Has Team India missed another “Tipping Point”?


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.

— Mohan

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21 responses to “Has Team India missed another “Tipping Point”?

  1. The Black Irishman

    I quite agree that the proverbial foot appears to have been taken off the pedal both in terms of the setting the target and the urgency shown on the field today. However, while I am disappointed at a personal level, I can understand this is the Indian context, sort of, as you have pointed out.

    There could also be a plus side to this approach as witnessed by amiable chatter between the not-out batsmen and the Indian fielders when play was called off. That would be inconceivable, if the fielding team was more ruthless like (say) Waugh’s aussies. This might perhaps be a way to be a popular winner rather than a hated one 🙂

  2. All depends on how we fare tomorrow morning. If there is no rain and we get 2 quick early wickets with the ball turning well, there is definitely the needed light at the end of the tunnel. I have been awake daily at 5 (could not manage earlier) to watch the match with my parents and wife wondering whats wrong with me – I believe we need a better win ! 🙂

  3. Awesome post. Didn’t know most of these songs were rip-offs!

  4. I agree that India missed a trick. And as long as they continue to miss such tricks, they will continue to be a mediocre team. An “also ran”. And Venkat. It is not a question of “depends on how we fare” or “no rain”, etc. The question is more one of attitude. India does not demonstrate the attitude of a winning team. Pity. It has the players to allow it to demonstrate such an attitude, but the teams’ fielding and overall approach stand in its way.

    But really. This is an awesome post. Well done.

  5. Terrific post.

    This Test is a throw back to the 70s and 80s when Indian teams will do their very best to not lose a Test. What’s wrong with winning a game? As Mohan says, winning is a habit.

  6. Mohan,

    They took the Safety first approach not only in the series in England, but also the recently concluded home series where they had a chance to push for a 2-0 whitewash (https://i3j3cricket.wordpress.com/2008/12/25/india-win-series-but/)

    India is a really good team now. But unless they abandon this approach, they will never be a great team…

  7. I disagree. I think there is a case to be made for batting on if you have the chance and first shut the other side out. You want the other side to play only for survival with no hope of victory.

    There’s nothing to suggest that Dhoni is sentimentalist first or whatever it is that you called him. Neither is there any suggestion that Rahul Dravid is that.

    I happen to think that risking a 1-0 series lead to push for a 2-0 win is stupid. It underestimates the difficulty of achieving that 2-0 series lead. If India find an opening bowling partner who is Zaheer’s equal, then the 2-0 result will come of its own momentum.

    This kind of quixotic sentiment (about sentimentality and risking a 1-0 lead) sounds good on a blog.

    Having said that, i was a little bit disappointed with the approach after Tea time. But thats Ok – maybe Dhoni had something in mind, and it didn’t work out.

  8. Srikanth Mangalam

    I do not think the 1.5 hrs of extra time that could have been available wouldn’t make a difference in the end. If NZ ends up saving the game, they probably would have done so even with that extra time If India wins, they should probably do so by lunch. Whether India should have declared early or not is subjective on all counts. Also, is there a possibility that Dhoni is considering protecting the team from injury with the IPL stakes not too far ahead? My hope is that all this speculation is a moot point by lunch today…

  9. Between an extra 100 runs or an extra 30 overs it really does not matter.

  10. I disagree with your statement about India playing it safe. If you ask me, with this decision, the team itself has shown the finger to the sentimentalists. The only people worried about tipping points and ruthlessness are people like us. The team management itself has become methodical and I don’t seen anything defensive about this decision.
    What Dhoni has done is pretty astute if you ask me. By adding another 80 odd runs to the target, Dhoni has taken the weather out of the equation and ensured that NZ cannot entertain any hopes of winning this test and squaring the series. OTOH, If India had been aggressive and declared at the end of the 3rd day, we would have set NZ a target of 532, which at 180 overs was roughly 2.95 rpo. On hindsight (with NZ 4 down now) you could say that they don’t have the batsmen to mount a chase, but in Ryder, McCullum and Taylor (mebbe even Vettori), NZ has batsmen that are capable. The pitch is not a minefield by any standards and 2.95 an over was going to be relatively easy. The only variable was the weather and if the rain stayed away, we’d be in a position to be screwed. And because of those 80 runs, we can’t lose, be it this test or the series itself. And the timing of the declaration left us with enough time to win too, unless the rain washes out the whole day.

  11. @Srikanth

    The IPL cannot come into the equation. If it does, there is a case to be made for India not touring New Zealand at all in the first place! Or indeed, extending that argument to its logical conclusion, a case can be made for India not to play any form of cricket other than IPL!

