Fear unbecoming

The West Indies may no longer field Test sides as formidable at those till the 1990s, but a series win in the Caribbean still carries a thrilling novelty for India. After the triumph of 2006, the series concluded in Dominica on Sunday too was taken by a one-Test margin (a victory at Jamaica, followed by two draws), and it helps India extend their dominance in the ICC rankings. And that, it would appear, is enough for Mahendra Singh Dhoni. In a timid-hearted decision, he refused the offer of 15 mandatory overs on Sunday evening and thereby the chance to force a victory. India were 94 for 3, and needed another 86 runs to register a win. But as Dhoni said after the match, he was not "risking a series win going after the target".

Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher were emphatic in their irritation to suggestions that they should have decided otherwise, but the signal sent this weekend will interrogate India for a long time. There is, first, the fact that, with Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman at the crease, and with Dhoni, Virat Kohli and recently spunky tail-enders like Harbhajan Singh yet to bat, India were very safely placed and at a crunch could have played out the 15 overs for a draw. The signal emanating from Sunday's decision is not so much that India were safeguarding their lead in the series it is that, if easy victory is not assured and if it does not significantly alter their takeaway, they will not make the effort to snap it up. One-Test margin or two-Test, same difference.

But that's still a comparatively minor quibble. Because what India did this weekend was not in the spirit of cricket, of sport. Giving a competition your best is an essential contract and of necessity it involves risk-taking. To cite the fear of risking a series win is incriminating for any captain, let alone one who leads the top-ranked Test team as well as the current one-day world champions and certainly let alone one whose team was well-placed to make a bid for the match. This is not about a win at any cost it is about being true to the possibilities a sport offers. This time, India have showed themselves to be unequal to their rank as the number one Test side.

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