Dravid the Gutless
Rahul Dravid’s decision not to enforce the follow-on against England will possibly be debated quite a bit, but in my mind there is no doubt – it was a colossal blunder. Especially so in the light of his not-too-captivating 12 runs of 96 balls at the time when India should have accelerated.
Let us consider the situation: On Day 4 morning, India took the last England wicket in less than 30 minutes while 319 runs ahead. So the fielding side, especially the bowlers, would have had a night’s rest and not too much toil in the morning. There were predictions of showers later in the day and the clouds were rolling in. Under such a situation, instead of putting in England and letting Zaheer, RP Singh and Sreesanth rip into the batsmen, Dravid opted to ‘bat England out of the game’. A choice as bizarre as some of umpire Howell’s decision in this series. To make matters worse, the English bowling side, sans their best bowler, tore into the Indian top order reducing them to a jittery 11/3 before Ganguly, followed by Laxman and Dhoni, saved them the blushes.
Those defending Dravid say that England’s only chance in the game was if they were made to follow-on and that’s what the English would have wanted Dravid to do. But even if England followed-on and played well to score at 4 runs per over (not very likely) – they would have made about 480 runs in 120 overs or so by lunch on Day 5. But that would be about 160 runs for the Indian line-up with 7 batsmen on a pitch that isn’t really crumbling that much (and England are short their best bowler). There is also talk of how India themselves took advantage of Steve Waugh’s enforcement of follow-on in the historic Kolkata test. But that required a miraculous, once-very-blue-moon effort from Dravid and Laxman, not to mention in that test, follow-on was enforced on the third day (therefore more time for a team to come back). And if history is being taken in context, how about these bits of history: “only three teams have ever batted more than 110 overs in the fourth innings of a Test at The Oval”, “(n)o team has ever made more than 418 batting last to win a Test, and England have scored more than 500 in their fourth innings only once when, in 1939, they abandoned a timeless Test having reached 654/5 because they had to catch the boat home” !!
Having taken England by the scruff and dominated them for eight sessions (pretty much the entire match, except between lunch and tea on Day 3), Dravid wimps out and lets the opposition gain a bit of momentum. If that’s not a gutless move, I don’ know what is.
India may very well go on to win this Test (touch wood and all that) and kudos to the team then. But Dravid’s rather spineless decision has soured the series for me.
PS – parallels will be inevitably be drawn to the final test in Syndey 2003, where Ganguly did not enforce follow-on as well. I did not completely agree with that decision either, but it was a bit more understandable. Indian fielders and bowlers had toiled the better part of the morning to get the tail. The lead was about 230 and the rate at which the Aussies bat, they would have overhauled it on the same day. And the Australian team is much better at putting Day 5 pressure on the opposition than anyone else (remember Chennai and how close the 155 run chase was).