On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

On Brilliant Hitting And Great Batting

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The effort of the IPL sponsors and the marketers of the game got a great advertisement in the match between the Mumbai Indians and the Rajasthan Royals. This was a shorter form of the delight that IPL is hoping to cash on. Mumbai won the toss and batted first and got to a healthy 212 courtesy a good start and some wonderful middle-order batting.

The Mumbai Indians dominated the match for the first 27 overs with the Royals tottering at 43 for 3 which soon became 66 for 4 in 9.2 overs when Paras Dogra joined Yusuf Pathan. At the end of 10 overs the Royals were 69 for 4 and needed 144 runs in 60 balls. Pathan was 15 in 13 balls with a six and Dogra was 2 in 2.
It was that situation for which captains would tell you to go and knock the daylights out of the bowling attack without losing your wicket. Pathan got the message and played himself in before the carnage began with three consecutive sixes off Murtaza.

Dogra brought Pathan back on strike with a single and then it was 6446Wd4; 26 off Sathish. Then it was McLaren and again Dogra pinched a single and Pathan went 44Wd4Wd11; 17 in the over. Three overs leaked 62 runs and the match was alive with 82 needed off 42 balls.

Then there was some sanity as Tendulkar brought his two main weapons for an over each in a game where he was missing the magic of Harbhajan; who suffered a blow to his inner thigh while batting. Malinga and Khan gave 7 and 5 runs respectively to restore order and then Murtaza went for 11 in the 16th over of the innings leaving the Royals with 59 to get in 24 balls. Tendulkar needed two overs before he could go back to Zaheer and Malinga and with Pathan on 83 in 33 balls and Dogra on a boundary-less but calm 16 in 18 balls he picked the hard-to-get-under Jayasuriya.

The first three balls seemed to justify the decision with just singles coming and then Pathan launched into Jayasuriya and hit him for two massive sixes either side of a four—100 in 37 balls and Royals needing 40 in 18 balls. Sathish with a reputation of being India’s best fielder did a remarkable job at the non-striker’s end when he fielded and flicked Dogra’s drive to catch Pathan short and the Royals needing 40 off 17 balls.

That was when Dogra took over and the next four balls went 6, 6, 4, 4 and then he took a single to keep strike. The way the match had gone 19 off 12 balls should have been an easy ask but that is the value that regular good bowlers bring to the table. Zaheer Khan went for seven despite a first ball wide and Malinga was just phenomenal. He bowled a brilliant yorker and then ran Dogra out diving full stretch while picking the ball at the striker’s end. Next man was bowled and the buffer was more than enough for the brilliant Malinga to see Mumbai through.

It was a great effort by Pathan coming in at a hopeless situation and hitting cleanly and brilliantly. On October 4, 1996 at the Gymkhana Club Ground in Nairobi, a boy looking more than his official age of 16 years and 217 days and going by the name of Shahid Afridi came out to bat for the first time in his 2nd ODI match and made a 37-ball hundred against a Sri Lankan attack that had Vaas, Murali, Dhramasena among others. Andrew Symonds has a hundred in 34 balls.

Saying it was the best hitting I have ever seen is one thing and saying that it was the best innings I have seen quite another. It surely would not make the cut if I had to pick the 50 or 100 best innings I’ve ever seen but it would be right up there if I had to pick clean and brilliant hitting on a batting beauty with most of the runs coming off part-timers. Would Shane Warne pick him in the Test squad on the basis of this innings? Would the Generation X captain MS Dhoni consider it?

I would pick the 60 odd that Laxman made on a vicious turner in Mumbai against Australia or the 55 that Tendulkar made in the same game. What about the way Damien Martyn played in the 2004 series in India? The hundred that Steve Waugh got at the Eden Gardens and the ones that Brian Lara got against the Aussies. Haven’t Shane Warne and Navjot Singh Sidhu played enough cricket and seen much more to put a magnificent T20 hundred on the same pedestal as the runs scored in the heat of Test cricket?

Brilliant hundred by Pathan; chanceless, clean and brutal along with some deft strokes in a tough situation but give me Dravid, Ponting, Tendulkar, Gambhir, Sehwag, Jesse Ryder, Hussey, Jayawardene, Sangakarra, Kallis, Duminy, Clarke against a good Test attack or a recording of the double hundred that Sir Gary Sobers got against the rest of the world any day.

This is not to take away from the super effort of Pathan but this wasn’t even remotely close to the dozens of 50s that I’ve seen in tougher situations leave apart the many hundreds and the double and triple ones.

Indians are considered to be good players of spin and Indian wickets traditionally are suited for spin bowling and if Shane Warne wants to understand what I mean then he has to see that he never got a five-wicket haul in an innings against India in India till 2004 in Chennai. He took 6 for 125 in 42.3 overs in India’s first innings of 376 and it was a tantalising contest where rain on the fifth day was the winner and the match a draw.

In the last match of the same series in Mumbai, Michael Clarke took 6 for 9 in 6.2 overs in India’s second innings and still ended up on the losing side. Warne could never manage to bowl Australia to victory against India. He chipped in but he was never the one man responsible and here also Michael Clarke beats him. In 2008 in Sydney when the shadows were lengthening and it seemed that India would hang on for a draw with just about 10 minutes of play left and three wickets in hand, Michael Clarke took three wickets in five balls with his left-arm spin.

Does it mean that Clarke is a great spinner or does it mean that he’s had a couple of lucky days? Can Clarke be compared to the Wizard of Oz? As a spinner, Clarke would probably not make it to a good club’s playing XI while Warne would be a serious contender to a four-man bowling attack picked out of over a hundred years of Test cricket.

The T20 lesson: Enjoy the fun but don’t lose your perspective mate.

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