‘Meh’: India’s Strange New Path to Cricket Dominance

Over at Deep Backward Point, Devanshu Mehta has done us all a service and tried, prosecuted and defended India’s decision not to chase victory against the West Indies. After reading blog posts from across the spectrum, Mehta arrives at a conclusion (via Jarrod Kimber) likely to satisfy all sides.

But I want to come to this party fashionably late and add two cents. I count myself part of the crowd defending M.S. Dhoni’s “cowardly” antics, in part because I had an over-powering sense of deja vu to guide me last week. The feeling came from events in 2007, when India — then under Rahul Dravid — decided to settle for a 1-0 series victory against England in England (a historic moment) and close up shop at the Oval. (Dravid scored 12 off 90-odd balls, a strange and cautious effort that botched the victory narrative.)

Then, as now, the same criticisms were voiced. No tenacity. No ‘killer instinct.’ A feeling of caution out of step with modern and shiny and confident India. But since 2007, according to my shaky use of Cricinfo‘s Statsguru, India has played 43 Tests, of which it has drawn 16 and won 19 (can someone check this, please?). In that same period, Australia played 43 Tests and won 21. Not a huge difference. Perhaps I’m not comparing the right teams; after all, India’s supporters don’t want it to be like Australia circa 2008; they want it to be like Australia circa the last 15 years.

OK. So let me make another point.  When Dravid scored those 12 agonizing runs, S. Vaidyanathan hypothesized the man was haunted by the specters of previous batting collapses in Bridgetown and Cape Town. He had something to prove — a series victory in England — and he wanted badly to do so. Last week, the Indians had nothing to prove in the Carribean. That’s a crucial difference. Whereas Dravid’s timidity came from a source of insecurity, Dhoni’s  came from a generation that has perfected the whatever shrug. “Meh,” as the youngsters like to say. The thinking goes like this: I have a T20 World Cup. I have an ODI World Cup. I have the No. 1 Test ranking. I have a series victory in the West Indies, with a second-rate team that included a brand-new opening pair. Meh.

Some cut-throat fans may not appreciate such an attitude. But as an ethical stance, I prefer it to seeking out-and-out dominance, which seeks the emasculation of an opponent.  Meh also comes from a place that implicitly acknowledges past achievements; indeed, it is only justifiable when such laurels can be cited (otherwise, it would be reprehensible). Meh achieves the same stance of superiority — we really couldn’t be bothered about this right now — even as it allows space for the other team to celebrate a small victory. Win-win.


13 thoughts on “‘Meh’: India’s Strange New Path to Cricket Dominance

  1. Erez says:

    I totally understand what you mean, and I think it goes hand-in-hand with your dislike of the way the previous dominations, read: Australia and the West Indies, handled their affairs, but this is the main issue here, India is leading the world now, but if they don’t adapt the “go for the throat” attitude the way the Aussies and the Windies were, they will not maintain it for long.

    In fact, the main thing going for India is money, and a general slump in quality across the board. Once a few nations pick themselves up from the sorry state they are in now, and start hammering at the opposition, this “Meh” attitude might not hold.

  2. Krish says:

    I think you are confusing what the team collectively wants (or does not want) versus what the individuals in the team want. Many of the new generation players in the team have a need to prove themselves. Some did, such as Ishant Sharma and Suresh Raina. But others like Mukund and Vijay did not. They will, of course, lose their places when Tendulkar and Sehwag return. But they had a need to make a convincing case to “remember” them when the time comes.

    So did Mukund and Vijay have a “Meh” attitude on the last day? And was getting a duck off the 1st ball part of the plan for Mukund?

    Let us apply Occam’s razor here. What is the most straightforward explanation of what happened on the last day? India tried to win, but they couldn’t prise out the last 2 wickets cheaply. They may have started their innings with a 60% confidence level of beating the target, but after losing the first wicket, they may have rethought their plans a bit. After losing 2 more, they decided to give up. After all, it is very possible that they could get 7 unplayable balls in 15 overs and then have to draw the series.

    I am not going to blame India for what they did. I would have done the same, especially with the rules favoring quitting 15 overs earlier. Let us assume that there was no such rule and India had batted another 7 overs. We might have an equation of 70 off 48 balls. Much more difficult.

    But we shouldn’t turn around and applaud them. Anyway, harder challenges are ahead. We will really know the stuff that this team and their captain are made of then.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Krish, thanks for the post. I actually wasn’t applauding or deriding India’s decision; I was trying to offer a new framework for why I think their decision to draw the Test was different from previous ones. So, yes, India tried to win and wanted to win, but when they realized they couldn’t — because the risk level rose up ever so slightly — they decided, ‘Meh.’

      ‘Meh’ shouldn’t be seen as ‘I don’t care about this game.’ It’s not that at all. If India were 0-0 at this point, they would have cared. Hell, even at the start of the 4th innings, they did care. They wanted to win. But at a certain point, winning Test matches that don’t really mean anything isn’t all that important. This is a team that has already posted plenty of accomplishments; after a certain point, striving for 100% victory doesn’t really mean much.

  3. India dominates the world in a different way! they wont beat every team ruthlessly like aussies, they would rather just manage to beat every other team unconvincingly!

  4. Mahek says:

    A couple of years from now when the greats are gone and this team is an average test side we’ll remember the games we could and should have won. But then again, it’s been ingrained in Indian minds that failure is not an option. Which is weird, because it’s exactly what prevents us from succeeding.

    I can name a number of matches we should have won in the last decade or so and there will always be an excuse for India not winning. You’d think people would recognise the pattern and break it, but that never happens.

  5. Jawad says:

    Harper got a rough treatment at the hands of the indian cricketers. Read details @ http://cricblogger.wordpress.com/

  6. I would argue that the real issue here is that the captains should not have been permitted to bring the game to a premature end. This game was still alive as a contest and the ending did a disservice to both the supporters at the ground and those following it on TV.

  7. […] about India’s 1-0 series victory against the West Indies. A number of commenters brushed off my ‘meh’ framework to explain India’s approach to dominance, confusing it with a laid-back attitude and lack of commitment to the game. Maybe so, or maybe not, […]

  8. […] win series; they played to win (or draw) Tests. I tried to deal with this issue by saying that the Indians played “meh” cricket — a style that implied superiority but never rubbed the opposing team’s nose in it. […]

  9. […] Dominica, I suggested that Dhoni was trying a new framework for dominance, what I called “Meh.” (At the time, India had won the World Cup and was No. 1 in Tests.) That is, India […]

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