Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Winning on first innings runs: the coward's way out

North Zone's cowardly failure to enforce the follow on against West Zone in the Duleep Trophy Quarter Final is symptomatic of what's wrong with Indian cricket. Let me break it down for you. In their first innings North Zone put a imposing total of 484 then bowled West Zone out for 164.

That left them with a lead of 320 on first innings, more than enough you'd think to enforce the follow on. But North Zone chose to bat again. That's a perfectly acceptable decision, assuming they were going for quick runs. 67 overs later they declared on 208 for seven, setting West Zone 529 in 29 overs at, oh about, 18 an over.

Now why you say would a team set such a ridiculous target and stop themselves having a chance to win the match outright, well because they were ahead on first innings runs they had already secured qualification assuming the match was a draw. There was no incentive for North Zone to go for the win, although the fact that they didn't even try to give themselves any time to win the game with such a big lead reflects badly on captain Shikhar Dhawan.

It's a easy argument to make that rules promoting such a negative form of cricket at domestic level leads to negative, risk-averse players coming through into the international team. Look at MS Dhoni, a man who lacks any kind of initiative to try to force wins. Compare him to Michael Clarke, who has made a point of setting attacking fields and clever declarations to try to force wins out of a team which doesn't have the legends of the previous era.

When they went in to bat in their second innings, North Zone had 14 overs until the end of play. What would Clarke/Brearley/Benaud etc have done? They'd have sent their batsmen out for quick runs, tried to set 400 then declare at the end of the day. 400 as a last day target on a pitch which neither team scored at over three an over in their first innings would have been near impossible, and 96 overs would be ample time to go for the win. Alas it wasn't to be, and it's to the detriment of Indian cricket.

I'm not sure there is a solution to this problem, because there needs to be a tie breaker to put the team through in a knockout cup like the Duleep Trophy. First innings runs is a logical one, but the unintended consequences are dire, so if you've got a better idea stick it in the comments.

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