Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 27, 2011

For Mr Sammy

With his thinking cap on

At the end of yet another captivating Test match, it is churlish to criticise anyone involved, especially the young captain of a young side, but Test cricket is a very hard school. So, Mr Sammy, here’s a bit of tough love all the way from South London. And please forgive the presumption.

The flipside of “catches win matches” is that if you drop catches, you won’t win matches. As captain in a tight match, you have a hundred things swirling through your mind, but when the bowler starts to run in, all your concentration must be brought to bear on your role as a fielder. Let your mind wander and you will commit basic errors – like failing to have your feet planted making a solid base at slip when Sehwag edged Marlon Samuels to your left hand. Sehwag had 27 – he got 60.

When Tendulkar was out, the sigh was heard around the world and the atmosphere at the Wankdede changed (as it always does when Tendulkar is dismissed). That was the time to attack unequivocally, reminding Laxman and Dravid in deed and word that if either one of them were dismissed, there was only the captain left with the experience required. Your field had to scream out that you were on top, that the match was yours to win, that the crucial wicket was taken. Even when Dravid uncharacteristically chipped a catch to midwicket, the field suggested that a draw was on your mind and that gave succour to Kohli at the crease and the bowlers in the dressing room.

When bowlers bat, they don’t like to be crowded and they don’t like to be hurried. Ashwin, Sharma and Aaron never felt the discomfort that only a jabbering phalanx of fielders under their noses can create. Your men could have been right there, in the batsman’s face, ready to pounce, daring them to lunge forward to a ball that will appear to spin and spit viciously even when it’s going straight on. And if Fidel was fit enough to bowl two of the last three overs, why did he bowl only five of the previous 61? Dealing with Fidel at 140kph into the body, followed by his excellent yorker as dusk gathers and nerves jangle, is not a nice way for a bowler to finish off a hot afternoon.

The most experienced batsmen’s brains can be addled by the unique pressure that a last day run chase brings, so the run out is always on. Planning and clarity of thought are paramount in directing the fielding effort at the death. With two overs to go, with Sharma and Ashwin at the crease and Fidel and the admirable Ravi Rampaul bowling, two fielders have to be placed and designated to get into the stumps at either end to take the throws and one man designated to shout the end to which the fielder should throw. Easier said than done in the heat of the moment, but a little planning would have dismissed Sharma and brought the nervous Aaron to the crease with 11 balls and five runs in hand.

At no time were your side out of the match, but too often you were looking to take time out of the game with mid-over consultations and understandable, if lengthy, injury breaks. Such an approach gave the appearance of being satisfied with a 2-0 series defeat and took some of the fear away from an Indian side who must have expected at least some degree of criticism from the always excitable Indian media had their ranking dropped after a loss. Confidence can have a big impact on opponents and team-mates – and they are all looking at you.

Did you really do what your opponents least wanted frequently enough in the 64 overs available? Was it too easy for India to take singles to men set too deep in the infield? Were you clear about how you were going to take wickets? Were you prepared to risk conceding boundaries to bring in slips, short midwicket and silly point? Did you plan to turn three dot balls into six and then nine to build pressure? Ultimately, and the key question for any fielding captain on the final day of a run chase is – did you want to win so much that you were prepared to lose? I’m not sure you did and, with the series already gone, the risk was worth the reward.

Had you done all these things, Mr Sammy, you might have won. And you might have lost, maybe an hour earlier. There is no single way to win a Test match – it’s one of the many reasons we love the game. Congratulations on a creditable draw against a fine team in their own back yard, good luck next time and thank you for an absorbing final day of another great Test.

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Responses

  1. Excellent piece. Tend to agree with much of it. Why not set a ring field with a slip or two and a gully and force the batsmen to go through or over the top? If they get it through or over good luck to them. Now see if they can do it again.

    Think Sammy was too afraid of losing to try to win. They seemed ecstatic to draw the game. The batsmen were milking the spinners and Rampaul and Edwards should have combined to bowl the last 10 in an all out effort rather than the last four.

    The Indians too could have done more to win. It’s a Test match. You’ve won the series but why not have a crack at 3-0. Ashwin should have taken more responsibility in the final overs. He should have swung hard at the penultimate ball and run like a hare when he hit that final ball down the ground. Somebody should remind him that this was not some two-bit ODI out there.

    My only point of contention is that I’m not sure about assigning players to get to the stumps and getting others to call which end to throw. The onus should be on the bowler and keeper to get back to/up to the stumps at either end and the fielders on the side where the ball doesn’t go back up each end. Having fielders running up to stumps with nobody to back them up and with keepers and bowlers not knowing what to do except point and shout sounds like a recipe for disaster.

    Ideally the players in the field should know their role for all circumstances.
    In baseball, when there’s a hit, each fielder knows what to do. Now granted they usually play the same position all season, but the kind of instinct they show is what cricketers should strive for. In many ways fielding in cricket is easier – two ends with two batsmen running versus four bases with anywhere from no batters to four batters to ‘run out’.

  2. Cheers M’Lud.

    With the change in the backing up law and the speed of batsmen taking a quick single, I can’t see pacemen or keepers getting up to the stumps in time to take the throw. .Men tight on the one could though.

    Re the shout, maybe you’re right, but if there are too many voices it can become chaotic. If there had been a clear shout, Sharma would surely have gone even with the adrenaline fuelled throw.

  3. The thing was quite predictable as it was the fifth day, pitch conditions were bad and was favoring the bowlers. If Sehwag had stayed on the crease for some more time with other senior players being a bit more careful then it would have been a win for India. A very well decided man of the match, Ashwin deserved it after 11 wickets, a century and also helping to make the scores level. Somebody truly said: “Cricket is a mind game”. Test cricket is the real spirit of cricketing, and is glorified by players Dravid, Laxman, Chanderpaul etc. A good post and I’m looking forward to read your blogs. :)

  4. I would also like to question the role of the coach Otis Gibson. He has recently left a very professional England setup which has gone through the process of being a team that primary concern was not too lose test but to find opportunities to win. Currently this WI team is very negative and fearful of trying to win matches but the biggest issue is that the professionalism regarding fielding and general preparation has not been addressed. By improving the fielding I think this team could make great strides in the next couple of years as they now have a couple of reliable quick bowlers and decent backup bowlers as well some very promising batsmen. It would be a shame if the potential is not realised due to an unprofessional operation.

    P.S Really enjoy the posts.

    • Thanks Manny. The fielding of WI’s young side should lead the world – instead it trails all but India. Work to be done there.

  5. “failing to have your feet planted making a solid base at slip”

    I’ve long been of the belief that footwork/balance is the key to success in any sport at any level, but is also what separates the truly great from the very good, yet it’s so rarely discussed outside of batting in cricket or quarterback in the NFL.


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