On 15 August 2007, Team India’s 2007 series in England had just concluded. Rahul Dravid was then captain of Team India — a team that had no coach and a genial geriatric as its Team Manager. The team had started off that tour with several enormous handicaps. It had a mountain of pressure on it after having been unceremoniously dumped from the 2007 World Cup. Against that backdrop, Team India won that series in England on that day.
On that day, however, while celebrating that victory, I wrote that there was a hollowness to the victory. The team had refused to press its foot on the pedal in going for a victory at The Oval. Although India had won the series 1-0, a 2-0 result was possible. Instead, Rahul Dravid chose to take the safe route, secure a series victory and hand it as a “present” to players like Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, himself and V. V. S. Laxman — players who were unlikely return to England for another series, but more importantly, players who hadn’t tasted an England series victory in their time!
Sentiment overtook a sporting “tipping point”.
I wrote that day about how Team India had missed the “tipping point”, drawing reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”. In that book, the author presents a thesis that (ideas and) behaviours act like outbreaks of infectious diseases that create social epidemics. The Tipping Point is the moment in an epidemic when critical mass is reached. These are “boiling point” moments. Moments that we often describe using the phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. These are dramatic moments when something unique becomes common. Moments at which little changes can make a big difference.
A similar “tipping point” moment was presented to Team India today against New Zealand. However, instead of going for victory, India marched on to set New Zealand an unattainable target of 617 runs in a maximum of 167 overs. New Zealand would have to score at an explosive rate of 3.7 runs per over to make the score on a 5th day pitch! The Kiwis would have to do more — much more — than just beat the 4th innings world record for the maximum number of runs scored to win a game! The Kiwis would have to smash the record of 414 set by South Africa on 21 December 2008.
India batted for about an hour and a half on day-4 and consumed some 20 overs by batting on and on! I am not sure that that was necessary. Clearly, India’s approach was that protecting a 1-0 lead was far more important than pushing all out for a 2-0 series win. Especially with rain looming, which would potentially wash out the 5th day’s play, what India needed was urgency and proactive cricket. Not a safety-first approach.
Now in saying this, I fully realise that M. S. Dhoni is a sentimentalist first and ruthless captain (in the Steve Waugh mould) next. To him, handing a victory to the seniors in the team would mean much more than a chest-thumping bragging-rights moment that a 2-0 victory would give him. Even so, I felt that Team India had missed another “tipping point moment” in its developmental journey.
Despite the bad weather that is predicted for Wellington and despite the flatness of the track, India may still win this Test match. But by playing such defensive/negative cricket, this Team India is perhaps indicating that it is “not quite there” yet.
A little difference on Day-4 would have meant “positive batting“ and “positive cricket”. The big outcome could have been, “Hey! We can do it”.
Winning is a habit.