Safety first, A hazard


When I asked Harbhajan Singh, Rest of India captain, if he had contemplated a declaration overnight he suggested that on a track like this they didn't want to offer the opposition a chance (remember: 413 from 90 overs on the last day). Now by the minimax theory he was minimising the maximum payoff possible for the opposition (which was to win the game by chasing 413 on the last day) but in doing so he was also maximising his minimum payoff (which was to win on first innings lead). In this case, his maximum pay-off, winning outright, would have been excellent for cricket, would have given his bowlers something to play for on the last day and would have thrown the gauntlet at the Mumbai batsmen who would have had no choice but to go for it since otherwise the game was lost on first innings lead anyway.

And so we had another day of low pressure/low challenge cricket which, as it turns out, is ingrained in our domestic structure. The idea of placing a challenge on yourself to discover how good you can be is considered either outdated, unfashionable or just stupid. Which is such a pity.

So to go back to Anand Halve's question. Is this a national trait where we, effectively, do just enough to get a favourable but enormously sub-optimal result? And is this reluctance to take pressure reflected in a fragility that is manifest when pressure is inevitable? Maybe it is for the social scientists to examine whether this is a national trait but on the evidence of a little bit of research I have to conclude that it is an overwhelming feature of Indian cricket.

Negativity at all levels

Let's start at the top and the now infamous Test at Dominica in 2011. India, leading 1-0, had to make 180 from 47 overs to win the test. The worst case scenario, a defeat, was remote, but by the time India moved to a target of 86 from 15 overs with seven wickets still in hand, that scenario had disappeared. India could either draw or win. India chose to draw rather than challenge themselves to win; the result was favourable (a series win) but sub-optimal (1-0 instead of 2-0). It suggested India didn't want to be pushed.

... contd.

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