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Nagpur pitch debate: More to cricket than winning at any cost

The lack of overwhelming rejoicing at India’s series win should be a matter for introspection and not outright condemnation.

India vs South Africa 2015 Updated: Nov 30, 2015 19:46 IST
Pradeep Magazine
Pradeep Magazine
Hindustan Times
Nagpur Pitch,India vs South Africa,Cricket
South Africa batsman Hashim Amla nicks a ball to get out off the bowling of R Ashwin during the second day of the third test match between India and South Africa at VCA stadium, Jamtha in Nagpur.(HT Photo)

The lack of overwhelming rejoicing at India’s series win should be a matter for introspection and not outright condemnation. The reservations at endorsing the win as an outstanding achievement should not be seen as the expression of an anti-India sentiment, as has become the norm these days with any dissenting voice.

We live in polarized times, where even sport has the potential to divide people over divided opinions. And that obviously is not healthy.

When Rahul Dravid expressed his opposition to the kind of designer wickets that are being prepared in the Ranji Trophy championship and are not good for India’s cricket health, no one found what he had to say problematic. The “akharas” or sandpits that are being made in the domestic cricket for home advantage have resulted in matches getting over in no time. Batsmen are losing their moorings and bowlers getting an exaggerated sense of their abilities.

Dravid, who is now the coach of the India A and the Under 19 teams, has achieved enough to know what he is talking about. An evolved and thinking man, Dravid must have realized that his statement would become contentious, in the context of the ongoing debate about the wickets, and went on to explain that he is not talking about international cricket. That, he says, is different and one plays to win in those contests. This could be construed as an afterthought so that he is not seen as someone who too believes that India has taken “unfair” home advantage.

The Dravid argument rests on the premise that unprepared wickets do more harm than any good to the players and in the long run are detrimental to the health of sports. Shouldn’t what is not good for Indian cricket at the domestic level also not be good for them at the international level?

The nuanced difference is that at the domestic level you are preparing good players to represent the country so that they do well at the international level. And if winning is the sole aim to play international cricket, then no methods, fair or foul, are unfair as long as you achieve your goal. Since India has achieved that goal in thrashing the world’s best team, why crib about it.

Ravi Shastri has gone one step ahead and true to his nature, made a combustive statement in “to hell with five day cricket” which could become a national motto as long as India keeps winning.

The problem will arise when India start tasting defeat again, which is very likely once they play away from home or face a side which has good spinners in their team. If today, the snakepit in Nagpur destroyed the South Africans, the same arena could very well have bitten India as badly as well. Playing on such surfaces is like a throw of dice and only the lucky ones and not those who rely on talent, get the number right.

What has India gained in actual terms from the series? Apart from the obvious reassertion that Ashwin is a potential great of the game or Jadeja’s pin-point accuracy is an asset, nothing much I guess. On the negative side, this series has left a trail of batsmen who must be wondering what they did to deserve this treatment. For an Indian batsman to fail repeatedly at home, as he often does outside, is a sure recipe for disaster in the long run. The oft repeated platitude that as long as the team wins, failures don’t matter, may apply to an individual, but when an entire batting line-up keeps failing in home conditions, what does it speak of the nature of the track? And where does it leave our fast bowlers? In the graveyard, I guess.

Since they do it, why can’t we, is an argument of a person lacking terribly in self-confidence. There are more things to sport than only winning, that too at any cost.

First Published: Nov 30, 2015 19:45 IST