On Matters That Matter

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Posts Tagged ‘Brett Lee

The Curious Case Of Rohit Sharma

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It was great to sit back and watch Rohit Sharma make an audacious and unbeaten 79 in 46 balls at number 4 in India’s T20 match against Australia where seven other batsmen who played above and below him made a total of 24 runs in 42 balls. Harbhajan Singh, who made 13 runs batting at number nine, was the only other Indian player to get to double figures.

Sharma appears to be out of favour with the Indian selectors and the team management. This could be due to his patchy ODI form and it also seems like he has been the fall guy after India’s early exit from the 2009 T20 World Cup in England. Sharma has an average of 40 in international T20 matches; something that can be called phenomenal in the shortest format.

The ODI average of Rohit Sharma is a low 25.62 in 42 matches and it belies his obvious talent. He has been in and out of the playing XI and on the last few occasions he has got a chance only after the series has been secured. Sharma belongs to a different breed of batsmen. He is easy on the eye and has all the time in the world to play his strokes. His first class average of 55.02, at a still early phase of his career, shows where he really belongs and such players don’t come that often to be wasted in warming the bench. In the team that took on Australia in Bridgetown no other player bar Gautam Gambhir has a better first class average than Sharma.

The longer the format of the game the better should be the chances of Sharma being in the playing XI. One of his memorable innings in a pressure situation should be reason enough to give him a longer run to prove himself.

The first final of the Commonwealth Bank Series in 2008 was played on the second of March between India and Australia in Sydney. Australia won the toss, decided to bat, and India restricted them to 239 runs as Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla bowled 20 overs between themselves for just 71 runs. Harbhajan also took two important wickets.

The first half of the game had gone well for India and they needed to back it up with smart cricket in the other half to win the game. At 87 for 3 in 18.5 overs, with the match hanging on a knife’s edge, the young Rohit Sharma joined Sachin Tendulkar who was batting on 50 in 56 balls.

Sharma started in style by hitting two gorgeous straight drives to pick boundaries in back-to-back overs by Nathan Bracken. The fourth wicket partnership added 123 runs at a fair clip to set up a perfect run chase that became completely one-sided by the time Sharma departed in the 42nd over having made an assured 66 in his beautiful languid style.

Tendulkar made an unbeaten 116 and was all praise for the way Rohit batted. “Rohit Sharma really batted well, full credit to him. He has a terrific head on his shoulders, he’s calm and composed, and today I batted with him for the first time for such a long time.” Australia’s bowling attack had Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Bracken, Brad Hogg and James Hopes.

Ian Chappell didn’t need that innings to see Sharma as a special talent as he had already taken that position by seeing him in the earlier games. Sharma then became one of the success stories of the inaugural T20 World Cup that India won; scoring a 50 not out against South Africa and then a crucial 30 off 16 balls in the final against Pakistan.

In the next edition in England, Sharma was made to open the Indian innings despite his great success down the order in the previous year. He did well in the games against Bangladesh and Ireland but was found wanting against West Indies and England, who used to short ball to good effect at Lord’s.

In total contrast Ravindra Jadeja is fast gaining a reputation as the man of the opposition on our side. In Bridgetown it was Jadeja who got Australia started after the first three overs had gone for just 16. The last three balls of his first over were rank long hops that Watson hit out of the park and then it was Warner who carted the first three length deliveries of his next over for sixes.

Jadeja’s highest score of 25 in a T20 international came against England and cost India the match. He walked in at two down and took 35 balls to score 25 runs and in the end it proved to be a very expensive experiment. Yuvraj had made 60 plus in the previous game but he was held back as Dhoni did not want to put extra pressure on him. Jadeja’s cameo ensured that Yuvraj walked in with much more pressure than he would have had at his number four position. He made 17 off 9 balls with two sixes and was then beautifully stumped off the bowling of Graeme Swann. Dhoni remained not out on 30 and Pathan on 33 off 20 and 17 balls respectively and despite that India fell short by four runs. Dhoni defended the promotion in a press conference but on the ground it had proved to be a daft move.

