Not that I’m obsessed with Teesra or anything, but I want to add to Devanshu’s discussion about the Dominica Test result/travesty/surrender. Devanshu argues that the Dominica Test is important, and more so now than it was at the time. Sitting on a 1-0 lead against the West Indies in 2011, you will recall, Dhoni decided to agree to a draw rather than chase a slightly risky target in the final Test. Since then, India have amassed one of their worst losing streaks, and Devanshu suggests we now view the Dominica Test not as “an inexplicable move by a #1 team, but as a tragic harbinger of a team in decline.” He argues that Dhoni’s move, far from betraying a defensive mindset, instead suggests that Dhoni accurately assessed his team’s talent, found it wanting, and decided to defer to loss aversion.
Samir Chopra disagrees, and on Twitter, he began a vigorous debate about what social scientists call the “direction of causality.” That is, Does India’s low talent lead to a defensive mindset? (Devanshu’s position), or Does India’s defensive mindset lead to its low talent? (Roughly, Samir’s position.) [Sidenote: This debate over Dhoni — who can be infuriatingly defensive — parallels many liberals’ frustration with President Obama. Is he timid because he knows how insanely difficult Washington, D.C. is right now? (My position, roughly.) Or is Washington, D.C., so incompetent because it needs a take-no-prisoners president at its helm? (Most liberals’ position.) End sidenote.]
This is a tough one. I’ve suggested in earlier posts that emotion has a rightful place in any sportsman’s arsenal; just watch Dale Steyn unleash the inner Hulk by getting angry at the most innocuous batsmen. And you don’t need to be a silly teenager (as I was) to believe that Ganguly’s fiery, improbably self-assured captaincy was what India needed in a leader. But I’ve also long believed that the West Indies and Australia dominated not necessarily because of their “aggression,” but because of their obvious skill. The fact of the matter is that this Indian team just isn’t that good, and even on its best days in the 2000s, it rarely had all three departments (batting, fielding, bowling) working together. If you have several Hall of Famers in all parts of your team (as Aus. and West Indies did, and South Africa do now), you go for the kill. If you don’t (India played at Dominica with batting newbies like Mukund, Vijay, Raina, Kohli, and bowlers like Munaf Patel and Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma), you take the money and run, as Devanshu notes. Dhoni did what any person bargaining from a weak position should — try to get what you can, not everything. To do otherwise is foolish.
After 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 didn’t want to win Dominica because it really didn’t matter; what’s another Test win against a lowly team? At its worst, this attitude suggests a complacent arrogance (and indifference to the audience), but at its best, it is a form of dominance — “I’m so much better than you than I can’t be bothered to spend another hour on this field trying to win this pointless exercise.” At the time, I thought this was the correct interpretation; now, however, I much prefer Devanshu’s. The Dominica Test was not a “meh” draw; it was a shrewd move by a captain who looked at his team, saw that it wasn’t capable of greatness, and decided to settle. After 0-8 against England and Australia, and 1-2 against England in India, I am more than happy to have that 1-0 against the West Indies. Whoever said “offense is the best defense” never saw Ishant Sharma bowl.