Thursday, December 28, 2006

True Blue

Why do I love Test cricket more than one-dayers?

The second Test between India and South Africa is very intriguingly poised at the end of the third day's play. South Africa are ahead by 152 runs, 10 wickets in hand. They have a maximum of 180 overs to force a result in the Test. But everyday, on an average, about 24 overs have been lost to bad light. So, realistically speaking, they have only about 130 overs to force a result. In their minds anything less than 350 will be too inviting a target. Let's say they average 4 runs per over from the outset on the 4th day. That will leave India about 80 overs to get 350. I think that will be SA's goal today.

But the X factor is the light. No one can really count on it being good or bad, so Graeme Smith has decisions to make about when to declare. The flip side is that India could very well dismiss them within the next 200 runs and, themselves, have to face about 80-100 overs to get a target (350-plus) that very few teams have ever achieved.

All in all I expect it to be riveting stuff. The fact that a draw is also an option makes it even more intriguing. If South Africa tries to force a result and loses the Test, they will lose the series. If they are conservative and do not give themselves enough time to bowl India out, they will not be able to win the series.

So many scenarios, so much to think about. No matter what happens, rest assured, the second-guessers will be out in full force after the action takes place. I shall pre-empt that by putting forward my opinions on what should have been each team's approach before the day's play begins.

So if I were Graeme Smith this is what I would do: Look to score 200-250 runs in the next 50 overs and declare immediately, even if it means that India has the full quota of 130 overs to get them in. Let's review India's batting performance on this current tour:
85 overs 316 for 7 (69 for 5) Tour match 1 - 1st innings
53.4 overs 142 all out (55 for 5) Tour match 1 - 2nd innings
79.5 overs 249 all out (156 for 5) First Test match - 1st innings
64.4 overs 236 all out (119 for 5) First Test match - 2nd innings
77 overs 270 for 7 (205 for 5) Tour match 2 - with 11 batsmen available to bat
77.5 overs 240 all out (125 for 5) Second Test match - 1st innings

A target of 350+ (even if they have 130 overs) would mean that the Indian batting line-up would have to score more, bat longer, and at a faster rate, than it has managed to do during this tour. If they have to achieve it, they will have to take chances and bat more aggressively, therefore giving Smith more opportunities to take wickets and win the match.

If I were Dravid and was given a target of 350 in 130 overs, this is what I would do. I would go for the win not try to settle for a draw (or hope for bad light to help). Expecting to bat out 780 balls (more realistically, about 500 balls) is probably beyond either team on a wicket this helpful to bowlers. Therefore, the prudent thing is to attack. By attacking, the South Africans will be forced to spread the field in order to prevent runs, and thereby, the pressure points will be reduced. If Dravid is really serious about winning the batting line-up should read -
Sehwag, Ganguly, Dhoni, Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Jaffer, and then the tail.

But then I have always felt attack is the best form of defence. I think India needs to go out there primarily looking to win the match and then, only if that does not seem to be happening, think of a draw. If they go in looking to draw, they will lose the match, mark my words. The memories of Bangalore and Mumbai should be too fresh in their minds for them to get defensive.

I cannot imagine a one-day match offering up so many possibilities and chances for changes in fortunes. And that is why I love Test cricket!

No comments: