MS Dhoni”¦ Does not speak highly for the captain of a No 1 side in the world in settling for a draw when presented with the opportunity to win it © Getty Images
MS Dhoni”¦ Does not speak highly for the captain of a No 1 side in the world in settling for a draw when presented with the opportunity to win it © Getty Images

 

By Madan Mohan

 

In the run up to the third and deciding Test at Dominica, I had talked about India’s traditionally mentality towards going for a draw and predicted that there would be no result in the Test. On cue, India conspired to seize a draw from a position of emphatic victory and settle – as always – for a 1-0 series win. Memories of Spain’s campaign at last year’s FIFA World Cup returned, except the defensive play by India was not all that awe-inspiring. If anything, it was baffling, given the inexperienced, if brave, opponents they were playing.

 

By all accounts, a target of 180 with well more than a session to go was within grasp. Even at the juncture when India signed off their target chase, 86 from 15 overs was by no means out of reach. An element of chance may be involved as well as the risk of losing quick wickets, and in that I concur with coach Duncan Fletcher‘s assessment that scoring was not all that easy. But that, Mr. Fletcher, is what separates a deserving world No.1 that inspires rivals to lift their game from one that makes you groan and yawn in boredom and despair. It has been observed before that whenever India has either already grabbed the lead in a series or leveled it, they prefer to play it safe; a bird in hand over two in the bush, in other words. And they would play out any number of draws to secure this. Sydney 2004 and Oval 2007 are classic examples of simply not pushing hard enough for win. Even more stupefying here though is that India did not even ‘risk’ much-vaunted batting greats Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman getting dismissed in those 15 overs. Even if they would not have got to the target or even close to, what would have possibly been risked in letting them bat on is beyond me.

 

Mark Taylor’s approach

 

Did Australia in the noughties or West Indies in the 80s run up all those amazing whitewashes or blackwashes, as applicable, by playing the most prudent and drawish brand of cricket? No! They wanted far more badly to win than not to lose. The great former Australian captain Mark Taylor said once in an interview that the team decided in the mid 90s that a draw was not an acceptable result, even at the expense of giving the opposition a chance. I concede that there are some desperate occasions when one team simply has no hope of pulling off a win where fighting for a draw is the appropriate approach. It is one that India are pastmasters of. But they now need to graduate to sealing victories in those rubbers where winning may not be absolutely vital to the series result.

 

Why? Because, India seems to fail to appreciate that the winning habit is hard earned and easily broken. When a team makes a habit of winning in all sorts of situations, they are better able to lift their game against a tough opponent and are more easily able to adopt a positive approach to a seemingly hopeless situation. Okay, why do I waste time in analyzing this so much? Frankly, irrespective of the imperative to play like champions, a team with a series lead ought to have pushed for victory. They were too complacent in their bowling effort and simply not urgent enough in the target chase. Here was an opportunity to give someone like Virat Kohli a role he would be more familiar with from his limited-overs stints and give him more confidence in the longest format of the game. Instead, it was left to the old firm of Dravid and Laxman to ‘save’ the match. They say in Tamil that it rains cats and dogs when something totally incredible or ludicruous happens, but Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s masterful tactics seem to have driven away the rains from both Dominica and Mumbai.

 

Now, what does it tell opposing teams about India’s mindset? That winning is not too high on their priorities. That if you lull them into settling down for a dull draw, they will take it gladly. It is certainly something that weaker teams like New Zealand or Bangladesh (apart from West Indies) could put to good use and deny India the supposedly easy wins. Perhaps, having to earn the No.1 spot by defending it against England or South Africa is what it takes to shake India out of their inertia. We should thank the stars that a draw is not an option in limited overs cricket, for India may have played out many an ODI draw, given the chance.

 

Right, let’s get to the positive side of it and that’s the fighting spirit shown by the West Indies. They clearly lack both the technical expertise and application to get the better of opponents consistently. But, at least, they still have enough heart to fight for the sake of pride and deny easy wins to India. What could well have been a 3-0 drubbing was in the event a 1-0 scoreline which looks much closer than it really was. India were on top in all three games, though not on all days or all sessions, but failed to punish their opponents as much as they should have.

 

In the years when the cycle of decline in some teams turns, and wins are not so easily on offer to India, perhaps the team would reflect on these missed opportunities and regret not making their stay at the top more memorable and lustrous when they so easily could have. For now, we head to England, another drawish team. Dear lord, one hopes the showdown of the summer doesn’t end up a damp squib, literally and figuratively.

 

(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake.)