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Tales from Down Under - Tests
by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
Mar 11, 2008
The series created history alright, though not the kind that is usually associated with fond memories. The series made headlines alright, though not entirely because of the battle between the bat and the ball.

The series would be memorable alright, though not for the reasons that would make the players, officials and administrators proud. And, lastly, the series was exciting alright, though the off the field antics contributed more than the on the field heroics. In spite of every thing up above, the last hurrah of the old war horses, the ones that faded away after this series, and the ones that would never return to this land in players' capacity, ended up in a praise worthy experience. Proceeding along similar scripted paths, that the past few series between India and Australia were moving along, the just concluded version didn't stray too far either, even with a lone draw, a result that has become a rarity of sorts. Except the one at Melbourne, where the Indians were expectedly trampled over, going by their near zero preparations, acclimatizing to the local conditions, the rest of the matches played up to their billing and provided the promised nail biters, fire works, close shaves, and photo finishes.

Though played out over the five-day period, each Test truly tested the players on either sides, every day, every session, every over and every ball. It was hard to look away even for one delivery, as that meant the missing the action that ultimately added up to some thing else altogether. Even dot balls, maiden overs, scoreless defenses, leaves and ducks translated to turning on the screw that much more. None was more characteristic that the first hour of Indian batting in the First Test. There was once a time when the rule 'stay at the wicket and the runs will follow' was quite valid until the Aussies change the way the game is played. Even the rock solid defense of Dravid and his attrition philosophy of leaving anything that was not in the playing area untouched, runs were scarce to come by, building up pressure by that much amount eventually contributing to his demise without adding anything significant to the score board.

Barring Australia, rarely has any other team thrived on the concept that leaving the ball alone or defending it to the fielder, is an act of cowardice that would only spurn and strengthen the bowling side, and hence should be avoided at all costs. On the contrary, the same strategy worked to their detriment in the third test, when their batsmen were unable to negotiate the swinging ball and instead tried to counter-attack their way out of trouble than heeding to the conventional wisdom and just bid their time until the next bad ball. The drawn test at Adelaide wasn't a mere draw but in fact, a mean one. If it was a batting beauty, the strategy of matching the opposition's total first and then go beyond a bit, so that the second innings of the opposition would start with an added automatic pressure which could be exploited for some wickets, is not merely aggressive cricket, but a brilliant one. That it was thwarted by swashbuckling innings by Sehwag does not take any sheen away from the strategy. This is how cricket is to be played. This is how the game needs to be approached. To view a draw as an implicit loss, a loss of opportunity to force the opposition to bend to their will, is indeed the chief reason why Australia had such a success stringing consecutive victories, an approach exemplary enough to be adopted by the rest of the cricketing nations. That said, the Indians match the Aussies' every move, countered every tactic and played their part in keeping the dual engrossing. It is quite rare when the opposing captains walk away from a result-producing rubber, satisfied, contended and heads held high, albeit for different reasons.

Not withstanding the baffling unfolding of events at the second test at Sydney that decidedly gave the edge, and thereby the series, to the Aussies, no one team could claim complete supremacy over the other and the losing side had not had to walk away with long faces and hung heads and the tails firmly between the legs. As a fitting irony to the proceedings in Sydney, Symmonds, the man caught in the maelstrom of controversies, his score reads 163*, in which he matched the street cat in terms of the number of lives, India lost the crucial test by around 130 runs, a chasm that is entirely Symmonds' creation, given that his first life was gifted when at 30. If the Indians begrudge the final result of the test for all the right reasons, they could seek comfort in the fact that an asterisk would always tag Symmonds' score in that Test, the interpretation of which is left to one's own judgments and sensibilities.

Which brings to...

Accepting the obvious fact that human senses are bound to fail and falter over a protracted time line, is the first step towards progress and recovery as laid out in twelve step program 'Hapless Umpires Anonymous'. Amid the deafening roar of spectators, under the constant big brother vigil of the cameras, with pressure being applied from all quarters by the fielding unit, under the burden of self-imposed near impossible standards of spotless decisions, umpires have become a truly stretched lot - by standards, schedules and their own senses. And to gang up on them for every decision that turns a contest upside down on its head, is just piling on the misery. The calls for adding more members to the elite panel of umpire only plugs the leak temporarily, but does not resolve the root issue. No matter the number in the panel, umpires are bound to make mistakes and those mistakes are bound to lead to abusing, effigy-burning, and in case of Bucknor, even forced leave of absence. It is time to bring technology into the field, so as to supplement (and not replace) the split-second decision making and share some of the load that the umpires on the field have been shouldering for so long.

The argument that technology would one day usurp the humans and that machines would ultimately rule the world, sounds good in science fiction novels and movies and not in the real world. No technology in the world (currently) can decide the trajectory of the ball till the point it flies past the batsman. The current Hawk-eye can only predict the path of progress once the ball is pitched and, importantly, it does not take into consideration the overcast conditions, the dew factor, the doosras and many such variables that have a definite say on where the ball would go eventually. So setting aside the LBW decision, that everybody agrees comes with a built in margin of error, it makes no sense whatsoever keeping technology behind closed curtains and called upon only on the whim of the ground umpire. It is akin to sticking with a tired old guard, in the name of tradition, than opting for a better agile replacement. If the rules could be so altered, that a challenge system be introduced into the game (whereby a fielding side can challenge the umpire's decision, say, two times in an innings, keep the challenge, if the result is declared in favor, or lose it, if ruled against), or technology (the third umpire) can overrule the ground umpire on all decisions, except LBW, then the game stands to benefit from better decisions, and terms such as poetic justice and moral victories can be things of the past.

Speaking of things of the past...

As time took its roll call at the end of the series, Adam Gilchrist answered it for one last time, before he hung up his boots, dressed in whites. Funny, the color of his wear never had a say on his style of play. His strike rate hovered in the stratosphere in both versions of the game, the stroke play remained almost the same in either version, and it didn't really matter if he was blunting the opening attack in the one-dayers, or bludgeoning the second-in-commands in the longer version, as records broke under his iron will and skill. He caressed the leather with as much care standing behind the stumps, as he disdained it standing in front of the same. He never waited for a higher authority to declare him out if his conscience decided otherwise. He remained the poster child of Australian success post Border-Simpsons' resurrection of the team. It was mainly because of him that wicket-keeping has come to be recognized as an all-rounder position. Just as genuine all-rounders started to matter more than specialists, in all versions of the game, wicket-keepers can longer afford to remain just specialists minding their business behind the stumps. (Dravid's breif dalliance with the job proves the point). It was okay to miss a few behind, if he could more than make up for it with a century or two, in front. If the likes of Marsh, Dujon, Bari, Kirmani etc sets standards for the job in the traditional sense, Adam joined the august list through the road less traveled for a keeper - that of a batsman. Past his tenure, everyone that tries keep wickets will be measured up and judged against the great standards set by Gilly, not just as a keeper, but as a batsman, a professional and a thorough gentleman. And those are some big shoes (or, big gloves) to fill.

Cont'd.
 
More Views by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
  The road to rebuild
  India can win from anywhere
  No clear cut winners and no outright losers
  India's lower order works twice as hard!
  India-South Africa series have been Even-Stevens
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