    But you are partially right about the extra time not making too much of a difference. The extra 1.5 hrs wouldn’t have made a difference in the end BUT for the rain! From about 2 weeks ago, rain has been predicted for Wellington for Tue 7 April.

    As a captain, you’ve got to take rain out of your equation.

    @Karthikeya

    I haven’t suggested that India “risk a 1-0 series lead to push for a 2-0 win”. If I did, you could call me “stupid”. At the end of day-3, India was 531 ahead! NZ would need to score 117 runs more than the world record to win the match from that point! You really think that this NZ side is capable of that?

    @anantha

    One of the best ways of getting a team out (especially a not-so-good-team) is if they took risks themselves — they’d risk their wickets! You said that by batting on Dhoni had “taken the weather out of the equation”. Not in my view. By doing that, he has actually invited and welcomed the weather into the India-win equation.

    Anyway, I will take the 1-0 lead. But, in my view, this was an(other) missed opportunity.

  12. How can the IPL form part of the equation? Geez! Next you guys will start saying that Dhoni wanted to protect his bowlers so that they could vote in the elections! I was at the match yesterday and was utterly dismayed by the lack of energy shown by the Indians on the field. They went through the motions. They had a “we are happy with a draw” mentality. So I totally agree with the author of this article. This team is at best 3rd on the ICC ladder. They are unable to “seize moments” like South Africa and Australia regularly do.

  13. Srikanth Mangalam

    While we are conjecturing, here is one more theory. India wanted to stay the extra day in NZ and not have to return to hot and balmy India and deal with all the crowds and all that!!!

    Or how about the fact that Dilmah insisted that game be extended till the 5th day for the Dilmah Tea Party to take place.

    Even better, Sky Sports wanted to ensure that Ravi Shastri earned every penny that he was paid for commentating…..

    Seriously, I don’t think India did badly on the 4th day with the ball, maybe did not have the same amount of luck. I thought, like on the 5th day, a few lbw decisions could very well have gone our way.

  14. Srikanth Mangalam

    Mr. Tendulkar, what can you say? The God has ways…

  15. Agreed! Nice day to fall sick and be at home… Rugged up in front of the TV. First time I have enjoyed a cold and fever in a long time!

  16. At the prize distribution ceremony, after the game was called off, Dhoni said he was expecting 110 overs at least and it was disappointing that he did not get that due to the weather! Two points (a) They got 95 overs, which was about 10 more than I thought they would get! (b) Dhoni wanted to set a target of 617 so that he would deny NZ the opportunity of winning in 110 overs, scoring at 5.6 runs per over and also smashing the 4th innings run-chase world record?

    Something doesn’t add up here.

    As I said in my post, Dhoni made sure that weather was part of the equation. I do not want to say “I told you so”, but heck… I did!

  17. Mohan: I have to admit that I don’t have an answer now to the sentimentalist argument. Fair enough.

    But I still cannot fault Dhoni for the extra batting on Day 4, because world record chase or not, I for one thought NZ was a unpredictable batting team and there was nothing in that pitch. And as Dhoni said, having 80 runs more meant we could attack more. At this point all our discussion is moot thanks to the fickle weather, but what’s the deal with keeping people like Munaf at reflex catching positions? I think that should be a major cause of concern, those two dropped catches by Munaf and Ishant.

  18. NZ is an “unpredictable batting team” capable of making 615 in the 4th innings? Have you been living in Mars these last 10 years?

    I don’t believe that those extra 80 runs will have meant “more attack”. It just meant more time lost. It just meant that rain was dragged into the India-win-equation.

    You say “fickle weather”. I say “NO WAY”!!! Rain was predicted for day-5 of this Test match from nearly 10 days back! As I said a comments back, I actually thought India bowled 10 overs more than I thought they would get! You’ve just GOT to take rain and bad catchers (like Munaf and Ishant) out of the equation if this team wants to be “great”. At this point in time, these are trite excuses that lend to mediocrity and stand in the way of the team becoming great.

  19. This team can never be great Mohan. We’ve had just two great teams in the history of cricket and have to wait for at least two genius bowlers to appear for the same team to have another. Mind you, that team needs to have batting genius as well.

    At this moment, India just have batting and any of the bowlers are far from being a genius! So forget about having a ‘great’ team!

  20. Pingback: Team India Performance in New Zealand: Tests « i3j3Cricket :: A blog for fans of Indian cricket…

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