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.