|Event:||India in West Indies 2006|
DateLine: 28th June 2006
Brian Lara’s strange and illogical decision not to enforce the follow on let India off the hook. That is the inescapable conclusion to be drawn at the end of the third Test at St Kitts. His defence of his decision holds no water. I am not saying that the West Indies would have won the match had he asked the Indians to follow on. But if the Indians had been hard pressed to save the game the initiative would well and truly have been with the home side. As it is the momentum is no longer with them thanks to the visitors making a brave attempt to try and achieve a difficult target.
Conventional wisdom has it that a captain enforces the follow on when the opportunity beckons. That way the pressure is maintained on the batting side and in the vast majority of cases the decision has ended in a victory for the team enforcing the follow on. Yes, there are times when it is better to bat again and give the opposition the worst of a deteriorating pitch. Also sometimes when there is plenty of time left in the game captains have refrained from enforcing the follow on, preferring to bat again to shut out all options for the opponents.
Now take the present situation. India were all out just after tea on the fourth day 219 runs behind. With just four sessions left there was just no way that India could have come back and posed problems for the West Indies. Wiping off the deficit would probably have taken them about two sessions and in the remaining two sessions pray tell me how could the Indians have built up a sizeable lead, declared or been all out and then dismissed the home side? When India were all out it was clear that there were only two possible results – a draw if the Indians did better in the second innings or a West Indian victory if they didn’t. When that is the situation with the captain well aware that there isn’t any realistic chance of his team being beaten should he not enforce the follow on?
Lara came up with this specious argument when asked about his decision: ``Why will I enforce the follow on with a lead of 219 runs when I have the chance to defend 400 and bowl the opposition out rather than asking them to bat and maybe having to bat again.’’ Realistically speaking there was no way that the West Indians would have been batting again had he asked the Indians to follow on except perhaps for a token second innings. On the contrary with some luck he could well have emerged victorious even with a bowling line up that is increasingly looking incapable of winning matches.
It has been argued that Lara's surprising decision was influenced by the unavailability of left-arm fast bowler Pedro Collins on the fourth evening because of a bout of cramp that forced him to leave the field towards the end of India's first innings. But then Lara had three other frontline bowlers in Collymore, Taylor and Bravo besides Gayle and they could have comfortably done their job for about two hours till Collins returned to the attack the following morning.
At least if the pitch was fast deteriorating Lara’s decision might have been justified. But the surface remained flat till the end underlined by the fact that India, never in any danger of defeat, finished on 298 for four. If anything India looked the better team towards the end after being at the receiving end for most of the match and for this Lara was responsible. There was no way the Indians could have been dismissed in under a day. Successive totals of 521 for six, 588 for eight and 362 have clearly illustrated that this West Indian bowling line up holds no terrors for them. As I said there is no guarantee that the West Indies would have won had Lara asked the Indians to bat again. But at least they would have held the psychological advantage of having made the Indians follow on. As it is the West Indies have lost it thanks to the needlessly safe and unadventurous decision of their captain.
It is becoming increasingly clear that both teams lack the bowling strength to dismiss the other out twice. This was evident from the West Indian viewpoint early in the series but now it appears that the Indians, stronger on paper, are having similar problems. It was good to see Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh bowl in tandem though. For the decider at Kingston Irfan Pathan whatever his problems should be back at the expense of either Sreesanth or Munaf Patel. It still does not look like a match winning attack but then with the spin duo around one can never be sure of anything. At any rate the Indian line up has more firepower than the West Indian counterparts. A double hundred plus four centuries testifies to the whale of a time the Indian batsmen are having. Now if only the bowling could somehow rise to the occasion and match their deeds!
(Article: Copyright © 2006 CricketArchive)