Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Bad guys and running scared

A day ago, Tim De Lisle described Dravid as the 'bad guy' in the drama of the second test. While this might have sparked adverse reaction from some fans, its worth taking a closer look to examine the power dynamic in this series. Lisle accuses Dravid of being utterly uninspiring in his batting, unimaginative in captaincy, and lacking in initiative in sum. To back this up, he points to Dravids unenterprising batting in both innings, largely concentrating on the delayed charge in the second innings. Fair enough. While lots of folks were happy about the late fireworks, its worth pointing out that the charge could have been done in more staged fashion, starting an hour after lunch. After all, with 45 or so overs to go, and 9 wickets in hand, a steady increase in run-rate could have been mounted, using just the regulars (oh, I dunno, the world's top one-day batsman?) and using Pathan/Dhoni say an hour or so after tea. So, why did India delay this charge so much?

Well, there is the small matter of the Hoggard-induced collapse in the first innings. My suspicion is that the memory of that collapse played on the minds of the team management. Had that collapse not happened (say, India had made it to 322 without such drama), I suspect tactics might have been different (and in each innings, India's primary pacemaker, Sehwag, was gone early). Which is another reason why I find Anand Vasu's comment that "India had England running scared" nonsensical. Vasu is trading on a common confusion: just because you scramble to respond to a crisis doesn't mean you are panicking (take a military analogy: the shells come raining down on your position. You, as platoon leader, run around, yelling at your men to take cover, and call on the radio for back-up. Are you panicking? Or responding to the situation at hand?) If England had intense team discussions, made rapid bowling and fielding changes to keep up with the changing dynamic, were they panicking?

Back to Dravid. Note India's batting on the second day, when they made 136 off 48 overs (at one end, India had a man trying to make his comeback into test cricket). Given that England had almost 393 on the board, this had made India's task of trying to win the match that much harder. A perverse logic dictated that first rebuilding must be done (how long?) and then of course, well, wickets had to be kept safe till stumps. So, gee, when do you attack?

Things could swing India's way if Sehwag gets going (the steady stream of boundaries issuing from his bat is enough to drive most captains nuts). If not, the Indian batting will struggle. Dravid will help keep the line-up together but inspiration will have to be drawn from somewhere else. Perhaps a Tendulkar keen to make a point, brinksmanship from Laxman or the brash Yurvraj/Pathan/Dhoni trio.

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