“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”
In the world of professional sport, sometimes all it takes is that 1% edge to sift apart the cream. To rise to the top, each possible advantage must be exploited.
When I hear all the noise by purists over India ‘doctoring’ pitches to aid their strengths and their anguish over it, I am bemused. What would be better? That we prepare pace friendly arenas that allow the visitors to rip us? Then we could have paeans about just how incredibly sporting India have been. This is delusionary stuff. The bottom-line in modern sport is winning; sportsmanship is best left in the school playground. The primary focus of a professional sportsman is to make a living from sport — winning pays far better than having also-ran.
Can’t afford to lose
When India tour abroad and their best batsmen are put out to grass in the pavilion rather quickly, one does not read too many pundits belittling the pace-friendly tracks. They use what suits them, we use what works for us. The cash cow that is Indian cricket milks on the buzz of a winning side. The men in blue just can’t afford to lose, that too at home, as the math does not add up. And above everything else, money is the fuel which has driven cricket to such overwhelming popularity in this country. Sponsors don’t like losers.
Then, there is all this talk of matches ending in three days killing the game of cricket. The only thing they are killing are the broadcaster’s huge revenues . During the Nagpur Test, there was that brilliant two-odd hour spell on Day Three. Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis facing off against Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin was a duel of the highest level. Quality spin against some technically strong batting made for riveting stuff. That the visitors could not carry on is not the fault of the pitch, it’s a fault in technique and lack of stronger mental resolve.
Du Plessis needed to show the kind of grit he did against Australia in Adelaide in 2012 where he clung on to see his side to an unlikely draw. From 77 for four at the end of Day 4, Du Plessis played out the entire fifth day, a significant span with tail-enders. Not a single South African batsman has shown similar resolve on this tour.
All this talk of such pitches scuttling our batting prospects for the future is, frankly, extremely strange. We have always had such pitches and we have had some of the greatest batsmen seen by the game come up playing on such wickets. Perhaps the finesse in the batting technique which our spinner-killers have had was because and not in spite of such wickets?
Coming to the wicket that Rahul Dravid had a hassle with: Bengal’s win against Odisha in a Ranji Trophy match near Kolkata that ended in two days with 20 wickets falling on the first day. The former India skipper has a point. We should have neutral tracks at the local level to groom our future bats to take on whatever the world can throw at them. Though, the fact that a pacer, Ashok Dinda, took the maximum wickets (seven) does excite scrutiny. This kind of host advantage can’t be so radically exploited in the domestic setup.
India have been making dust bowls forever. In the recent past, we have just not been used to wins where the hero is not a batsman. Further back in the past, the team captain and management seldom came out strongly in the face of similar questions. This lot does. This is a new kind of aggression for Indian cricket. I like it. Plain talking is always good. Just as winning is.