Friday, October 8, 2010

The Test Match - India Versus Australia

I enjoyed the first Test between Indian and Australia, specially the last day affair. As in most battles, the long drawn ones bring out the best of both sides and almost always, the better side wins. Long term battles need character, staying power, good leadership, better preparation, gumption, nerves and the will to win. Australia did most things right, was probably the better prepared side as well, but that was the only thing in its favour. In all the other aspects India had the edge.

Character is something that is deeply imbibed in a person, a team through a set of beliefs and values. This particular Indian team seems to have a belief that it can pull anything off at anytime. Its members share a strong trust that someone or the other will rise to the occasion, play out of their skins and pull it off. As a team their belief in one another seems to be immense which is not evident on the outside, but for them to pull off something like this frequently, a lot of accolades but go the way of the Coach for building this atmosphere and his support staff, the captain and the players themselves for imbibing this culture. In such teams, there are no gaps, no weak points and it is resilient and secure in the knowledge that it is together. Australia always looked like they were searching for something extra, be it batting and bowling, and this lack of belief in its resources led to its fall from such a strong position.

Staying Power is something that was exhibited brilliantly by V V. S. Laxman who, despite wickets falling around him and a strained back troubling him, went back to his tried and tested formula of staying in the moment. He did that many times before and certainly is the hallmark of any great batsman, but he chose to do that at a time when he could have been excused for being a little less focussed. Laxman played each ball on its merit, did not plan ahead of the current ball, trusted his partner completely and hung around or stayed. The loose ball was despatched, the profferred single taken, the good balls defended. Ishant Sharma picked up the basics of staying, watched the ball onto his bat, never reached out for the ball and showed that if one sticks to the basics without getting the mind in the way, one can keep this limited attack at bay. Laxman can do this any number of times, any number of days even - he is trained to do it against the best, but for Ishant to do it speaks volumes of his character and staying power. It also shows that he has been 'allowed' the space to do it, that there is no one prejudgjing him in the dressing room and in fact, the dressing room probably 'expects' him to do it. They would not judge his talent but gently suggest that they would not be surprised if he did it. And he did!

Leadership is an area where India has a huge advantage. Dhoni has worked out his basics absolutely right from day one. Keep it simple. Trust the other guys to do their job. Give them space to do it to the best of their abilities. Let them figure out how to do it as well. Listen to your instinct. Never ever give up till the last ball. Expect only the best from every player. Most importantly, he empowers the fringe players to perform by giving them space and by believing in them, gets superb performances out of them. Be it Joginder or Ishant or Raina, the most unexpected players play superbly and pull it away. Dhoni believes that if everyone does his best and they keep doing that till the end, the better team will win and it does. Finally, the team rises above the individual, the petty politics and star statuses, and becomes one. Dhoni is a good candidate for Prime Minister in later years with his cool, uncluttered head. On the other hand Ponting's leadership left much to be desired. He never looked confident even when he had India eight down and his field placements and bowling changes were rather unimaginative. He appeared burdened by the sight of victory over India and handed it back to the hosts.

Gumption was in display in this match. From Zaheer Khan's lion hearted performance to Dhoni's astute handling of his bowlers, fielders, placements, Tendulkar, Raina, Laxman, Ishant and all other player performances right down to Ojha hanging out those tense moments, there was much on show. Always in matches like these, the entire team contributes and it is evident in the fact that everyone batted and the last man had to scramble through - remember South Africa's chase of Australia's 428 in a 50 over game when all 11 contributed, any classic Test matches, the tied ones and this feature stands out.

In the end, the will to win probably tilted the balance. Ponting looked as if he hoped the Indians would give the match to him, now that 8 wickets were down. But this is not hoping business here, especially when you have a class act at one end and a team that believes and backs itself. Ponting hoped and hoped and became desperate and 'acted' too late by making some bowling changes. I fail to recollect which, but one Aussie commentator had the guts to call it right when the eighth wicket fell - this match is not over yet - he predicted and so right he was. Perhaps he sensed Laxman's will in the way he batted, his face serene as a saint's, his body still and perhaps he sensed Ponting's discomfort with the win, his loss of focus suddenly when the game was his for the taking. In the end, one must say that all the players will go back, knowing that they did what was expected of them, that they did what they had to do - a satisfied lot.

Despite the media going overboard. It is after all a job well done, a game well played. An affirmation that what they trained for has been proven right. Once again. Well done boys.

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