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Not Easy being Numero Uno - Suresh Menon Column
by Suresh Menon
Nov 11, 2008
The number one team in the world has obligations to the sport. It sets the standard by which the sport is judged. Teams lower down the ladder look up to it for guidance. Above all, there is the constant need to be the best in the game not just in terms of results, the ends, but also in terms of how it got there, the means. One of cricketʼs enduring conceits is that it does not matter who wins or loses, of greater import is how the game is played. And the number one team has the obligation to showcase the game at its best.

For years now Australia has been that team in cricket. They have played a brand of positive cricket other teams have aspired to but seldom matched. With Test cricket being threatened by other forms of the game, they have scored briskly, often at over four runs an over through a match and even a series; and they have bowled to take wickets, to score the biggest victory possible against the opposition.

So what happened in Nagpur? With India on 166 for six at tea on the fourth day, and a manageable fourth-innings chase looming, why did Australia allow India to climb back into the game? The problem of slow over rates has been dogging them for some time now. In the Bangalore Test it meant that after pushing India into a corner, Ponting sent them an autorickshaw in the form of the non-regular bowlers to get them out of there. In Nagpur, he sent a limousine, allowing Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh to add over a hundred runs while such tearaway bowlers like Michael Hussey and Cameron White kept Brett Lee and Shane Watson out of the attack.

Had Australia fallen short of the over rate, it is likely that skipper Ponting would have been banned from the next Test - the first, against New Zealand, and there would have been fines too. So, what it boiled down to was this - it was more important for Ponting to play the next Test than for Australia to attempt to win this one, square the series and keep the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

And this is the number one team in the world?

Had Ponting been in the army and led his unit in this manner, he might have had to face a court martial. As it is, he has more or less ensured that Australia are out of the series, and perhaps his Board needs to drop him for the New Zealand Test anyway as a lesson to captains who place personal goals above team needs. Ironic, because not so long ago his colleague Matthew Hayden got a lot of publicity out of saying that Indian players played for personal landmarks and didnʼt care much for team results.

Australia have been remarkably defensive and negative through this series. And so too have India. Bowling with eight men on the off side might have kept the runs down on that boring third day of the Nagpur Test, but if India nurse ambitions of rising to number one, then they too must realize that their responsibility is to display the best of the game, not its negative possibilities. Dhoni got away this time, but he too must be told about the responsibility captains have to Test cricket - to bring the crowds in, to ensure that it is not allowed to die because people cannot stomach such boring days.

With position comes responsibility - and perhaps captains must be told by the authorities that they have a dual job - to do the best by their team as well as to do their best by the sport.
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