The Crawl

Champion teams are defined by a story. The 83 team was a group of no-hopers with a team, 87 was a Renaissance for the team, 92 was a back to the wall coming back miraculously and 75,79, 03, 11, 07 and 15 was about domination of the best team.

If India is serious about winning 2019, it needs to decide what its story is going to be. Because right now, after the England game, the narrative is one of bizarre surrender.

Today we saw 2 batsmen, Dhoni and Jadhav, not even trying to win. Not only were they not trying to hit boundaries, but they were first-bumping through it all, as if that was the plan, as if they were satisfied with how things were going.

True only 27 runs had been scored off the first 10 overs, and that in itself was going to put pressure on those coming at the end. But slow starts happen, when the bowling is good and wickets needs to be conserved. There is cricketing logic there, you conserve wickets in the beginning hoping to ride out a good spell. You do not do it at the end.

Scoring 100 odd of 10 overs with 6 wickets in hand should not be, in 2019, cause for a team to give up, that too one with aspirations of being a World Cup champion. The two batsmen gave up, in the way Mongia and Prabhakar did once upon a time, and that represented the nadir of Indian cricket. One can understand two tail-enders batting to reduce the margin of loss, but Dhoni and Jadhav play in the team precisely to finish games in these situations.

Which is why today was such a low. This was a craven, spineless display that made no cricketing sense.

Mind you there is no shame in losing, or losing big, but there is nothing worse than not even trying. It is the very essence of competitive sports, to try one’s best to win and if they don’t, why it’s not a game anymore.

Was this the plan? If it was to eliminate Pakistan it makes no sense, Pakistan are not statistically eliminated and it’s in India’s cricketing interest to play Pakistan in the knock outs rather than England because Pakistan is by far the weaker team. I want to believe this to be not the case, because if it was we would have validated the hate-anchors on Pakistan TV, that in 2019 we even care about Pakistan as a team, when there really is, with all due respects, no cricketing reason to do so.

If this was not the plan but just Dhoni and Jadhav’s incompetence, they deserve to be dropped. Not because they played badly or because the pitch was bad (as Rohit Sharma said in the post-match conference) but because, and a lot of experts who have played the game at the highest level felt the same, that they didn’t even try.

Of course we know that won’t happen. But it needs to, if we are to salvage an iota of self-respect.

Just going on to win the Cup won’t redeem the narrative. Winning the trophy does not make one champions.

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7 thoughts on “The Crawl

  1. Before entering my thoughts, a disclaimer. I’m not a MSD fanboy (though I admire and respect him). Yours is a perfectly valid opinion and I’m merely presenting my counter opinion without an intention to troll.

    Coming to the point, here’s my explanation of the lats 5 overs. Till Pandya was there, we were in the chase. But England were bowled extremely extremely well in the last 10 overs. Even Pandya who was scoring at almost 200 SR (26 of 14 balls), could only score 19 or his last 19 balls (SR 100). England bowled to a dot. Short & slow, right at the body, daring both to hit at the long boundary. They completely shut off the short boundary option for India. So after over 40, both HP & MSD were unable to hit through even though they tried.

    Secondly, Pant, for all his intent also scored at barely over a 100 SR – insufficient when asking rate was 9.5 when he came in.

    Writing was on the wall. England was bowling really well. When HP got out, even though we were only 5 down, we had a long tail. Shami, KY, JB, YC. So wickets in hand didn’t matter. KJ & MSD was the last recognized pair. Batting beyond that was not even bowling all rounders. It was proper no. 10/11 stuff.

    With 71 of 31, and only two recognized batsmen in, chase was effectively over. We have seen such chases done successfully in IPL, but this is not IPL. Level of bowling in IPL is mostly trash. Pressure is lesser. This was a quality bowling attack who stuck to a plan.

    With chase being effectively over, idea probably was to get batting practice for KJ & MSD who have struggled in the last few matches. A quick 20 off 15 for KJ would have given him confidence for the next two matches. He couldn’t do that. He’ll most probably be replaced by DK in the next match. He lost his chance.

    The team didn’t try to win the match in the last 5 overs. Correct. But they didn’t surrender. They had a plan (which I wrote above). It was also not about the NRR. I’m sure Indian think tank is backing themselves to win at least one of the next 2 matches which will seal their semis place. The plan was to get more batting practice for the ones who were struggling. Dhoni got that to some extend. KJ didn’t.

    Also I disagree that as WC contenders we need to strive to win even at the most hopeless times. In such a condition, it is okay to look at another strategy than winning while keeping the ultimate goal in sight. 71 off 31. Adding 20 runs for 4 wickets would have achieved us nothing other than a moral high ground. This at least made us answer our questions. That Dhoni is okay. KJ needs to be dropped. That’s good enough for me.

    One has to lose battles sometimes to win the war. Sampras, while winning US Open in 1989, dropped the 4th set in the QF against Lendl when he knew he couldn’t compete with Lendl’s fitness. In the fifth, after he got an early break against Lendl, he meekly surrendered all of Lendl’s service games and put all his energy in his own. He won.

