a fifth day pitch? Get real.

Ponting’s statement probably is a response to Zaheer Khan’s claims that this was the most defensive he has ever seen the Aussies play. This statement has a bit of truth in it, though. The Australians used to be the trend setters in scoring runs fast and forcing results. Playing slow is what other teams (including India) do. But in this game, they’ve gone back to the slow grinding run accumulation and defensive mode of play that was more reminiscent of the test cricket played by the Aussies before they started to dominate World cricket.

And for the most part on day 4, Australia played as if they didn’t really have a plan on what total to set and when to declare. This allowed India to keep its hopes alive for a draw or even a minor chance of victory. The dominant Aussie teams of the past wouldn’t have done that – it is no accident that the Australian team(s) of the past hold the record for consecutive successive wins.

-Mahesh-