December 21, 2010

Hope, dashed

In the just-concluded first Test against South Africa, India came into the fifth day in a fairly hopeless situation. Having scored 454, the team needed 30 more runs just to make South Africa bat again. But they had only two wickets left.

But as has been the case for the best part of two decades, India could hope because India had the greatest modern batsman, Sachin Tendulkar, still batting. He had just scored his 50th Test century, looking as solid and serene as always. With him there, India could legitimately hope, first of all, to score those 30 runs. After that, who knows? With Tendulkar batting as soundly as he had been, perhaps he could shield the tailenders and put a large enough score on the board and take enough time doing so that a draw became possible. Winning was likely too much to hope for, but after the first innings 136 debacle, a hard-fought draw would have been a tremendous achievement.

That's the hope that Indian fans like me held on to as the fifth day came around. Slender, but real.

After all there was that famous and electric performance by that other great modern master, Brian Lara, to inspire hope. Playing Australia in March 1999, WI were 248 for 8, needing another 60 runs to win. But Lara was still batting. With only two modern batting incompetents, Ambrose and Walsh, for company, Lara systematically took most of the strike and shepherded his team to one of Test cricket's great triumphs.

So we hoped for India. So how did that fifth morning, so filled with hope, pan out?

SA's fastest bowler, Steyn, started the day. He had to bowl four balls, to complete his over that had been interrupted by bad light the previous evening.

Off his second ball, Tendulkar took a single. That left Sreesanth to face the last two balls. Great, we thought, Tendulkar is farming the strike. Sreesanth survived the two balls.

Morkel bowled the next over to Tendulkar, a maiden. As far as I can tell there was no attempt made to score, especially not off the last couple of balls.

Steyn had six balls next, to go after Sreesanth. Sreesanth survived. As far as I can tell, there was no attempt made to score, especially not off the first couple of balls so that Tendulkar could take strike.

Morkel bowled the next over. Off the third ball, Tendulkar scored a single, leaving Sreesanth to face three balls. He was out off the second of those.

The new batsman, Jaydev Unadkat, played out the last ball of Morkel's over.

Steyn up again, to bowl the next over, Tendulkar on strike. Off the first ball, Tendulkar scores a single. Unadkat is left with the rest of the over -- five balls -- to negotiate, which he does with some unease. After the last ball, Cricinfo's commentary team has this to say: "Not sure if Tendulkar would want to give him the strike first ball."

Morkel bowls next, Tendulkar on strike. Off the second ball, he takes a single, leaving Unadkat to face four balls. The fifth ball of the over, Unadkat defends and "Tendulkar calls to take the single" (Cricinfo again). Tendulkar plays out the last ball with no attempt to score.

Steyn now has a full over to target Unadkat. He needs only one ball to take him out. SA wins the Test.

Far from 30 runs, India scored just five on the fifth morning. Of 35 balls bowled, Tendulkar faced 15, and six of those were in one Morkel over in which he seemed uninterested in scoring at all. (Compare with Lara, who fronted up for 74 of the final 118 balls -- after the fall of the 8th wicket -- of that 1999 Test).

And Indian fans like me were left to wonder: just what was Sachin Tendulkar doing on that fifth morning?

21 comments:

mayank said...

I wish someone goes and asks him that question. While the whole country is gloating - on GODs new milestone, this sure sounds like weird. My guess is it was an example of the team collectively chosen to let go the test.. why do i say team - probably because this would have got discussed.
But yet, i hate to admit - this was unbecoming of the demi-God sachin that we have known through the years.

Dilip - you have chosen to remain non opinionated through your post.. whats your view?

Dilip D'Souza said...

I thought my opinion was clear! Especially given the comparison to Lara.

He should have been making every possible attempt to shield Sreesanth and Unadkat, and to score. I can only imagine that he had decided there was no chance to draw the Test. Sad, especially given the way the team fought the previous day-and-a-half.

Aditya said...

Well, so to say, the same strategy (if you can call it that) has worked numerous times for VVS. Take out any match where he has played a long innings with the tailenders (there are too many) and you will see he NEVER shields them.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

It was an absolute impossibility for ST to have saved the match by shielding the tailenders. And he certainly knew that.

Maybe he could have averted the innings defeat -- so? That wouldn't have changed anything.

Far better to give them some batting experience in such situations, surely...

Dilip D'Souza said...

There is a school of thought that says sharing the strike with tailenders (i.e. making no attempt to take most of the strike) is an expression of confidence in them and is the best way to build a partnership with them. If I'm not mistaken, Steve Waugh once said/wrote this somewhere. Perhaps VVS thinks like that, I don't know. It's certainly a reasonable way to approach such a situation; I think that if I was a tailender, that expression of confidence in me would pump me up to do my best.

But RS, I can't square myself to the thought that ST had decided saving the match was an "absolute impossibility", that there was no point trying to avert an innings defeat.

Why then did the previous batsmen fight so hard then? Why then is Test cricket filled with innumerable "rearguard" finishes, where tailenders struggle mightily for even hours, to draw the match?

For example, this match, in which Panesar and Anderson kept out nearly 70 balls to secure a draw, without which England would not be the current holders of the Ashes.

What if either of them had decided that it was an "absolute impossibility" to save the match?

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Dilip - surely there is a huge difference between facing 70 balls and facing 90 overs! As long as Dhoni was there, there was a chance. Has there ever been a case of tail-enders of the calibre of Sreesanth lasting 90 overs?

Sachin could have done what Kapil did in the company of Hirwani and smashed 4 sixes (plus a bit). But Kapil did that to avert a follow-on. Replacing an innings defeat with a 10-wicket defeat doesn't seem quite so important -- to me, anyway.

Dilip D'Souza said...