In the ODI against Australia where Tendulkar was raging a lone battle to take India past 350 in Hyderabad Jadeja provided him good support at number eight. Nineteen runs were needed in the last 18 balls when Tendulkar mistimed a scoop over fine leg and departed having made 175. Jadeja was batting well having scored 23 off 16 balls and all he needed was to keep his cool. This is how Cricinfo’s commentary described his run out: Exit SRT and the collapse begins. Jadeja is run out. He was run out last game under similar pressure conditions and he has succumbed again. It was pushed straight to cover and Jadjea sets for a non-existent single. Praveen Kumar does the obvious thing: sends him back but too late. The throw comes in to the bowler who takes out the stumps. Australian fielders erupt in joy.

Rohit Sharma has delivered in pressure situations and he should be a natural selection in the playing XI while Jadeja has panicked more than once and he should be made to sweat before giving him a game.

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Twenty20: A Country For Old Men

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In comparison to the well-over-a-century-old Test Cricket and almost four decades of One Day Internationals, Twenty20 can certainly be called the ‘New Kid in Town’; a smash hit and wonderful song of The Eagles. However, it is the title of the multi-Oscar winning film ‘No Country For Old Men’ that puts the current IPL in perspective; only because it provides the perfect and sharp contrast.

The ‘so-called old men’ of cricket are having a ball at the game that is supposed to be tailor-made for young and fresh legs and that has been the biggest thrill that the tournament has provided so far. Who would have thought that the top names of the third season of IPL would feature Jacques Kallis, Chaminda Vaas, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Murali, Gilchrist etc?

Jacques Kallis has been phenomenal and he brings so much to the table with his rock solid batting that is sprinkled with assured and audacious stroke-play, his more than handy bowling, and safe catching to top it all. The graph of the Royal Challengers Bangalore has just kept going up since Kumble took charge of the team and besides leadership he has also adapted his bowling to the demands of this format that can easily kill the spirit of a bowler. But then what format can kill the spirit of a bowler like Kumble, even if he is measured in four over spells?

What these old men have proved is that no matter what the format one would be a fool to consider them as just a few guests at a party being hosted for someone else. It may not be right to club Andrew Symonds with the old lot but it’s worthwhile to note that he is about 35 and has been around for a while. Symonds changed a game by plucking out a beauty with sheer brilliance and the catch was so good that his pointing the finger ever so slowly towards the dressing room almost looked like an understatement.

It was the moment that changed the game on its head. Karthik was batting on 42 from 25 balls and the Delhi Daredevils were 152 for 5 needing 20 runs in 12 balls when Symonds came on to bowl the penultimate over having gone for just 15 in his three overs in which he had picked one wicket.

The momentum had just swung in the favour of Delhi with Karthik having hit Rohit Sharma for two fours and a six and then taken a single to retain strike. The first ball of the 19th over went for four with Karthik playing a lovely square cut and Delhi needed 16 from 11 balls with 5 wickets in hand. That is when Symonds came up with that magical catch that would gone for a certain boundary but for those outstretched fingers and the lunging towards the right side body of a superb athlete.

It was a great over in which he picked another wicket and gave a buffer of 14 runs for the crafty and retired from international cricket Vaas. Vaas was accurate as ever and two more wickets fell in the first two balls of Vaas and it was Deccan all the way.

The three top teams right now are captained by Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, and Adam Gilchrist; two retired and one the longest-serving Master on the circuit. Tendulkar notched up his second fifty of IPL 3 when his unbeaten 71 saw Mumbai home in the penultimate over against Kolkata. It was the bowlers who had restricted Kolkata for an under par score by sticking to their line and full length and then as Atul Wasan pointed out it was the professor coming out himself and giving everyone a demonstration of how it is done. The masterclass of Tendulkar was there to see.

This new kid called T20 certainly enjoys having the oldies around. The shorter form requires just about three hours of field work and that could be the reason why it is proving to be such a good country for old men.

Time for some champagne

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It is time for some elaborate and well-earned celebrations. India at this point of time is the number 1 Test team in the world and it is a nice place to sit and reflect on things before moving on to the bigger challenge of consolidating this position.

The fourteen players who were in the squad against Sri Lanka at the Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai were the last ones who came to my mind as my memory went back to listening about India playing abroad in the late seventies and early eighties. It went back to days when Sunil Gavaskar used to walk to the field and display character while playing in an era that had a battery of great fast bowlers. It also went back to Kapil Dev, Vishwanath, Jimmy Amarnath, Vengsarkar and to all those people who paved the way from the time when India were just considered pushovers in world cricket to this day.

