Monday, August 04, 2008

The grand design to resign and reign.

The Indian cricket team was criticized for losing the first Test against Sri Lanka, without so much as a fight in the second innings.

I wonder why ‘losing a game tamely’ is any worse than ‘losing a game bravely’. Defeat is defeat, and the record books are not going to add an asterix and a qualifying footnote, either way. If the odds are stacked against you, why expend energy in acts of misguided heroism and in pursuit of dumb martyrdom? If, say, India had managed to put up a huge total, avoided innings defeat, but the Lankans had beaten us by 3 wickets, we would have gone down fighting and it would appear to be a more honourable defeat, but so what?

Take Federer. 2-sets down in the Wimbledon final and then he wastes everybody’s time by winning the next two, only to lose the 5th set. Did it make any difference? What was the point he was trying to make? Why this vainglorious attempt?

But, all those pumped-up, adrenalin-charged, blood-thirsty, hairy-chested, never-say-die, mission-impossible types among you, with that raging fire in your aging bellies, will dismiss this attitude as defeatist and add that the spirit of competitiveness demands that you give out your best even when adversity stares you in the face. You must fight on the beaches, fight on the hills, fight in the air, but never, never give up, you orate in Churchilian fashion. The same spirit that makes Federer fight when he is losing, is the one that helps him win, you sermonize. This spirit is not a toggle switch that can be switched on and off, you lecture on. It has to be kept alive and kicking all the time, you pontificate. Otherwise, you end up a loser all the time, you preach and rest your case.

This argument doesn’t hold true. Consider the practice followed in chess, of a player sensibly resigning when he knows that it is stupid to carry on. We are not talking here of school boys, but hard core, ruthless, professionals trying to improve their ELO rating (or whatever it is that is the current rating system) all the time. So, when the player, grandmaster though he may be, realizes that the opponent is sitting pretty with a couple of extra pawns that are sporting smug smiles and positioned in vantage points, he doesn’t resort to any bravado and make an ass of himself. He doesn’t delude himself into thinking that he can still make the other guy blink in an eyeball-to-eyeball encounter. No, sir. He simply puts his tail between his legs, quietly resigns, shakes hands and walks out.

And, because he has resigned, and accepted defeat, is he a spineless coward lacking combative spirit? No. He just storms back to his room, pulls out the voodoo doll depicting his opponent and sticks several sharp pins in quick succession. This acts like a magic potion for the fight the next day; he comes out with war paint on and lets out an ominously shrill battle cry to frighten the daylights out of his opponent. If he had not given up on the 37th move and carried on till the 65th, do you think he would have had time to prepare for the next match, with the voodoo doll?

So, that’s what the Indian cricketers did in the first test. With a combined experience of over a 1000 tests, they must have known that it was futile to stretch the match to five days, when they had a huge first innings deficit to wipe out. Victory was remotely possible, but not probable. The team went into a huddle and brainstormed their way into a quick defeat, giving them an extra day at the beach. Of course, to get the fighting spirit back, the coach had to pass around voodoo dolls of Mendiz and Muralitharan, and assorted pins and needles that he had brought with him from South Africa.The tactical withdrawal in the first test and practical use of voodoo at the beach, helped in the second test.

Now, it is the turn of the Sri Lankans to spend some time with their voodoo dolls, after their stategic move not to stretch the second test to the fifth day.

May the team with the more powerful voodoo dolls win the third test.


Anonymous said...

Live to fight another day. But sometimes you may need to fight, can't agree with you completely.

Anonymous said...

There are multiple angles to this..

a) Attitude : Winning or Loosing is the RESULT. But the real game is while it is played. Accepting result before the final whistle is a defeatist tendency. This is can be applied to all facets of life..

b) Entertainment : Spectator sports is a form of entertainment. Federer fighting back to 2 sets all and stretching in the 5th set is what is the "entertainment" value of sports is.

c) Economic : There are people paid up large sum of money to get their message across during the cricket match. Advertisement is a huge revenue and loosing the match in 3 days and not utilising the remaining 2 days of advt revenue may not be a great idea for the broadcasters, considering they have already paid for the rights.

d) Morale : It does work magic with the morale of the people ( opponent as well) in putting the effort to the last mile. Accepting the verdict in the beginning of 2nd innings is as good as forfeiting the innings, allowing the opponent the upperhand in the game to follow. In this case the result has been the opposite, though.

Anonymous said...

Interesting take.

Talking of Federer's game, you say it is futile for having stretched it to 5 sets. Trust me, you would not mention the same had he won the 5th set too. It would have hailed been as a prize for his perseverance. There have been so many occasions when a player with 2-set down and on the verge of losing the 3rd set too had the gall to come back only to win the game. Stuff happens. Ever heard of rabbit-hare story. Our own Indian cricket team has been a real-life rabbit, notorious for their ability to lose games from winning position.

The point is, many a time, the game is not over till the last moment, unless the player themselves give up. So, there is nothing wrong in stretching it even if it ends up in a losing cause.

Raj said...

Maduraiveeran, jayan,anon :

Thanks. The points that you have brought out are the ones usually presented as conventional wisdom. I was just trying a contrarian spin.....

Anonymous said...

players feel to prove something, to go on and show that even if they are losing, it is not going to be a one way battle for long. And it is this hope which carry forward the flame of sporting miracles