The Long Game

by Devanshu Mehta

Aye, fight and you may die, run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willing to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!

— Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart

Shut up, William Wallace. You never played a Test series. You, Mr. Wallace, are playing Twenty20. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is playing a Test series. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is playing the long game.

The England management sent down word: “We declare after Matt Prior reaches his century”. At this moment, Dhoni and Strauss had the same motive. Let Matt Prior get to his century. Think about this for a second– two opposing captains aligned in their motives for a brief passage of play.

Strauss was enabling personal glory. Dhoni was playing the long game. Dhoni knew the truth: that if you can’t win, the next best thing is to avoid losing.

Dhoni knew the truth, that when your opener may have just shattered his elbow, your top batsman is battling a god-felling virus and your top bowler is unfit, every minute you can buy is a minute your #11 batsman won’t have to defend saving the Test on day five. If Dravid took four minutes to pad up when Captain Courageous himself decided to bowl, that is one fewer over that the limping Zaheer may have to face on day five.

Dhoni knew the truth, that when you’re bowling with three bowlers in the first Test of the series, your next step is a no-brainer. Rest your bowlers and let Prior get his century. If your bowlers tire themselves and get Matt Prior out, you’ve shot yourself in the head. Twice. You have tired bowlers and a longer session to bat.

Dhoni knew the truth, that a Test series is unlike anything else. You’re playing nine-dimensional chess against a petulant god. A petulant god, like a child toying with a spider by plucking one leg off at a time, who says:

“No Sehwag for you, sorry. Zaheer takes two wickets on the first morning? <thwack> There go his legs. And here’s a virus cocktail for your false god Sachin. A fourth day fight back? I don’t think so, let me take a sledgehammer to Gambhir’s elbow.”

Most who said Dhoni was defensive in the third session on day four were peddling false concern on behalf of England. Dhoni knew the truth, that to win a Test series, you don’t need to win every session. Sometimes you live to fight another day. And as long as you avoid losing, you can win.

You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time

Donald Rumsfeld, American Test Cricketer