Of course it went to our fabulous spinners; the unmatched Bishen Singh Bedi and the quartet that had Eknath Solker, near the bat, as a part of their hunting pack. Sandeep Patil hitting a spectacular 174 in the Adelaide Test after having been hit on the head by Len Pascoe on his ear in the Sydney Test of the 1980-81 series came to my mind. The list is long in this 77-year-old history and each step has meant something.

Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble can be clubbed with the squad of fourteen as they are an integral part of recent successes. Ganguly displayed steely resolve after his comeback and Kumble showed what a tremendous leader he is. The graph can be plotted from end-2007 when India defeated Pakistan 1-0 at home with the last Test finishing on December 12.

This was after a hectic ODI season and commercial greed ensured that India went to Australia without much of a rest or a decent conditioning camp and no time to acclimatise apart from one game that was washed out. Melbourne was the wicket that would have suited India the best and the bowlers did well to keep Australia below 350.

Two tour games may have shown form and adjustment factor. Sehwag may have played from the start and Yuvraj could have warmed the bench; our experts did not get it but Ian Chappell was right when he said that Sehwag may give just about 50 but his attack puts the train in motion. An attacking opener at the top would have put the bowlers on the defensive and the middle order could then have taken things forward. Yuvraj had made runs in India and so the entire furniture was rearranged to accommodate him. India lost the first Test by 337 runs and Ponting said he hadn’t expected such an easy win.

Then it was time for the back-to-back Sydney Test in the New Year and along with it a chance for Australia to match its previous highest winning streak of 16 Test matches on the trot. Never mind the washed out preparation game as that bit happened in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. In hindsight, Sydney was very unlucky for Andrew Symonds in the long-run and it was lucky in the long-run for India.

On the match days, though, every bit of luck went Australia’s way beginning with the toss. “We’re going to bat today, mate,” said Ponting. “The wicket looks pretty good, a bit of moisture this morning. We played well in Melbourne but that’s all behind us now. We created momentum and hope to do the same. It was as good Test cricket as we’ve played in a long time.”

Anil Kumble looked calm and confident. “There’ll be early juice in the wicket; I’m looking forward to a couple of early wickets,” Cricinfo’s commentary said. The attack was RP Singh, Ishant Sharma, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble. RP got both the openers cheaply and then Ponting and Hussey consolidated but from 119 for 2 in 29.4 overs Australia slumped to 134 for 6 in 34.5 overs. Brad Hogg joined Symonds, who had seven runs from 17 balls, and the counterattack started.

At the end of 46 overs Hogg was 35 and Symonds 29 when Ishant came in to bowl the 47th over with Australia on 191. At 193 for 6 on the fourth ball of Ishant Sharma, Symonds got a massive edge and looked back as Dhoni pouched it. Umpire Steve Bucknor was stone faced as Symonds looked at him. It was a giveaway. Australia ended up with 463 and Symonds added 132 more to his score of 30 when he had got that big let-off. On top of that the drama of a ‘reported incident’ at the end of the third day’s play meant that news agencies had a field day. That continued for a while.

To cut the long story short, Australia went on to win the game as India failed to survive over two and a half sessions on the last day and the team trailed 2-0 in the four Test series with the next match to be played in the Australian den at Perth.

Sehwag and Irfan Pathan got in the playing eleven and Harbhajan was out in the cold awaiting the decision of a judge after the acrimonious Sydney Test. Australia crumbled despite talks of a four-pronged pace attack and the two replacements justified their inclusion for India. That bit was Kumble’s leadership and India haven’t looked back since and beaten Australia 2-0 at home and won a series against England at home. There has been a 1-1 draw against South Africa at home. The only blip has been a 2-1 loss in Sri Lanka. Symonds has gone fishing or has hit the bar a bit more than the leadership group of the team would have wanted him to. He’s had the support of the captain and the team mates but he has found it hard to justify it.

Gary Kirsten had joined the team in Perth and one can hear about the value that he has added as players have been very vocal about his role even as he has been quiet about it. This year India has dominated and had a series win in New Zealand and now an emphatic 2-0 win against Sri Lanka at home. It is the Test matches that matter but we are just playing two more so the top ranking could be for just a short while; it is worth celebrating nonetheless.

