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Shying away from success

August 13, 2007

There's a way to convert water into gold.

You take a big pot of water into the forest late in the evening; you build a fire and put the pot on to boil; and you sit there till the water has entirely evaporated.

You will be left with a pot of gold - provided that in the interim, you never once think of a lion.

Thinking of lions, thinking they are lying in wait for them, fearing those lions you can see in your mind, is what keeps you from trying for that pot of gold.

India, on the morning of the fourth day, could have gone for the pot of gold that a combination of luck (Rahul Dravid winning the toss and getting first use of very good batting conditions) and their collective batting skill had made possible. The team could have forced the follow-on; could have gone for the kill and looked to nail the series 2-0 - but inside of their heads, they could hear the roar of that lion; they feared it, took the easier way out and opted to bat again.

England at the time was staring down a very big barrel, but once its bowlers (an under-strength bowling attack, with Ryan Sidebottom) began using the conditions India had gifted them, the team got a second wind, and it was India that found itself with an unexpected fight on its hands.

Consider, for a moment, that lion India feared: Had England followed on, behind by 319 runs and with 170-odd overs left in the match, then what? An England already under the cosh would have had to struggle against a bowling lineup that has used swing very well, in cloudy, overcast conditions. How could England have won? By scoring say 519 runs, that is to say a lead of 200, in say 120, 130 overs, then bowling out India in the time that remained with an attack reduced to three bowlers and Paul Collingwood's part-time offerings.

That is the lion India feared; you judge for yourself whether it was a flesh and blood danger or just an imaginary monster lurking in the minds of a team that is yet to fully believe in its ability to dominate, to win big.

There is an unintended irony in that decision to bat: throughout this series, it is the bowling that has performed prodigies, repeatedly putting a strong England batting lineup under the cosh. And yet, it is invariably the batting Rahul Dravid trusts more. That trust almost came unstuck yesterday, with three top order wickets tumbling and Dravid himself doing a passable imitation of a Madam Tussaud's waxwork; only a superlative innings by Sourav Ganguly, some quality batting by VVS Laxman, and some edgy resistance by MS Dhoni saved the team's blushes.

Ironically, India batted till the clouds had gone away, and the sun was blazing down again - and then put the opposition in.

India will still take this series 1-0 - but here was a chance to try for a 2-0 win, to draw level with England on the ICC points table, and climb into the joint second slot. Ah well.

It might sound churlish to harp on this aspect, at the tail end of a series in which India, almost torpedoed in the first Test, has come back remarkably well to outplay England over the next two Tests, in all departments of the game. Clearly, hard nosed pragmatism went into India's decision to bat a second time -- and when you consider that the larger prize is India's first series win in 21 years on England's soil; consider too that in the past this team has come heartbreakingly close to similar triumphs only to be robbed by circumstance or their own inabilities, you can understand where Dravid and his men are coming from. But that is the nature of the fan -- like Oliver Twist, he is always left wanting more; in this case, more belligerence, more aggression, more willingness to play on the edge of possibility.
Photographs: Getty Images | Text: Prem Panicker

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