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.