The Joy Of Test Cricket

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Rahul Dravid

The tough side of Dravid's character makes him one of India's batting greats.


Had Rahul Dravid abused the cricket administration it would have just been an understatement at the angst he must have felt for having been dropped from the ODI side after having been given just five innings after a gap of two years. In those five innings Dravid was the highest scorer with the highest strike rate (47 in 56 balls) in a match that India lost badly against Sri Lanka in Colombo. In the final that India won in Colombo Dravid made only 39 runs but more importantly he had a 95-run first wicket partnership with Tendulkar who made 138. He got two more innings in the Champions Trophy; where in the match against Pakistan he was the lone man standing amidst the collapse that started after Virat Kohli’s attempt to go for a lofted shot.

India could not clear the first hurdle at the Champions Trophy and Dravid who made 70 plus paid the price. Had he been in the Indian side that lost to the Aussies recently—not because they were outplayed but because they had fewer players who knew how to read the game and have the character to fight it out till the end—the result may have been different? What Ravi Shastri said after the 2002-03 Adelaide Test still holds true; he said that he considered only three people as India’s batting greats Gavaskar, Vishwanath, and Tendulkar and after the Adelaide Test he was ready to add the name of Rahul Dravid to the list.

One of the reasons for India’s failure to be a major cricketing force and not just a financial behemoth has been the commercial greed that is taking priority at the expense of the game. As long as cricket players and the game of cricket is primary there is no reason to worry about the big money coming into the game; this money will only benefit everyone associated with the game one way or the other. If the oldest and the truest form of the game—which goes on for 5 days without the guarantee of a result—remains robust and healthy like a loving, strong and committed marriage then there is no reason to worry about the slam bam affair of Twenty20. The worry for cricket, just like life, is that devoting too much time to the side dish could end up leaving no appetite for the main course.

The first official Test was played between Australia and England in Melbourne starting March 15, 1877. Australia won the timeless match by 45 runs and England squared the series by winning the next Test starting March 31, 1877, also at the MCG.

“One newspaper summed up the mood in an editorial on the day Lillywhite’s side set sail for home. ‘It shows that in bone as muscle, activity, athletic vigour, and success in field sports, the Englishmen born in Australia do not fall short of the Englishmen born in Surrey or Yorkshire.’
‘For the time being, wrote the Argus, we must forget we are Victorians and New South Wales and our geographical distinctions, and only remember that we are of one nation—Australia.’”

A history of over 132 years of Test cricket and India’s own history of over 77 years of Test cricket is a rich minefield where heroes can be found and their success and their follies relished. The moments that make history and the moments they defy history are the milestones that each cricketing nation cherishes in its own way. One good Test match gives a writer enough material for a book and it would be tough to write one on five years of Twenty20.

It was 32 for four today before the eighth over of the day was finished and India ended the day at 385 for 6 with Dravid unbeaten on 177 with 26 fours and a six at a strike rate of 70.51. Dravid’s knock oozed class and he went past 11000 Test runs to become the fifth-highest run-scorer in the history of the game.

With the financial balance tipping in its favour India now has the responsibility to ensure that Test cricket remains healthy the world over. The greatest player this nation has produced said this week when he completed 20 years of international cricket that 5 Test matches in a season is just too few.

A bit of Twenty20 and a few ODIs with Test tours as the primary focus should be the natural priority. The Tour de France is an annual bicycle race that approximately covers 3500 kilometres and it cannot be reduced to or compared to a 10 kilometre dash. Test cricket has its audience and with good result-oriented wickets it can compete well with the other two formats. Quantity is one thing and quality quite another and a genuine cricket fan just like a genuine cricket player knows what is what.

Mohali And The Sting In The Tail

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Something great and something bizarre as well as poor and inexplicable has happened in this One Day series. The great has gone to Australia along with the series and India can sit and debate about the rest. You go and beat a full-strength Australian team in their backyard in the first two finals of the best-of-three finals in the last edition of the tri-nation Commonwealth Bank Series in 2008. Then you maintain a high percentage of victory in most of the bilateral series that follow but fall at the first hurdle of both the 2009 World tournaments—the T20 World Cup and the Champions Trophy. The two world tournaments had enough twists to ensure that the journalists had a good time, especially the brilliant victory of Pakistan in the T20 World Cup. The Australians lifted the Champions Trophy beating New Zealand in the finals.