  2. Agree, but should also note that this is classic Dhoni and he has been doing this for many years now. That is, when _he_ decides that the target is unreachable, he simply shuts the chase down and hits a few fours and sixes at the end making his strike rate seem decent, but in reality, there was no hope of winning at all. Many CSK matches ended this way as well. His success is built on having a Raina/Jadeja/Morkel/Bravo at the other end scoring quickly and he fires in the last couple of overs, preferably the last.

    When that Raina, today Hardik, falls, he shuts the chase down. My feeling is that if the target is more than 8 rpo for more than 8 overs, shutdown is initiated.

  3. I think there is more to it than meets the eye. Remember how England were bulldozing along at over 12.5 runs/over (for a period of 5-10 overs) and then suddenly after 1 wicket their run rate dropped to a 2-3 runs/over for the next many overs. From a stage where everyone expected 400+, suddenly England seemed to be targeting a score around 320.
    Perhaps you can explain it better. But I believe that the pitch was not as flat as the English openers made it seem. Rohit and Kohli showed their class. The others- Pant, Pandya, Dhoni and Jadhav tried their best to hit but failed repeatedly.
    And no, I am not a Dhoni fan trying to justify. I was equally agitated when I was watching it live. But when I saw the last few overs again, I realized that Dhoni tried to heave but couldn’t connect repeatedly, before he gave up and resorted to the singles. Remember Yuvraj Singh in that T20 final against Sri Lanka. I think our batsmen were in a similar situation today because the pitch wasn’t super flat.

  4. I don’t think we should panic and make changes to the team now. My hypothesis is that word came from the dressing room after Rishabh Pant got out. If you noticed, even Hardik Pandya started playing defensively after Dhoni came to the pitch (probably with the message).

    The last Adil Rashid over going for only 5 runs was the first clue that something was amiss. Just at the start of this over, commentators were mentioning that 31 out of 36 sixers hit by Hardik Pandya in ODIs are hit against spinners. So, why didn’t he even try to slog one towards the 59 metre boundary?

    No point taking any action on a veteran looking to retire after 3-4 matches….

  5. I would rather face England again in the semis or Finals and get the A game then than have another much-hyped contest with Pakistan, given what happened in the CT and the effect of an Indo Pak world cup loss against the players, especially when Pakistan is resurrecting or threatening to reach peak.. they are a dangerous opponent than England in big stage ICC tournaments and have made this comeback from the ashes more than once; unless its a full flow Australia at Peak, they are a tough lot to contain;

    Dont read too much into MSD intent and he still is pretty good and effective and is the master of reading games and situations; the likes of Dada fans or Sachin fans should allow Dhoni to do his job and reserve the comments till the world cup is over, coz whatever one says or does, Dhoni does not react.. btw not a Dhoni fan boy here for what he did to Gambhir Bhaji and especially Yuvi, but he is right in his approach..

  6. Everybody I talked to, feels that India gave away the match intentionally.
    It was not just Dhoni, there are multiple instances cited how the team (as a whole) purposely surrendered.
    If yes, why?

    Organized betting? Looks too risky to attempt at world cup level under such high media glare.

    Keep Pakistan out? Howsoever some Indian and Pakistani fans like to believe this story, the story doesn’t stand logic. Arnab cited the reasons above and I agree.

    This will remain a mystery forever, it seems. “India tried but lost” story insults intelligence and common-sense. However, at the end of the day, this is what sport is all about. It provides us with distractions in our life.

  7. Just a couple of points.

    I did not see the entire match, just the last 15 overs of the Indian innings, so this is probably rubbish. There was just one over in which Pandya was able to cut loose, and this can be attributed to bad bowling/field placement or both. Mind you there was not one six in the entire Indian innings except the one by Dhoni- how do you explain that in the narrative of “not trying to win”? Did Rohit Sharma try to win only after his century? What exactly was Rishabh Pant “trying” when Pandya was going all postal. All he had to do was give the strike to Pandya? If Pant is not mature, or worse, directly ignoring orders from the dug out, should he still be in the team or should he still be batting before Dhoni?

    Ok lets assume that everyone played(at least tried to play) their part till Dhoni and Jadav were in the middle. And Dhoni and Jadav decided, to hell with it, we will play for our “Strike Rate” or “Batting Average” or whatever. Lets say that Dhoni has the backing of the Prince of Darkness and no one can touch him till this World Cup ends. What about Jadav? Who has his back? What exactly is stopping Kohli and “Master of Aggressive Mindset” Shasthri from dropping him and getting in “bits and pieces” Jadeja in the team?

    The truth is we can never really know what goes on in the dressing room(let alone in some one’s head), and this is what allows us to write “stories”. Stories are written after the fact to make sense of events. They are usually bunkum and rarely stand up against scrutiny. The idea behind the story is to ignore facts that don’t bolster the narrative (or at least diminish their importance )while magnifying the ones that do. So the last thing India need to worry about their story, because we can always come up with a good one. Even if we get thrashed in the semi-final, life will still go on or, as Lance Klusener eloquently put it, “Nobody Died”.

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