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Our servants can field for us!
by Suresh Menon
Aug 28, 2007
To understand the mind of the Indian cricketer, it is necessary to borrow from the 19th century French writer Villiers de l’Isle Adams. In his dramatic poem Axel, the lovers decide to kill themselves because the alternative is so trivial. “As for living,” says Axel, “our servants can do that for us.” And that’s the connection between French Symbolist literature and Indian cricket. Our players seem to be saying, “As for fielding, our servants can do that for us.”

The result? Another defeat. And beaten by England, who do not bat better or bowl better. They simply field better and run better between the wickets. One-day cricket has been reduced to its simplest terms. In the early days of Indian cricket, the Maharajahs thought nothing of actually having their servants fielding for them. Not even a Test captain - the Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram - was above this.

Our modern maharajas are thus merely continuing a tradition. No running, no diving or sliding, no hitting the stumps, and no catching if it can be avoided. England fielded “beautifully”, said the Indian captain Rahul Dravid. They weren’t ‘beautiful’, merely adequate, but made to look like beautiful by ugly India.

Two decades ago, when Australia won their first World Cup, their coach Bobby Simpson calculated that it was the singles that did it. Sourav Ganguly is being feted for making 72, but he conceded 68 dot balls, or 66 percent of those he faced; in contrast, Ian Bell’s79 had only 37 dot balls or 42 percent. That was the difference between the teams.

The defeat focused on yet another Indian tradition - the reluctance of top batsmen to take first strike if there is even a hint of a suggestion of a clue of an indication of a passing cloud in the next county. An early start might have sown the seed of uncertainty in Dravid’s mind - and if so, then the advice of batsmen with over 30,000 one-day runs between them must have allowed that seed to flower. What kind of a message does it send out to the opposition when the allegedly best batting team in the world (certainly the most experienced) runs for cover at the first trace of a cloud?

With two negative traditions on display so far, the third has been some compensation. And that is reliance on India’s traditional strength, spin. The off spinner Powar and the leggie Chawla played important roles in both Bristol and at Edgbaston. They weren’t particularly economical (19 overs for 95 runs) here, but they claimed wickets. And that’s a positive change from the practice of bowling the middle overs merely to keep the runs down. The manner in which the boy Chawla has made the man Pietersen look foolish with his gentle arc has been a highlight of the series.

The French Symbolists preferred dreams to reality. Modern cricketers cannot afford that. As for winning, they have to do it themselves.
 
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