Hang on! The Australians are coming to India for a 7-match ODI series that they think is too hectic; and Ponting goes public with his concern for the crammed schedule. Ian Chappell writes for some media company that it is a useless series in an already hectic season. Someone from the BCCI is quoted in another story that asks Chappell to shut up and mind his own business; meaning to stop messing with our business.

In the Champions Trophy, India had one bad day and their campaign ended; so you could say that they were kind of unlucky. But a home series of seven matches could change all that; hammer the depleted Aussie side, grab the number 1 position and send the visitors packing as this was a much-weakened team compared to the one that Dhoni’s boys had beaten in 2008 in the Australian backyard.

The end result of 4-2 in Australia’s favour is the worst fall that Dhoni has seen in his still-short captaincy career. With the number of injuries rising with each game, Ponting has rightly hailed this win close to winning a World Cup and as satisfying as any in his career. Australian media has cheered the victory as the dismantling of ‘upstart rivals’ India.

Where did things go wrong for India can be seen better from where did they go right for them. India won the second ODI convincingly by 99 runs as the powerful middle-order clicked and India made 354 with a brilliant 124 by Dhoni and solid half-centuries by Gambhir and Raina. Then there was ‘a partnership made in batting heaven’ as one analysis headline said after the Delhi game. Comfortable six-wicket win in the end and India took a 2-1 lead going to Mohali.

India then had one of their best days in the field restricting Australia to 250 on a good surface. The fielding was sharp and was rewarded by four run-outs, the best being the most-crucial one of Ponting by a direct throw from Jadeja. The expression of Dhoni running towards square-leg with a gloved arm pointing towards Jadeja in the deep told the story of how brilliant a piece of fielding it was. The second half of Mohali is where India lost the whole series.

After the loss of the seventh Australian wicket, earlier in the day, they managed to add 14 more runs to their total. After the seventh Indian wicket was gone, the Indian team added 49 more runs and yet lost by 24 runs. Tendulkar’s score of 40 was the highest for an Indian top-order batsman and 40 was the lowest score among the 4 top order batsmen who scored runs for Australia. Tendulkar got a poor lbw decision but he also had himself to blame by playing back to a tossed up delivery that could have been hit for a six with lesser risk.

This side has been as Australian as any before and, therefore, it is a good time to reflect on what Sir Geoffrey Boycott was talking with Harsha Bhogle during India’s 2002-03 tour of Australia. Boycott was saying that if you’ve got an Aussie team down, you keep it down and keep pressing the foot ruthlessly because if you give an inch, you won’t know when they would rise and come back to hit you. Harsha smiled and said that’s so typically English Geoffrey, always afraid of the Aussies. Boycott also smiled in return but he knew what he was talking about as that history is now over 132 years old.

Sehwag had a poor series where he could not convert any start to a seventy or eighty that would have made a difference. Tendulkar played the innings of the series and perhaps of the past many seasons of limited overs cricket in Hyderabad while chasing 350. You could see it coming as he has been in outstanding form and is a deeply conscientious cricketer if the team is not benefiting and he is not able to contribute.
Ian Chappell saying that India is fine if Tendulkar makes runs while the team loses is prejudiced analysis without real basis as that is what Australia wants and it has been reported in the Aussie media more than a few times.

Out of the four matches that Australia won three of them were tight finishes that India could have won had they been a bit more tenacious. Australia had no chance in the two games that India won comprehensively. Application and the mental toughness needed to take your team through in pressure is what counts. India could have taken the series 5-1 if they had a bit of that unyielding quality.

Against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy Australia just needed 36 runs in 60 balls with 6 wickets in hand; in 42 balls Pakistan just gave 18 runs and took 4 wickets. That is called an almighty collapse but Australia still got the last 18 without any further damage. India’s work in three games was much easier than what it was for Hauritz and Brett Lee against Pakistan but one needs that quality of slugging it out till the last ounce of blood and sweat and that is what India has lacked not the talent as Dhoni pointed out.

