A match saved is a match won

Adam Gilchrist dropping a catch offered by Marcus Trescothick in the third Test. Most of the Australians were guilty of flooring catches in this match.-AP

THERE is an old saying in cricket that "a run saved is a run scored", and that's why a team that has good fielders will invariably be at an advantage because of the runs the team saves on the field. In much the same way, a match saved is like a match won, as the Australians will testify after their heart-stopping draw in the third Test at Old Trafford. If the Australians had lost the Test, then they would have had a hard time to climb up the hill to win the next two Tests and retain the Ashes. Mind you, champions have the ability to pull themselves up from the brink and then go on to win. In a way, the England team has done that, though it can be called a champion only if it goes on to win the series.

The English were beaten by a big margin in the first Test at Lord's and all heads seemed to drop then, but the morning of the second Test gave them a big fillip when Glenn McGrath trod on a ball during the warm-ups and was ruled out of the Test. His absence allowed England to get off to a dream start after Ponting, in spite of McGrath's absence, put the hosts in to bat. McGrath's recovery within a week bordered on the miraculous, but the Australians showed clumsy hands, especially Adam Gilchrist, and allowed England to score over 400 runs and put pressure. Then, their batsmen went out and thought they could beat their way as they have been doing over the last few seasons, but this English attack not only has pace, it has movement too and on pitches where the ball has not always come on to the bat, the Aussie batsmen have fallen when they should have been scoring after getting starts. So suddenly in the Old Trafford Test, when the batsmen had to change to lower gears, to be able to save the game, the Aussie batsmen apart from the captain Ricky Ponting were found wanting. In modern-day cricket, those batsmen who cannot `up the gear' are looked down upon but as the Old Trafford Test has shown, there is a time to attack and there is a time to defend. If a team that bats down to No. 7 cannot bat for 90-plus overs then there's something wrong with it. Remember the Bangalore Test when India had to bat out 90 overs on the last day to draw the Test and then win the series. Instead it was all out in 60-odd overs to lose the Test and allowed Pakistan to level the series. Attack for the sake of attack has short-term benefits, but if it is applied with simple common sense, it can bring in rich dividends, but not too many players are able to strike that balance consistently.

Andrew Flintoff has begun to do that and has thus become one of the most feared cricketers in the world capable of changing the course of the game with the bat as well as the ball and is inviting comparisons with that God of English cricket, Ian Botham, who famously won the Ashes almost single-handedly in 1981.

There were some papers in England who had brought to the notice of readers several coincidences in the years 1981, when England won the Ashes and 2005. Way back in 1981, Liverpool won the Champions League and it won again in 2005. Prince Charles got married to Lady Diana in 1981 and got married in 2005 too. There were several other coincidences that were mentioned to bolster England's confidence and it seems to be working. Some English newspapers have played the Australian media game quite brilliantly by suggesting on the Sunday morning of the Old Trafford Test that Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne had a massive fall out after the loss at Edgbaston and are barely on talking terms with each other. The Australian team pooh-poohed the story, saying there was no truth in it, but it is just the kind of tactics the Australian media employs when they feel a threat from one or two players from the team touring Australia. Now whether there is any truth in it or not, the public will forever believe that Ponting and Warne have a problem with each other.

If the English media had a vested interest in trying to undermine the solidarity and the morale of their arch-rivals Australia and especially after the Aussies had been beaten, what does one make of the Indian media which is shouting about things no longer being rosy between Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid and saying that there are now camps in the Indian team? How does such a story, and it is a speculative one at best, help Indian cricket? Both players have denied any problems between each other and yet there are stories appearing every other day as the Indian team licks its wounds and prepares to tour Zimbabwe.

Old timers will say the story was inevitable, for the moment the captaincy goes from one to the other and then back to the other, all the elements of intrigue and conspiracy get fanned into a raging fire, leaving the protagonists completely befuddled as to how it all started and how to put a stop to it. The more they deny, the more legs the story will get and it will keep galloping. Yes, one is writing from experience, and so now Ganguly and Dravid better be prepared to have `a feud' tagged whenever their names are mentioned together. Unfortunate, but that's what will happen for we are masters at cutting our own feet.

Having said that, some of the comments and interviews of the players have certainly not helped, with one player questioning the importance given to another of the same ilk and another saying that Ganguly should be captain and yet another who after failing against Bangladesh and Pakistan has the gall after scoring some runs in a lower-division English championship game to question the selectors on his omission. It's all very well to have the freedom to speak their mind, but if it is harming Indian cricket then the BCCI must step in, especially now that the players are contracted to it.

The contract system has its plusses, but the minuses are also there as they breed a superiority complex and complacency that whatever the performance, the money will be in the beak.

The BCCI will do well to have a re-look and ensure that the system unites and not divides the team. The next World Cup is barely 18 months away and the quicker these issues are resolved, the better for Indian cricket.