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Are We Like That Only?

Omkar Goswami


Depending on when you read this piece, we will either be in the middle the second India-Australia test at Chepauk in Chennai, or the match will have come to an end. As I write, the game is yet to begin — and nobody knows the outcome. Of course, every commentator will tell you that cricket is a game of “glorious uncertainties” and that it is possible, like the last time, for the Indian Phoenix to rise from the ashes to craft a great win. We would all love that to happen. But it seems unlikely, especially if the Aussies continue to conduct their campaign the way they had in Bangalore, and if our much advertised, multiply-endorsed willow wonders continue with their display of feckless and inept test match batting.


That brings me to the first aspect of the Bangalore test: the meticulous planning and execution of the Australians. Everyone knows that the Aussies badly want to win a test series in India — something they haven’t done since Bill Lawry’s time. This time round, coach John Buchanan and his lads seem to have done their homework perfectly. The basics are simple enough. As far as bowling goes, they have decided that on slow, low bounce Indian pitches, the best strategy is not to waste time intimidating with short-pitched stuff, and instead to bowl along the channel, give very little width, throttle run scoring, and wait for batsmen to make inevitable mistakes. Basic cricket stuff, you might say, but the brilliance lay in its meticulous execution. Like a well oiled machine, McGrath bowled a beautiful line just outside off-stump, swinging them in and out in a perfectly controlled manner. Kasprowicz pegged away with perfect in-swingers and the reverse swing. The  mercurial Gillespie never let himself go astray, and stuck to a clean line and length. Even  Warne experimented in a highly controlled fashion — giving far less air and width to the batsmen than he normally does.


Aussie strategy number two was also basic cricket: bat responsibly; don’t throw your wicket away; punish only the loose balls; keep the scoreboard ticking; and try to pile up a solid score that could give space to the bowlers. Again, thanks to a brilliant, almost perfect, display of batting by Michael Clarke, some class aggression by Gilchrist, and backed up by the controlled play of Katich as well as Langer, they piled up a score of 474 in the first innings.


Contrast their planning and batting with our wizards of the willow. Chopra gets out in 4 balls, trying to offer a pad without having got his eyes set in. After getting going, Sehwag coolly flicks Kasprowicz off his pads exactly to where Langer is standing in short mid-wicket. Hand-eye coordination, we are told, is the Nawab of Najafgarh’s strong suite; pity that it isn’t backed up by brains. The great Yuvraj Singh happily gifts his wicket away to a lazy shot outside his off-stump — and does it once again with feeling in the second innings. There was nothing to the pitch, as Patel, Pathan, Kumble and Harbhajan showed. We simply had a death wish to gift wickets away. And nothing can illustrate that more than the absolutely ridiculous run out that Ganguly gifted to himself.


Contrast the Aussie planning and execution with ours. What did we see before and in Bangalore? A Board of Cricket Control that was driven by in-fighting with one man wishing to be Emperor for Life. Players who hadn’t played a test since Pakistan and were rusty as nails. Barring Harbhajan, Pathan and Kumble, some of the most hapless execution that one could think of. And a supposedly world famous batting line collapsing like nine-pins.


It was the triumph of planning, execution, determination and the will to dominate over the long haul versus the South Asian love for drama. Systems, processes and teamwork comprehensively defeated occasional heroics. If you think about it, that’s what we do almost always. We are an episodic people, who can perform feats of brilliance but rarely replicate top class performance in a systematic manner year after year. Not surprisingly, the Bangalore test made me think: Are we like that only? For the country’s sake, I should hope not. 


Published: Business world, October 2004


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