On Friday, Nishad Pai Vaidya wrote why Sri Lanka were right in not going for a win in the third Test against Pakistan. In the below article, Karthik Parimal present an opposite view point.
“I don't want to argue with armchair critics who give their views on what we should or shouldn't have done. I had to make a decision for millions in Sri Lanka who haven't experienced a Test series win for nearly three years.” – Mahela Jayawardene
Those were some strong words from the Sri Lankan skipper. There’s been a lot of hue and cry since the last few days over the approach adopted by the home side against Pakistan in the final Test, and while many believe that Sri Lanka should have gone for the kill, an equal number of people feel that settling for a draw and winning the series was a sensible thing to do. However, despite all the explanation given by Jayawardene, it’s difficult to see how such an approach augurs well for Test cricket in general. No doubt that the Sri Lankans deserve to celebrate a Test series victory after three long years, but the fact that they chose not to end on a high, especially with one foot in the door during the final Test, has taken some sheen off the series victory.
The current Sri Lankan team has an experienced line-up alongside some exciting young talent. This was a perfect opportunity for the senior players to pave the way and inject positivity into the side. If a situation such as this ever arose in the future, the youngsters would have probably taken a cue and chased victory at the slightest opportunity. That is how many legends of yesteryear believed the game should be played. They believed that any game, however inconsequential, should be played with an aim to win.
Former West Indian cricketer Garry Sobers was faced with a similar conundrum a few decades ago when he was captaining his side. During the fourth Test of the 1967-68 series against England, Sobers made a choice that unfortunately led his side to a series defeat. The first three Tests ended in a tame draw, and Sobers wanted to create an opportunity for West Indies to win the fourth Test. After amassing a first innings lead of 122 runs, Sobers declared West Indies’ second innings on 92 for two, leaving the visitors a target of 215 to get in less than 165 minutes. With the kind of bowling West Indies had, Sobers expected England to wilt under pressure and lose. But England consistently scored at over four runs per over on the final day and won comfortably with seven wickets to spare. The gamble certainly didn’t pay off, but the kind of attitude showed by both West Indies and England is praiseworthy.
Sobers later coached Sri Lanka, and that attitude was infused into the then Sri Lankan team and was carried forward by Arjuna Ranatunga. In his autobiography, Sobers states that he never believed in settling for a draw unless that was the only choice available. Sobers wrote: “I believe that the spectators always have to be considered. Without those people paying to come through the turnstiles there is no professional game. That can be forgotten if players are afraid to lose and are not prepared to give the opposition a chance. Somewhere along the line you have to recognise that defeat might be a possibility. I have always played the game with that in mind and although you want to win, you must keep the game interesting so that the public will come to watch. Who wants to watch a dying game when the only result is a draw?”
During the recent past, a lot of teams have been guilty of taking the easy way out. Once the lead in a series has been taken, most teams look to go on the defensive by trying to protect that lead. India, ranked No 3 during the series against West Indies a few months ago, too chose to play it safe rather than to go for the kill against a relatively weaker opposition. A defensive approach has often made a team more prone to defeat. Also, it defeats the purpose of the game. It’d be difficult to lure spectators to watch a game that’s heading nowhere towards a result.
It could augur well for Test cricket if teams looked to win more often than not. While it’s understandable that Sri Lanka were under a lot of pressure to win a Test series, it doesn’t justify the fact they settled for a draw with a win in sight during the final Test. It could have been a shot in the arm for Test cricket had Sri Lanka positively chased down the set target instead of just playing out the remaining overs on the final day.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. His zeal for writing and love for the sport of cricket is what has brought him here. Karthik can also be followed on Twitter)