2 am on a Sunday night/ Monday morning after a hectic weekend of meeting and greeting and I sat up resisting my eyelids attempts to call it a day. After all, India was on the verge of a Test and series win in the Caribbean and I wasn’t about to miss it. Or so I thought.
At the start of play on Day 5, the West Indies were in the lead by 81 runs with only 4 wickets in hand. India looked on course to another exciting win and luck seemed to agree, early on at least with Sammy and Rampaul departing in the same over. Darren Sammy headed back to the pavilion in a contentious decision when the umpire gave him caught out at short leg after he thought the ball had deflected from his glove. Replays later showed the delivery had actually come off his chest. Three balls later Ravi Rampaul was run out after making the mistake of going for a quick single. The Windies were just 113 runs ahead and victory looked well within sight for the visitors. India’s old nemesis Shivnarine Chanderpaul however wasn’t in the mood to give up so easily and trudged his way to a defiant century.
When the Indians managed to finally pick up the remaining to Windies wickets they were set a total of 180 to achieve in 47 overs – a run-rate of 3.83 with no visible demons in the pitch or opposition bowling lineup.
Losing Abhinav Mukund off the first ball of the chase was definitely a dampener but not something a world class batting lineup (Notwithstanding Sehwag, Gambhir and Tendulkar’s absence) would have been too shaken about. Murali Vijay and Rahul Dravid steadied the innings and it looked as if there would be some big hitting in due course of time. Or so I thought.
With India needing 107 off 137 balls, Vijay was the next batsman to go after a top edge from what came across as a frustrated pull shot. The scoring rate had been pulled back a bit and some urgency was on the cards. Raina walked in at number 4 and attempted to rotate the strike by running hard for some singles but soon had to head back when he scooped one back to Rampaul. Right about that time there was a lot of speculation that Dhoni was going to walk in to the middle (a la World Cup final) to take control of the situation and make a claim for a win. Instead VVS Laxman walked with the required run rate at 5 per over. Laxman (who is more than capable of scoring 5 runs an over) was at the crease alright, but something was amiss. It just didn’t seem like he or Dravid were attempting to chase down the target. 4 overs later a drinks break was called and lo behold, both captains decided to call off the rest of the game as they were happy with a draw.
Satisfied skipper - 'Happy with the series win'Just when you think you have Dhoni figured out, he goes in and surprises you. The decision seemed abrupt, bizarre and not keeping with India’s No 1 status or the aggression that we have begun to expect from the top rated team in the world. It was almost as if you could regurgitate the old 1990’s catchphrase often hurled against the Indian cricket team – “They lack the killer instinct”.
Dhoni didn’t seem too perturbed about the situation during the presentation ceremony – “Well of course, the gamble was quite high for us. Not disappointed about stopping the run chase. We were risking a series win going after the target. We realised that it was not worth going for.”
The Indian team left it to a grumpy Coach Duncan Fletcher to defend their decision in front of the media - "Once Raina was sent in, he found it very difficult. He had gone there as the left-hander and to take on the leg-spin bowler but straightaway it's turning like that, they block off one side. Once it got to four or five runs per over, we were struggling to score...The side decided it was difficult to get those runs and thought what's the point in going there and ending up maybe with just one side able to winning it."
Granted that Fletcher was probably right about only the batsmen out in the middle knowing how tough the going actually is. But did they really run the risk of getting all out? Did MS Dhoni actually think that 7 members of his team (that includes a couple of all time batting greats) would lose their wickets in the attempt to score at 5 per over in 15 overs? Did the Indian team not owe it to their legions of fans to at least make an attempt? What about the close to capacity crowd in Dominica that had come in to see a contest? They were a refreshing aberration from the dwindling crowds that all other venues across the Caribbean were witness to. An exciting run chase could have a made a small but important impact on the following for the sport in the Windies.
One set of people who seemed pleased enough were the West Indies cricket team. They did a mini victory lap around the ground at the close of play. Though it may have been disguised as appreciation for the crowd support, there was no doubt about the moral victory gifted their way. Skipper Darren Sammy expressed his own shock – “I was a bit surprised that India ended their run chase but we will take it. We are very happy with the draw,”
Dhoni’s and Fletcher’s statements were not only a moral win for the West Indies team but also an early psychological advantage to England whom India face in less than two weeks for a Test series being billed as a top of the draw clash. If the West Indies team can instill such fear in the No 1 side then the English bowlers will be licking their lips in anticipation.
Soon after the match was mutually called off social networking sites were abuzz with fans who were as puzzled as yours truly. The outrage also poured onto the comments sections of the Yahoo! Cricket site where readers expressed disappointment in Dhoni’s approach and attitude. They also lamented the lack of aggression in not pushing for a win. The cricket loving public is known to be fickle at times but can you blame them in this case?
And finally, why do teams have the option of calling off play when there is potential for a result? Shouldn’t that be made illegal by one of the mighty laws that the ICC sets up meetings in Hong Kong, Dubai, Timbaktu and heaven knows where else to formulate?