Tendulkar And The Zen Masters

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The Master, in most of the mystic religious sects around the world is a man that can be described as the finite form of the infinite. The word is used in most of the religions of the East; like in Japan, where an ‘enlightened’ Zen monk is referred to as a Master. The 20th Century American writer J.D. Salinger, known largely for his ‘unusually brilliant’ and ‘controversial’ book The Catcher In The Rye used a Japanese ‘haiku’ (poem) in his book Franny and Zooey, first published as a story in two parts in The New Yorker magazine as Franny in 1955 and Zooey in 1957. The haiku by Kobayashi Issa (1763 – 1828) translated in English goes:

O Snail,
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!

There are many interpretations of the haiku and one way of looking at it is that man can reach the summit by having the endurance to overcome adversity. Forgive me for digressing but this is the closest that I can come to describing the mastery of the man who is popularly known as the Little Master around the cricketing world. An old Japanese proverb says that a wise man climbs Mount Fuji once in his life and only a fool climbs it again; the implied meaning for the fool here is that it is so tough and has such inclement weather that only the really-daring would go again.

If Mount Fuji had a cricketing equivalent then Tendulkar is the man who has been living at the summit for just a few days less than 20 years now. There is no typhoon greater than the one he can still generate and there is no one from his time who has survived the hostile weather of international cricket with such elegance that even the violence that flows from his blade looks like the serene poise of a Zen monk.

On the eve of the fifth game in Hyderabad, the Indian captain MS Dhoni said, “Top order batsmen need to bat well and not rely on the lower order. If you are playing with seven batsmen, it’s better to get a big score from six of them rather than use the seventh, who we call as a backup batsman, especially when you are chasing. If one among the top order gets a big score it becomes easy for us as the others can rotate around him.”

The man on top of everything heeded the captain’s call and apart from another one at number six, no one else found it easy to rotate around him. Australia had belted 350, riding on the momentum they had picked when India had dropped it in the second-half of the ODI in Mohali.

For Australia just the top order came out to bat and everyone scored above a run a ball. Shaun Marsh and Watson scored 112 and 97 respectively. Ponting made a run-a-ball 45 and White and Hussey gave the finishing kick.

No matter what the conditions and the trueness of the wicket, chasing 350 is the cricketing equivalent of climbing Mount Fuji; and it was too stiff a climb for one man to pull the weight of 9 others. Apart from Tendulkar—who made a sparkling 175 in 141 balls studded with 19 square jewels and four large-sized pearls—the other significant contribution in the chase came in the form of a 59 from Raina at number 6. The 38 from Sehwag and the 23 from Jadeja had the possibility of becoming significant but Sehwag played one shot too many and Jadeja for the second time in the series ran as if his run out was essential to India’s victory.

If I look at the top 5 then it was just one man who made it possible that the game came down to holding one’s nerve in the end. At the stage where 19 runs were needed in 18 balls with four wickets in hand and a set Tendulkar batting as good as he ever had; the match was India’s to lose.

Tendulkar single-handedly kept India in the hunt; he played the booming drives, the lofted on the rise strokes clearing the inner circle, the delicate and the furious square cuts. He used the pace of the bowlers, when his deft touch was needed to place the ball behind the wicket on either side. Tendulkar danced down the wicket to hit the spinners out of the attack. He played perfect chip shots and the pulls that went along the ground. The Master bisected the boundary raiders using his wrists as if they were meant to solve a geometric problem. He dusted his cupboard to bring out a pull shot that sailed for a six over midwicket. He played with a fearless flamboyance so that the newcomers could adjust to the wicket without worrying about the run-rate.

Earlier, as Australia had preserved wickets, their late charge added 90 runs in 48 balls for the team. The way the Little Master had calculated and scored from the beginning and then in a big partnership with Raina; his team needed just 52 runs in the last 48 balls. The Aussie bowling had been thrashed, mainly by Tendulkar and to an extent by Sehwag and Raina. Two overs changed the game after Tendulkar and Raina had put India completely in front. The first of the two overs was the 43rd and the second was the 48th. In the 43rd over bowled by Watson, one run came for the loss of Raina and Harbhajan.

It has been such a series for Australia that it would not be surprising if an Aussie tourist is picked and brought to the ground in case Ponting suddenly finds that he is left with only 10 fit men for a game. The score-line says 3-2 in Australia’s favour and that is a massive achievement by an inexperienced as well as an injury-hit team that Ponting leads. I don’t think I’ll see a headline that says ‘India out to hit injury-hit Australia’ again in this series at least.

