Michael Clarke teaches Dhoni a lesson

Last Updated: Thu, Dec 20, 2012 14:00 hrs

What a contrast two Test matches played out simultaneously provided! A lot has been said and written about the lack of interest in Test cricket in these days of instant entertainment. 

Events as they unfolded with almost monotonous boredom at Nagpur in the match between India and England constituted a negative advertisement for Test cricket even as the game petered out into a tame draw. 

At the same time another Test match at Hobart held considerable interest throughout the five days before Australia emerged victorious over a fighting Sri Lanka. 

The events only confirmed that there is nothing wrong with Test cricket and it can survive, even thrive, alongside the two shorter formats provided the approach by all concerned - the captain, the team management, the players and the yes, the curators - is positive.
And when one talks about being positive the first name that comes to mind is Michael Clarke. He has always been an attacking batsman ever since his debut hundred against India at Bangalore in 2004. And now he has added more than an aggressive streak to his captaincy. 

Ever since he took over the leadership at the fag end of a disastrous Ashes campaign in early 2011 he has impressed one and all by his hustling and bustling tactics, his intuitive qualities, a readiness to try out something new and a willingness to think out of the box. 

If he can win, he likes to do so in double quick time and a highlight of his enterprising captaincy has been the timing of his declarations. At Sydney in January this year after India had been bowled out for 191 on the opening day Australia were in a situation where they could have gone in for all sorts of records. 

And yet after the Aussies scored 659 for four - at four runs an over it must be added - Clarke declared midway through the third afternoon! 

He himself was unconquered on 329 but not for a moment did it occur for him to go after Don Bradman's famous 334 or Matthew Hayden's record score of 380 for an Australian. With so much time at his disposal he could have pursued these important marks without compromising on his team's victory chances. 

The result was an emphatic Aussie victory by an innings and with a day to spare. I have just cited one example but there have been many instances of Clarke's sporting or challenging declarations. Even at Hobart he didn't dilly dally but declared at 450 for five midway through the second day.
Another aspect of Clarke's captaincy is his attacking field placings. Here at times he displays a sense of bravado for there are so many fielders in close in catching positions that a batsman can find the boundaries that much easier. But Clarke is one leader who pursues his attacking instincts. 

On the final day of the Hobart Test even as Sri Lanka appeared to have made a draw a safe bet he kept attacking making quick bowling changes. 

And as Sri Lanka started losing wickets the field closed in. Suddenly Clarke was running out of time for there were just a few overs left. He put his fielders within hand shaking distance from the batsman and it was such a joy to see a captain deploy four slips, a gully, a silly mid off, short leg and two players at short mid wicket.
Contrast this with what one saw at Nagpur. Having to win the Test to level the series the onus was on Dhoni to display his attacking skills, his innovative touch which he has shown so often.

But what one saw gave the impression that India were one up and playing for a draw to win the series. The five main bowlers kept sending down their overs even during long partnerships with Dhoni refusing to resort to irregular bowlers - a tactic he has used in the past to good effect. 

Ishant Sharma for long bowled without a slip with the field being spread all over in a defensive arc. Dhoni's reluctance to declare at the overnight score of 297 for eight when play resumed on the fourth morning was unfathomable given the fact that he had to give his bowlers time to put India back into the match. 

The muddling tactics on the fourth morning - continuing the innings for an hour while just 29 runs were pieced together -thwarted whatever little hopes there might have been of an Indian victory. England could afford to wait for events to unfold but the onus was on India to make things happen. This did they failed to do.
Of course the dead pitch must take its share of the blame. As Ravichandran Ashwin put it succinctly on the fourth evening ''only the colour has changed, nothing else'' in describing the unresponsive surface. There was no turn, no bounce and it was so low and slow that the batsman while being able to occupy the crease for an extended period found run scoring a tough proposition. 

By contrast the track at the Bellerive Oval had something in for everyone. Pace bowlers got wickets, spinners too got their share while the batsmen also had their day in the sun.  

The result was an engrossing contest that was decided in extra time so to say between two sides who gave no quarter and asked for none, Tillekeratne Dilshan's thrilling counter attack in Sri Lanka's first innings and Peter Siddle's lion-hearted bowling in the match symbolizing this.

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