The anti-climactic ending to the third test between West Indies and India has brought forth an outpouring of criticism from cricket fans the world over . Indian cricket fans , in particular , have come down hard on Dhoni and the men in blue in accepting a draw when they were 86 runs away from victory with 15 overs still to be played . Writing in Cricinfo , Andy Zaltzman likened it to Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay getting to within 50 metres of the top of Mt. Everest , only to simultaneously suffer pulled hamstrings and stop short of the summit.( Read the full article ; it’s both funny and insightful).
Is the criticism justified ? And , if it is , where does the blame lie ?
To briefly recap the situation , India dismissed the West Indies for 322 in the second innings . This was after lunch on the last day of the Dominica Test and it left India a target of 180 in 47 overs ,a gettable total even though the wicket had something in it for the spinners and was difficult to score on . Unfortunately for India , Abhinav Mukund was dismissed by Fidel Edwards for a first ball duck . At that point , Dravid and Vijay had to play themselves in and concentrate on just keeping their wickets and the run rate began to climb.When Vijay was finally dismissed , Dhoni did send in Suresh Raina to force the pace but he too was unable to get going and was dismissed for 8 ( off 18 deliveries) . At that point , the Indian think tank decided to shut it down and Laxman and Dravid played out a few more overs before accepting the draw with 15 overs still to go.
Considering that India are now the #1 Test side in the world , they should not, on the face of it , have acceded to a draw. In not going for a win , they robbed spectators of an exciting finish and a result . As many have pointed out ,when Ricky Ponting and the Australians were on top , they would have gone all out for a win and damn the consequences . Samir Chopra , in his blog Turning Wicket , harks back to the time when the Pakistanis , already leading 1-0 in the 1978 series against India, successfully chased down 164 in less than 100 minutes, scoring at a phenomenal 6.60 runs per over.
I submit that these comparisons are unfair, the Pakistani one in particular. That Pakistani team was loaded with explosive batsmen ( Javed Miandad, Asif Iqbal , Zaheer Abbas and Imran Khan to name only a few ) and , besides , the match was played in on one of those batsman friendly pitches. Kudos to Pakistan in going for the win , but they were never in danger of losing and they were not defending a # 1 ranking . It is true that Australia , when they were a # 1 team , would have gone for it but htis Indian side , though ranked #1 currently , is far from full strength. Had Sehwag and Gambhir been playing , India would definitely have gone for it . ( Sehwag would have gone full throttle , regardless of anything he was told to do!) But those two were not in the side at Dominica , nor was Tendulkar , and the players who were out in the middle ( Vijay, Dravid , Laxman ) are not the type to score quickly in the best of circumstances. Mukund’s early departure and the difficulty of scoring on a slow pitch lessened the chances of a win even more . It is instructive to note that in the first innings , India were only able to score at 3.20 runs an over against a depleted Windies attack that was missing Ravi Rampaul . In the second innings , Rampaul was back and the pitch had something in it for the spinners . Even at the beginning of the innings, the Required Run Rate was almost 4 an over ( 180/ 47 overs) and it later climbed to almost 6 an over ( 86/ 15 overs). Consider also that this was a Test match , not an ODI. The Windies could ,and would, have packed the outfield and bowled defensively as they had every right to. When one considers all these factors , India, at that stage , had no chance for a win and were in some danger of losing the Test and drawing the series . Dhoni was right to accept the draw when he did . What Duncan Fletcher said in defending the decision at the post-match press conference may have been unpalatable… but it was the truth.
That said , it was an unfortunate end to the Test match and the spectators and cricket fans have a right to feel cheated. The fault however lies not so much with Dhoni or the Indian batsmen but with the Indian bowlers . On the fourth day , the Windies were reeling at 40 for 3 and India had a golden chance to tighten the screws. They did not do so .( This is where the Australians would have gone for the jugular). The pacemen overdid the short pitched stuff and became too predictable and Harbhajan did not attack the batsmen as he should have on a pitch that afforded him some help. To make matters worse , the normally reliable Rahul Dravid dropped Shivnaraine Chanderpaul when the latter was only 25 . You can’t do that and expect to win . That said , full credit to Chanderpaul and Fidel Edwards for their stout resistance on the fifth day . By extending the Widies second innings till after lunch on the fifth day , they effectively denied India a chance at victory.
Still , one cannot be too unhappy with the draw. It offered the West Indies a measure of hope for the future . The team seemed to come together under Darren Sammy and they fought hard in both the second and third Tests . Kirk Edwards and Carlton Baugh showed promise , Fidel Edwards was excellent and Chanderpaul showed that he still has a lot of cricket left in hin . The West Indies mean a lot to cricket and cricket followers everywhere will be happy to know they are on the rise again.
Final Thoughts : For all those criticising Dhoni as not being aggressive enough in going for a win , I would point to his sporting declaration in the second Test . By challenging the Windies to score 281 for victory with most of the day to go , he gave his bowlers enough time to bowl out the opposition . They would have done so too , except that rain and fading light robbed them of several overs .
And , finally , I know that these same critics would have been the first to criticise Dhoni had India gone all out for a win and crashed to defeat in the Third Test. And , that’s the truth.