In the 48th over again two wickets fell for 3 runs. A crestfallen Tendulkar departed to a rising ovation off the first ball of the over. From the beginning he knew how to climb this summit; he created and shaped the reply knowing exactly where and how to take a risk and to keep his companions steady. There was nothing that could stop him in Hyderabad and even after the dismissal of Raina and Harbhajan; 32 more runs were added between Jadeja and Tendulkar.

And then the Master came down from the peak and made an error of judgement; as in that form no bowler could have taken his wicket had he kept his shot selection on the cautious side. After the dismissal he saw his work of art falling short just like it did in Chennai 1999. He had been phenomenal in Hyderabad but in the presentation ceremony he looked the most-disappointed and the-most forlorn man. Tendulkar knows it very well that the infinite is expected of the Master. And he knows that people forgive everyone but they never forgive a genius.

Australian Cricket And The Art Of Losing

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It was a wonderful performance by Australia at Mohali and Indian captain Dhoni would be fuming with the way his top order is functioning in this series. And he has all the right to be incensed with the consistency shown by his batsmen.

This is a depleted Australian side and without quite a few big performers that were there in the team that India defeated in the two finals of the Commonwealth Bank Series in Sydney and Brisbane last year.

Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin, Andrew Symonds, Nathan Bracken and Brad Hogg are out of the line-up. Three of them have retired and four have fitness issues. On top of that Brett Lee and James Hopes have also joined the injury list but the series is hanging in balance at 2-2.

There is no problem with Brett Lee talking about a 7-0 result in Australia’s favour before the series; he was basically reinforcing the Aussie mindset in the absence of McGrath and Warne; who used to say it before every series. On the contrary, a 6-1 result in India’s favour should have been a realistic goal considering that the Indian captain had most of the first choice players available at home.

Dhoni has defended his young players and also the senior ones in public but in private he must be seething that the 2-2 could easily have been 4-0 in India’s favour. Mind you, I am not taking the credit away from Australia. The score-line is equal only because it has been an Australian side; no matter who has played or missed or even made his debut in this tour. The reason for the Australian performance has been articulated nicely by Ian Chappell on many occasions: Australia never beats itself and firmly believes that it is the job of the opposition to beat them.

In the ODI played at Mohali, the top 5 Aussie batsmen scored 208 runs out of the 250 that their team scored. It was a below par score courtesy disciplined bowling and superb fielding by India on a good batting strip. The top 5 Indian batsmen scored 118 runs between themselves and if you add number six and seven as well the Indian score goes up to 142 runs. The reason of defeat is pretty obvious.

In Vadodara, the top 5 Australian batsmen scored 253 out of the 292 runs that the team scored. The top order of India in that match scored 159 runs out of the 293 required and if I add the number six and seven as well the total goes up to 173. This is poor performance as a batting unit like captain Dhoni said. The two experienced Australian batsmen Hussey and Ponting have scored six fifties between them; one low score and a forty. No two players in the Indian dressing room have been so consistent.

Virat Kohli and Ravinder Jadeja and to some degree Suresh Raina must understand that golden opportunities would not come forever and they must look at Gambhir, who has cemented his position by using his chances so well. Sehwag, Tendulkar, Dhoni and Yuvraj have won matches single-handedly on many occasions and they would be handled with kid gloves because of that; but there is a long list waiting if these three are found wanting.

Australia was winning almost everything in limited overs and Test matches with a great team till a few years ago. Ironically, though, the most important lesson that can be learned from Australia is on how to lose. Some of the best Test matches from the mid-1990s to 2006 have been the ones that Australia has lost; as a friend of mine once pointed out. They have been great because Australia has demonstrated how much you need to do to take a match away from them. Remember Edgbaston 2005; and the match Australia saved after that and then Trent Bridge; where Ponting was fuming after substitute fielder Gary Pratt’s throw ran him out. How difficult was it to chase 129 runs against Australia in Trent Bridge and the 155 odd that India had to make in Chennai in 2001?

It is not the same unit and the best that India can now do is to get a 5-2 result; which is quite possible given their strength on paper. Sadly for India, strength on paper means nothing. What counts is that Dhoni has got the best out of the team in such situations before and there is no reason why he can’t do it now. He is a sharp captain who realises that any slackness now could easily be the same score-line in Australia’s favour.

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