Monday, August 20, 2007

Follow whom?

Rahul Dravid’s decision not to enforce a follow-on allowed England to escape with a draw in the last Test. But it is amazing, the Indian media’s obsessive desire to keep cricket in the centre of a controversy with the current Indian skipper preferably at the wrong end of it. The debate on Rahul Dravid’s non-enforcement of follow-on in the Oval test refuses to die down. It was a national shame, it seems, that the think tank led by the captain inflicted upon a proud cricketing nation.

Excuse me? Are we talking about the same nation that sent that team management on a three month long far-n-away tour without a coach and carrying a grandfatherly manager? The same team that is forced to make a gutsy wicketkeeper play as a Test opener and is lucky to see the gamble come off? The team in which the captain, upon arriving at venues, learns that his duties include assigning room allotments to players with little or no help from people generously sent on a benefit tour of England in the guise of official post holders? The team that has never put forward either a bowling quartet that surprises none when it takes 20 wickets or a set of Test fieldsmen that routinely complete fielding innings without allowing a few important batsmen of the opposition to bat twice?
We can go on, really. Is that the same country where the cricket Board considers its job as done merely by issuing ban threats to an alarming multitude of first class players joining a rebel league and thinks nothing of starting a dialogue to get to the root? Are these players not playing for a board that goes on to call a meeting amidst this Indian Cricket League controversy - only to complete the far more critically relevant job of trying to identify a future replacement for the present Board President a good part of a year ahead of his expiry date?

To call a spade a spade, Rahul Dravid was afraid of even chasing 150 odd in the final innings of the Oval Test. He was not taking a risk – the great Indian last-Test-last-innings ‘chokes’ efficiently led by the man himself in numerous recent home and away series (v-Pak-05, v-Eng-06, v-SA-07) played on his conservative mind. He was being defensive. Rightly so. An amateur, playing against a professional, plays with a clear mind and takes a few risks when he has nothing to lose; however when some of those come off and our amateur friend secures a position of ascendancy he is happy to just ensure that there is no reversal ‘coz the ascendancy is win enough for an amateur playing a professional.

Rahul wasn’t defensive in Trentbridge (2nd Test) at the toss. He had precisely 2½ in-form bowlers in his team (one Zaheer, 0.75 Kumble, 0.75 RP and a wandering spirit by the name of Sreesanth) to take 20 opposition wickets, none a run-through’er and the 1st innings of the 2nd Test was likely to decide it all. Fresh from the ‘glory’ of saving the Lords’ Test Rahul the India-A captain (A for amateur) saw nothing to lose there and backed his two-and-half to try and give their best. Rahul hit a jackpot when they went further and bowled out opposition for less than two hundred. Further, the makeshift opening pair, not expected to last this summer, virtually wiped off the deficit without getting separated. At this point the captain woke up from his daydream and, sensing ascendancy, decided to close out the opponents by not taking any more risks.

We are yet to grasp the extent of Indian fortune there with English batsmen generously helping the Indian bowlers remove them before the latter could get tired and look around for the non-existent backup. Dravid the captain could do with some praise coz’ he decided to field first without still being fully confident of ineptness of the English tail (Prior had a near match winning partnership with KP in the opening test)

Coming back to the follow on, if I had arranged rooms and pairings for players (like Dravid had) and found myself in a scarcely believable position in the series on the fourth morning of the Oval Test, I would gladly opt for any option of closing out any remaining risk of not winning the series even in exchange of my own chance to extend the lead. Throughout the series the Indian seam bowlers punched way above their height inspite of shoddy fielding support to their efforts (the latter led by Rahul himself). Rahul the skipper did not want this miraculously succeeding setup to be tested by the English professionals once too many.

In other words. Rahul played the 14th and 15th days of the series as if he was captaining an amateur cricket team on the verge of giant killing history. And I see no misinterpretation by Rahul there, for all the messages that the Board administrators directly or unwittingly sent to its players in recent times through its handing of the game and its burning issues scream and say ‘we are amateurs’.

In all the gung ho about Rahul’s timid decision making we recall having seen that decision by India on Australia at Sydney 2004. I supported it then, and I support it now. Yes, if this ‘timid’ ploy were to be adopted with the opposition 1-0 up I would have questioned it. That is the time for amateurs to take risks, isn’t it? And I would definitely have questioned it if this team with a lead were a profesional setup.

Interestingly in both the Oval and Sydney matches we might have won notwithstanding the defensive ploy but for fielding lapses. It’s been three and a half years and we still offer crucial let-offs just as merrily. Just as well; learning for mistakes is for professionals, not for teams picked by selectors doing their services on honorary basis.

Now can we stand up and appreciate the Indian players at all levels for what they achieve inspite of these hitches?

PS: I was a bit too harsh there – actually they were semi professionals playing under amateur administration. How else do you explain Rahul Dravid offloading important duties to other senior players and coming out triumphant? For the first time I wish guys like Sachin, Anil and Sourav retire immediately and kick out some of the BCCI ****ers functioning irrespective of place value much like those asterisks. I seriously back our players to do a better and more honest job of ruling Indian cricket any day.

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