But Rahul, the calculation doesn't necessarily involve 90 overs.

OK, I'm not in that situation and never will be, but here's how I might approach it. I'd tell Sreesanth, ok, we're taking this 5 runs at a time, aiming first of all to make 30. Because without making the 30 there's no draw.

Having scored the 30 runs, reset the batteries and start again, 5 runs at a time and our aim being to eat up the clock.

If we score at 30 an hour -- not unreasonable at all -- we'll get to tea 90 runs ahead. If we get there and we still have you or Unadkat around, a draw is realistic.

I don't see why this was not worth attempting. Every batsman talks about how they break up long partnerships into 5-10 run mini-mountains to climb. It's how Dravid and Laxman tackled that famous partnership in Cal, 2001.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Sorry ...

Because without making the 30 there's no draw.

And that's the difference between an innings defeat and making them bat again to win.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Dilip -- well, it's a thought experiment at best. Personally I'm thankful to Sachin and Dhoni for ensuring that the match entered the fifth day, and wasn't a complete humiliation.

Also, in case this was triggered by Graeme Smith's remarks -- that was certainly his intention! Draw attention away from the positive and focus on the negative.

Anonymous said...

Dilip ji, this is the first time I agree with you..

The media had the gall to ask kallis why he did not 'clap' when God scored the 50th hundred.. but they never asked the God why he did what he did on 5th day.

It was futile to ask Dhoni anyway.. still they could have

Anonymous said...

@ Rahul:

This was not triggered by Smith..

I woke up @ 3:30 AM ant it was so pathetic to watch ... STFU.. was my reaction.. I was hoping that things would have been diffrent if Viru/Bhajji (I do not like Bhajji FYI) were there instead of God.

It was a lost cause anyway.. but atleast making SA bat again would have been good.. even if for 1 run

And just Dilipji said, (shit I hate being on same side with him), what harm was there to first score 30 odd runs and then play mental game with SA

P.S. (just like DS plays with us)

Dilip D'Souza said...

Rahul,

Not triggered by Smith. I was following the commentary on cricinfo as it happened and getting increasingly puzzled as the balls went by and there seemed no urgency, no desire to protect Sreesanth and then Unadkat.

Captains play mental games, nothing wrong with that. The mentally strong will ignore those and keep playing.

Why is "ensuring the match entered a fifth day", which Dhoni and Tendulkar did, something you're "thankful" for, but at the same time "replacing an innings defeat with a 10-wicket defeat doesn't seem quite so important" to you?

I mean, they could have rolled over and offered SA the innings defeat at some point on the 4th day itself, or for that matter on the 3rd. Why fight for 1.5 days?

Anon, I too was annoyed by that business of asking Kallis why he did not clap, but sparing Tendulkar the questions about his 5th day performance.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Dilip - while Dhoni was there, there was a minuscule but not vanishing chance of saving the game. Pairs of batsmen have batted out entire days before -- this would have been nearly two entire days, but it's still barely credible that they could have done it. Once Dhoni was gone, the game was gone. Tendulkar is a realist.

Look at it this way: you complain that the two tail enders couldn't last a dozen balls between them, because Tendulkar allowed them strike for those dozen balls. Is it believable that Tendulkar could have farmed the strike to the extent of letting them face fewer than a dozen balls over the course of the day, while also preserving his own wicket? He's an all-time great but he's not a magician. And he knows that.

There may have been something symbolically pleasing in averting the innings defeat, but I'm not a fan of symbolism.

Jabberwock said...

Agree with Rahul, and would also like to add that everything happened fairly quickly on the fifth day (it took less than six overs). Even a great batsman who scored a century the previous day would take time to find his feet and rhythm, and to develop a practicable strategy for a day's play. If Sreesanth and Unadkat had managed to preserve their wickets for a while longer, perhaps Sachin's approach would have changed. (Or perhaps, in that case, it wouldn't have needed to change much. In a whole-day situation like this, the Steve Waugh school of thought is completely valid.)

Jabberwock said...

Hugely amused by this comment btw:

"I was hoping that things would have been diffrent if Viru/Bhajji (I do not like Bhajji FYI) were there instead of God."

Maybe we should just get Viru and Bhajji (and why not throw in Lara too?) to replay Sachin's entire Test career, so we can be spared these 21 years of incessant disappointment, no matter what he does!

Dilip D'Souza said...

It is a thought experiment, of course, and that's one of those enticing things about Test cricket, how fans like me can endlessly discuss and argue about the way things went or should have gone, all after the fact!

Without going in circles, I'd just like to say this: I think the idea of surviving for longer is something Tendulkar/Sreesanth/Unadkat could have at least considered, maybe discussed before the start of the day's play. Maybe they did, who knows.

Personally, I was disappointed by what seemed like an acceptance of quick defeat. Sometimes it is a matter of mindsets.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Jabberwock: just incidentally, I can't speak for others, but I'm in no way disappointed by the 21 years! A particular highlight being his battles with Warne, especially because many years ago I used to fancy myself as a legspin bowler too.

Anonymous said...

@ jabberwock:

My comment was not about replacing his carrier.. it was about how he approached the 5th day. Like I was discussing with my dad.. things would have been diffrent if the God was out at 90 and Dhoni was still playing on 5th day

Jabberwock said...

"Carrier"? Ah well, that makes about as much sense as the rest of your comment.

(Sorry for trolling, Dilip!)

Anonymous said...

@ jabberwork:

"just to say that I admire it more for its concept than for the execution"

If this is how the book is written.... nudge nudge :-)

(Sorry for trolling, Dilip!)

Aman Zaidi said...

I cannot but agree more with whatever Rahul Siddharthan has said.

I am of absolutely the same opinion.