Chase Me If You Can…

2011-Dominica. 180 to get in 47 overs at 3.8 RPO. I saw the intent to win till Dravid-Vijay batted and Raina was promoted up the order. Then Raina got out and the team decided to shut shop.

It made me wonder then if I was a foolish fan who thought India could actually win this test when the chase commenced. If foolish is what you choose to call me then yes I was and yes I did believe; because this team has given me reason enough to inspire that confidence.

The target when the innings commenced was achievable.

Mukund out first ball didn’t scare the hell out of me so I’m sure  neither did it scare the team. The only ploy that changed was the man at No3. If we had a decent start, VVS would’ve come in; but given the situation there was no one else other than RD to look at to hold fort while others took their shots. Murali did some what, Raina tried. At no point did I find them prodding the ball. The boundaries were not coming along but they did take their singles and tried to rotate the strike.

Raina got out , and we had about 86 odd to get in 15 overs. Tough ask, but not an impossible one; and then I saw the players shake hands and call off the match.

Given our changed mindset since that Kolkatta 2001 test – I was left wondering why did Dhoni not push himself up the order for one last shot, and then shut shop if he and RD could not get things going?

Why am I foolish if I expect this out of this team? I have my reasons that  you may choose to call baseless, silly expectations. So let’s travel back in time – that time when Tendulkar made his debut in that ‘89 series in Pakistan and trace our “chase” journey.

1989 – Karachi Pakistan. 453 to win and over 4 sessions to survive against the lethal Pak bowling. Loss looking imminent – Sidhu-Manjrekar battled at 3+ an over to draw the match.

1990 – Old Trafford Manchester. Chasing 408 set off 88 overs India were 183-6 with over 2 hours to go in the match. Again loss imminent and this 17-year old curly haired boy got his first test century and took us to safe shores – we getting to 343 without losing anymore wickets at close of play. Match drawn

That 90s decade saw some terrible run chases and victories turned into losses until Kolkatta 2001 changed it all.

2001- Chennai. Riding high on the Kolkatta win, this thriller is almost forgotten by many. A little over 5 hours to get 155.  Few hours later we were 135/6 with all frontline batsmen gone. We managed to win with 2 wickets to spare chasing at 3.7 RPO

2003 – Adelaide. 230+ to get in a day and we chased it at 3+ an over. Given that we were never good at chasing and given the fact that it would be a much awaited win in Aus to go 1-0 up; pressure was tremendous – scene set for a nice collapse and we did not collapse. We won that test match.

2006 – Nagpur. Chasing 368 by tea India was 133/1 – Jaffer and Dravid doing a great job of ensuring a draw. 200 odd required off a minimum 24 overs. Suddenly after Dravid fell walked in Irfan Pathan, then Dhoni and then Sachin played a small cameo. India gave Eng a scare scoring 129 in  that last session – almost run-a-ball. We were not going to win the match but we thought hell we can try.

2008- Chennai. 387 to make in 4 sessions of play. Sehwag –83 off 68 enough said. Oh yeah that man SRT got a 103* too.

2010 – Colombo. 258 to get in 4 sessions. 49-3 in 15 overs on day 4 close of play. 62-4 on 5th day morning and then Sachin-VVS played it cool to , VVS later helped by Raina to win the match and draw the series.

2010- Mohali. We were chasing a paltry score of 216 with all the greats in the squad and were reeling at 124-8. All looked lost, even a draw was unlikely. So what do we do? Ishaant Sharma hangs around 22 overs to help a back-broken VVS to win the match.

2010-Bangalore. 207 to chase – no VVS or Gambhir. Pujara the debutant had a snorter of a delivery to deal with in the first innings and he walked in at 3. Murali and he sealed the chase with their 72 run partnership at almost 4 an over. Oh yeah we won again.

2010-Capetown. On day 4 of this match I felt we could’ve pushed for a win when SA was reeling at 130/6 but then we let go, then SA refused to attack and we were left to chase 340 in little over 90 overs. All said and done we knew it would end in draw and a fair result given how the series had folded out. SA faced severe criticism for not declaring soon enough and pushing India for a win.

In the last decade we have drawn from impossible situations – remember Gambhir’s vigil for 11 hours in Napier 2009, and turned around draws/losses to win. I lived through the 90s where I dealt with collapses like Durban 96 and Barbados 97. Despite those nightmares I never stopped believing in my team then; so am I wrong in believing that this gritty, determined, fighting lot  had it in them to try that extra bit more.

Were we going to lose? NO. So let’s keep that option out of the equation. Could we have won – not an easy pitch, 5th day chases are tricky – but we have been there and done that before, so criminal to rule out the possibility of a win.

At 86-3 with RD-VVS batting, MSD/Kohli to come and Bhaaji/PK to follow, I would’ve given my team that 40% chance to try for runs in the next 15 overs. We were not going to lose 7 wickets in 15 overs to the WI team, so if another 2 did fall we could’ve calmly closed the shop.

When India opted for the safe option I thought of chases in the past.

What if Gilchrist playing only his 2nd test was ordered to go for a draw by his captain Tugga, when he joined Langer at 126-5 in Hobart 1999 chasing 369 for a win. I saw that chase live and it still gives me the goose bumps.

What if Sarwan/Chanderpaul duo had thought the same – to opt for a safer option than chase down 413 against a strong Aussie attack in 2003? (Highlighted by @achettup)

The What-If question opened up a lot of debate and if you were on twitter you would’ve witnessed the outrage and some fine posts that followed.

@thecricketcouch pens a nice write-up in Dhoni’s defence and against the fans outraging. I don’t agree to all points he puts forth but I do think it’s a balanced read, so do read for a different perspective on the match.

I came across @MohanK only a few days back on twitter and today he writes this fine piece on why the Indian fan wants more and it is well justified.

Then there is Samir Chopra talking about how Champions Chase in this piece on cricinfo while Andy Zaltzman vents his frustration too. He sums up my thoughts to a tee in the last paragraphs

The regulation allowing captains to agree to end a game early presumably exists in order to allow an aimlessly meandering match to be humanely put out of its misery when a positive result is an impossibility.

Players should not be allowed to make these decisions. They have shown they cannot be trusted with this responsibility. The result of a Test match should not be decided by negotiation. Players can no longer decide when a game is suspended due to slightly bad light (as it should be officially renamed), and they should not be permitted to decide to terminate a game when a positive result is still a live possibility. Not only is it potentially open to abuse by the unscrupulous, it is a nonsensical insult to Test cricket’s supporters. Let the umpires decide when a game has become pointless. The evidence suggests that many Test captains would happily shake hands on a draw after three overs on the first morning, just to be on the safe side.

At a time when the five-day format is widely acknowledged to be fighting for its future under sustained assault from various angles, Test cricket has punched itself in the face. Again.”

A few closing thoughts:

Would I be this aggrieved if the opposition was SA/Aus with a series win at stake – Probably Not. Did WI deserve this dampener after a spirited show this morning – I Think Not. Did the crowds who finally showed up in numbers deserve this tragic handshake – Definitely Not.

As for me the foolish crazy fan – who refused to outrage when India lost to SA in the WC league or tied with England and believed throughout that India would win  the WC   – Today I’m allowed that outrage not cause I wanted to say hell we should have won, but cause I needed to tell folks: Hell my team tried to win like only  a No 1 team can!