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When captains went defensive

MS Dhoni and Kumar Sangakkara have not been short on man-management skills. But when it comes to tactical decisions, both have been a touch defensive, reports Amol Karhadkar.

cricket Updated: Aug 01, 2010 01:52 IST
Amol Karhadkar

When the sea is calm, every sailor is the captain.

But when it comes to sport, the converse of the Swedish adage does not hold. The leader of a bunch of sportsmen has to be unruffled by the pressure of opposition. At the same time, he has to not just motivate his colleagues but take tactical decisions on the field in order to extract the best out of his colleagues.

The two captains involved in the ongoing Test series between India and Sri Lanka — Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kumar Sangakkara — have not been short on man-management skills. But when it comes to tactical decisions, both have been a touch defensive.

No doubt injuries to prime pacemen have forced India to field one of their weakest attacks in recent times in the series. And with wickets tailormade for batting, the bowlers were always going to be exposed. Even before the start of the series, the big question was whether India could pick up 20 wickets - during the series, leave alone in one match. The worst fears have come true with India’s bowlers having only 15 Lankan scalps in their kitty from two matches so far.

But more often than not, Dhoni has been over-defensive with his field placements. Once the experiment of over-aggressive field settings failed during their three-day warm-up game, the India skipper played it safe during the Test series.

Barring the last day of the drawn second Test, which concluded on Friday, the Indian bowlers were hardly given attacking fields. The “in and out” field placements were probably introduced too soon in Sri Lanka’s first innings in both Tests.

“On a wicket like this you have to be practical. I feel that if you have wicket like this it’s always better to have semi-defensive field. In conditions like this you can’t really expect them to bowl eight-ten over spells,” said Dhoni after the second Test.

Sangakkara also adopted the same approach during the second Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club. Once he had lost the services of Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga after their magical victory in Galle, Sangakkara, just like Dhoni, preferred to wait for a batsman to commit a mistake than trying to compel him into playing a foul shot.

Sangakkara, though, hurried the declaration in the second Test. Though the declaration came on the second evening, with Sri Lanka 642 for 4, on a track as placid as the one at SSC, Sri Lanka should have posted at least 700 runs to put additional pressure on the strong Indian batting line-up.

“Maybe we should have batted for around 750 runs in the first innings,” the southpaw, who has led from front with the bat, admitted on Friday.

With Sri Lanka leading the series 1-0, Sangakkara can afford to be defensive in the last Test, which starts at the P Sara Oval on Tuesday.

But if Dhoni does not attack the batsmen, India may well have lost their second successive Test series in the neighbouring island come Saturday.