On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

Dhoni Got It All Wrong At Centurion

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It was a good solid performance from Pakistan; they were 3 wickets down without too many runs on the board at the 15 over mark but they clawed their way back to a position of dominance on the back of one solid partnership. The partnership was built with sensible and gritty old-fashioned cricketing sense. Pakistan also fought their way back despite giving a multitude of free hits when India was trying to make a match of it later. The two run-outs sum up the story for India: Gambhir’s was the start of self-destruction and Dravid’s was the end of it.

Indian captain Dhoni said that the team bowled poorly and he felt that he was not one or two but three bowlers short. There were problems but not of this magnitude. At 65 for 3 at the end of the 15th over, India was just a wicket away from ensuring that Pakistan plays in a consolidation mode.

And at that time the ball went to Virat Kohli and Yusuf Pathan. And between the two part-timers and an over or two by the seamers the game moved on till the 25th over. In a pressure situation you can get a few overs out of your part-timers; and if that was the thinking it worked as just about 43 runs were taken in those 10 overs.

It also ensured that Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yousuf were nicely settled before your attacking bowler was introduced in the 26th over. It was a different ball game now and both players were content to pick runs without risking much. Then they took the attack to the Indian camp as one bowler after the other was put to sword. When India finally managed a breakthrough, the brilliant 206-run partnership had taken Pakistan to 271 with four overs still remaining. Malik made a very good hundred and Yousuf was gone in high eighties.

Dhoni must have felt a bowler short but does that justify that the most economical bowler in the pack, Ishant Sharma, did not bowl his quota and finished with figures of 8 overs, 2 maidens, 39 runs, and 2 wickets. Pakistan’s main spinners were introduced in the 13th and the 19th over; India’s only attacking spinner bowled his first over after half of the game was gone. Harbhajan is a confidence bowler; he likes the challenge of adversity and responds to the faith invested in him as a main weapon. Some of his best spells have come when the captain has even risked using him inside the power plays.

There could be some strategy to hold Harbhajan back or may be to send some message to the opposition dressing room. The bigger concern, though, is the message that goes to your main attacking bowler when he is introduced after trying five options, two of them part timers.

And why are we letting the batsmen get away with it by putting the blame squarely on the bowlers? At the end of the 15th over India was 97 for 2; 32 runs more and a wicket less than what Pakistan were at the same juncture.

Given how the wicket was playing, it was by no means an improbable chase. Tendulkar looked in good touch but he was on the wrong side of the law of averages and Aamir, the fiery youngster, bowled an amazing slower one that was just perfect to catch him in no man’s land and Akmal gobbled the edge diving to his right.

Dravid at number 3 showed how common sense, good technique and a sound temperament still counts much more than a capability for big hits. If India’s potent off-spinner had a bad day then Pakistan’s frugal and accurate Umar Gul had an even worse outing, going wicket less at over nine an over.

India was cruising at 90 for 1 in 13.4 overs when Gambhir, who was batting like a dream, was out against the run of play. Dravid hit the ball hard and straight to a shortish mid-off where the possibility of even half a run was fraught with danger and Gambhir had taken just a few paces but was not sharp enough to grasp the danger and Younis hit the stumps; a dismissal that was part harakiri and part inattention.

After 20 overs Pakistan were 86 for 3. India at this point was 122 for 2; way ahead of Pakistan and getting ready for self-destruction. In the next four overs India threw the advantage to be 134 for 4. In-form Virat Kohli took a needless risk that exemplified inexperience. Dhoni was then hit flush on the pads and he was quite forward and quite plumb.

In came Raina and showed why he would have been a good choice at number four. One it would have kept the left right combination going and two Raina is more experienced with an audacious array of strokes that he never hesitates to play if the ball is there. He would have been an ideal partner for Dravid, rotating the strike and also punishing the bad balls. It would also have been a bit difficult for the spinners to adjust their line and length. Even at number six he turned the heat on Pakistan with a very effective 72-run partnership with Dravid. Just as another 20 minutes of Raina at the crease would have been more than dangerous for Pakistan, he got a poor decision—that was the cruel turn of his and India’s fate. There was enough doubt with bat, pad and boot close together and should have been referred upstairs as it was a crucial decision that could have had a bearing on the result of the match.

Out of the three players who were making something of the situation, two fell to very avoidable run outs and one got a poor decision. Just see the number of players who threw their wickets away to attacking strokes when it was not desperately needed and you can see what went wrong. The only two partnerships of consequence that were developing to be potentially match-winning ended with Dravid watching helplessly from the other end—the faster than run-a-ball stands of 67 with Gambhir and 72 with Raina ended in what can best be called a tragic quirk of fate for India.

The match teaches basic lessons: If you’ve got the opposition on the back foot don’t take your foot off the accelerator. The bowlers can’t maintain the same pressure throughout; your time will come if you don’t force it. Cricket is a game of partnerships; even one can make a difference so work towards stitching it. It is the runs scored by the top order that result in wins more often than not, if you are one of them put a premium on your wicket. There is a difference between batting your way out of trouble and hitting your way out of trouble; the probability of success is always higher in the first approach.

Dhoni is a good cool captain but in this particular game he had a bad outing and Younis out-captained him by quite a fair distance.

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