September 11, 2007
Bring down the house
In the innumerable books out there in that market devoted to taking down casinos, one thing is oft repeated - if the player is starting off with a handicap, like having a continuous bad luck of the draw, or not enough seed money to see off the bad times and sustain the mean streak, the gurus advise to keep it short and sweet, meaning, hit and run - never to push luck hard enough as to turn it against the player, but to make a quick fortune, collect and JUST LEAVE. If only ODI series operate that way. The moment a team finds itself winning consecutive matches, starting off with a handicap, teams should have the option of cashing in their chips, calling off the rest of the games, doing a dry-wash motion like how a dealer does when handing off the charge to his partner, and then walk away from the table. Because the flip side always works against the player. On a protracted time scale, a player (particularly the handicapped ones) stand no chance of winning against the house - not with the tired legs, weak arms, soft palms, and not to mention, compounding the odds against by misreading all the obvious tell-tale signs. The comparison of an ODI with a day in the casino is not too far-fetched, considering both of them rely greatly on the fortunes on that particular one day.
On any given day, a lowly Kenya can take down a comparatively formidable India, a weaker Bangladesh may trounce a mightier Australia, and when it comes to Pakistan, even the best bookies are apprehensive to take the bets. It is not the preparation, work ethic, or even talent, that have the final say in the result, though they do have ways of swaying it, but it boils down to luck of the draw, pure dumb luck. One can get lucky for no obvious reason, on the other hand, logic fails to explain some of the other outcomes. Discounting Australia, that has gone past the reach of fates and fortunes through meticulous and ruthless professionalism, the rest of the mortal teams find themselves at the mercy of the ODI Gods, hoping for that good one day on the field when everything would work, and work right - every bowling change would be rewarded with a wicket, last wicket partnerships pull out the teams prying the jaws of defeat, a leap in the air rewarded with the ball in the palm, batsmen score runs by the bundles and bowlers take wickets by the bushels - just another regular great day under the glorious sun. Turn the face of fate around the following day and see how low a team, that is still reeling from vertigo after the climb to the top, could get, right from misreading the conditions during the toss and opting for an unfavorable position, down to bungling the press conferences during the post-match sessions. The problem is not with the team, the blame could not be laid on the talent or the make-up, the issue is always the length of stay at the table. Hit and run should be the mantra, else, the only thing the player that remains if the player doesn't run, is getting hit.
What a long drawn out tour this has been. It seemed longer than the 100 year war. Indians drew the first blood, followed by the English assault, wresting the initiative back to the other side of the English Channel. Indians came back with a huge counter-offensive, almost winning the war "with their backs against the wall" (the favorite phrase of their supreme commander), only to find themselves just a few yards short from the victory line, collapsing and finally conceding victory. Sure, they could take comfort in the fact that they prevailed ultimately in the truer version of the game, but as long as statisticians keep the scores and records, every outing under the sun counts, no matter how close the margins, no matter how valiant the fight back, and the final tally reads 4-3 in favor of the homeside. If the Indians out-performed the English on every day in the test series (aided by a little luck in the first one), the English paid back in kind on every day in the ODI series, looking like winning every game and sweeping the series altogether. It certainly marks the resurgence of the English, who have been short-changed in the shorter version of the game in the last few years. On the other hand, this series put an end to the Indians' winning streak, leading credence to the belief, that on a long enough time scale, the house always wins.
Borrowing a line from the great Indian movie "Sholay" - "is story mein emotion hai, drama hai, tragedy hai" (this story has everything, cheers and tears, triumphs and tragedies). Setting aside the scores and statistics aside for a moment, however long the series was, it certainly cannot be blamed for lack of entertainment. The see-saws, the ups and downs, the flagging and the flourishing, the waxing and the waning, and all the other associated antonymns that make up the yin and yang of the ODI game, a ODI series, were all right there, in all the right portions and at all the right times, serving as yet another great advertisement to the 50 over version (now that, its younger prodigal brother, the Twenty20, seems be gaining in popularity). The series sized up both the teams, putting them on an even keel as far as the batting is concerned, giving England a pat on the back in the bowling department, and simply refusing to compare as far the athletics on the field are concerned. The final rubber reads so close, only because all the time-tested batting guns fired full bore, and on the days they fell silent, the result was a rout, as neither the bowling variety (or the lack of it), nor the fielding commitment (there is no 'or' here, there is a definite lack of it), made up for the batting inadequacy.
First, the English. This was the same team that has given up on the abridged game before the start of the series, run over by practically everybody, who is either a somebody or a nobody, in the cricketing fraternity, and written off by everyone, from critics to the cheer-leaders. Yet the batting depth that the English seem to possess, running deep till the 9th batsman (who has saved one of the matches single-handedly), contradicts all the criticisms that were heaped on it, just a couple of months ago. The dream run of their middle-order more than made up for the opening failure. The new found talents in the lower order bode them well for the future. The bowling attack, however inexperienced it is, relied on accuracy alone, dismissing the over-blown emphasis on experience, and the fielding...well, enough to say, fielding scored an additional 30-40 runs every match, while latching on to every opportunity that came their way. In short, England's performance, as a professional would sum up in one word, was clinical.
On the other hand, the same evaluator would judge Indians' performance as mercurial. On their day, the batting shot through the roof (in this case, out of the stadia) with a little help from Duckworth-Lewis, and on their off-day, it was Murphy's law all over - everything that could go wrong, went wrong. It is appalling to see players breaking down, unable to complete their quotas, unable to throw balls from the out-field, unable to out-run a speeding ball, and worse, unable to hold on to sitters. If two of the 3 B's (batting, bowling and backing-up) have turned against, that is one mighty handicap to play with, as the opponent would go up just by that many odds in favor. If fielding is seen a major concern, its foundation, fitness, remains an even bigger issue. Leaving out a couple, every other player in the field looked like a 'Gateway of India', waiting to be hit through and waiting to be taken advantage of. And regardless of the size of the fields, hiding 8-9 players every match is a tough thankless proposition for any captain. The only experiment that succeeded was fielding a duo of spinners, something that India has not done in a long time, that reigned in a ravaging attack to a certain extent. By the third time around, England grew wise, by biding their time during the two-pronged spin attack, and hitting out during the rest for great dividends. With the Aussies set to tour India for exactly the same number of matches as the just concluded one, 2/3 odds against the home is guaranteed to be not as kind as or as close as 3-4, knowing fully well, that they would have something to say about that lone remaining odd in favor.
Playing with those kind of odds, even if it is on home turf against that kind of opposition, is like using a sling shot to bring down a stone house.
Srinivas Kanchibhotla how you liked the article
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