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Ecstasy For The Cricket Fan

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For a fan of the game a good day of Test match cricket is an adventure that is more exciting, intriguing, and entertaining than a season full of senseless versions of the shorter-form. Wednesday, the 21st of July 2010, was one such day; and it gave fans a double scoop of edge-of-the-seat cricket. This is how fans of Test cricket want to be spoiled.

Only that I wish that Australia playing Pakistan at Leeds was simultaneously available on some other channel when Ten Sports was beaming India against Sri Lanka.

India’s day in Galle began with seven wickets in hand and a mountain to climb. The wicket was good to bat on and Sehwag raced to his hundred as Sri Lanka chose not to begin with their main weapons. On his second last innings with the ball in hand, Muttiah Muralidharan was the sixth bowler to be introduced in the morning. India was 216 for five and Murali had the lone wicket of Tendulkar from the previous day against his name.

Dhoni and Yuvraj had got starts and an enterprising partnership was developing. Dhoni hit two fours in that first over from Murali and a couple of overs later Yuvraj smacked a six of Herath. That was the 50th over and at 238 for 5 India was not out of the woods but a recovery was looking possible. Then Murali bowled as if he had been storing venom since the morning and India was floored.

A ball from outside off broke sharply and snaked in to shatter Dhoni’s leg stump; 252 for six. An over later Murali came from round the stumps and drew Yuvraj forward to defend and there was just the precise turn needed for an outside edge to first slip. Dhoni and Yuvraj had put together 74 runs in 15.2 overs and given the situation of the match this was quite an aggressive stand with a run rate of almost five. To then have both batsmen out defending is a Murali marvel.

India bowled out for 276 with the phenomenal Murali claiming his 67th 5-wicket haul.

Lanka imposed the follow on and India was pegged back immediately. The first innings dismissal seemed to have been playing on Gambhir’s mind and Malinga exploited his dilemma brilliantly. Wrapped in front by an in dipper in the first innings Malinga sensed that Gambhir was on the lookout for that ball and this time he gave him one that went away an induced the error. Sehwag went in a similar fashion to his first innings dismissal; chasing a wide one which Mahela plucked out of air at gully.

Then the two guys who have the record for the highest number of century partnerships between them in the history of Test cricket showed just how assured India has felt on so many occasions when these two have been on the crease. Tendulkar and Dravid put together 119 runs for the third wicket in 40 overs and there was just about half an hour to go before the close of play when Malinga came on to bowl.

Malinga’s spell on Wednesday evening turned the Test decisively in Sri Lanka’s favour. With the ball reversing Malinga had Dravid flicking a full delivery with Sangakkara waiting for the uppish shot at leg gully. In his next over Malinga had Tendulkar turning the face of his bat to another full delivery expecting the shiny side to take the ball towards his leg stump but the ball somehow held its line and missed the bat to hit the Master’s pad.

Resurrection after that double blow became impossible as VVS Laxman was left stranded after India lost Yuvraj towards end of play and Dhoni early the next morning. Harbhajan had an extremely poor match both with bat and ball but the tail added some vital runs to give Lanka at least something to chase. Sri Lanka in Murali and Malinga had two strike bowlers who delivered at crucial junctures while India had no one who was consistently effective.

At Leeds Pakistan bowled Australia for 88 runs in helpful conditions after Ponting had won the toss and decided to bat. Mohammad Aamer and Asif took three wickets each and Umar Gul picked up two in an excellent display of swing bowling. Pakistan backed up the bowling effort by positive batting and made 248. Australia then came out to bat 170 runs behind in the second innings and Aamer started brilliantly by hitting an ideal length and line right from his first ball. He was unlucky not to have had Ponting given lbw off the first ball the Aussie captain played. The nineteen-year-old Aamer bowling at a lively pace and getting the ball to talk is pure delight to watch.

The bowling attack of Pakistan has looked far superior to that of Australia but their batting lacks experience and that is what cost them the game at Sydney in January. The batting and the anxiety that a raw bowling attack can have—in Sydney Australia was on the mat at 257 for 8 in their second innings. Just 51 runs ahead and Hussey standing with Peter Siddle and Bollinger to follow; the ninth wicket added 123 runs. Chasing 176 for a win Pakistan were bowled out for 139.

In the Galle Test match India, the number 1 Test team in the world at the moment, has looked extremely poor and despite one full day being washed out Sri Lanka had an easy win. Apart from a brief period on the third day the bowling attack was toothless—Herath and Malinga at number 8 and 9 scored 80 and 64 runs respectively—and the strong batting line-up has also not been good enough for a rescue.

It would now require a lot of character for India to come back in this Test series and hold on to their number one position. It would also be interesting to see if Pakistan can level the two-Test series at Leeds. This is a joyous time for the cricket fan.

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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.

Phenomenal Tendulkar Kills The Debate

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Sachin Tendulkar is his own competition and it seems like he is quite unmindful of the fact that his business is the intrinsically-competitive arena of international sports. He keeps pushing his limits to come up with goods that no one else seems to be trading in. Yesterday he scaled a peak higher than the Mount Everest. A peak that did not exist before he set out to conquer it in the afternoon of February 24, 2010; just two months shy of his 37th birthday on April 24—and 22 years after he had shared that record partnership of over 600 runs that brought two schoolboys to the forefront.

Would Neville Cardus have called this Little Master ‘A devastating rarity: A genius with an eye for business?’ I presume he would have said something even greater as Tendulkar apart from being the efficient and consistent run-maker is also a classically-beautiful player to watch. He is efficient like a well-oiled and calibrated machine; only that no machine can be so joyous or can spread so much joy as the Little Master. He dedicated his innings to you and me; to the fans saying that their support was crucial during days when there was no rain.

His adaptability puts him way above any batsman who has ever played the game. The only comparison that makes some sense is with the great Sir Donald Bradman, who played just one form of the game and more importantly played his cricket in just nine grounds against four oppositions. Tendulkar, as I had mentioned in an article before, played on 32 different surfaces before he first played a Test on a ground where he had played a game before. One would have to seriously devote an hour or two to count all the various grounds where he has played Test or One Day International innings.

On top of that he has also had to live the life of a man who can’t pass through anywhere in India without everything going berserk. Tendulkar can’t go and hang around in one of his businesses on the eve of a Test match. Hell, he can’t even drive a car in his home country or go for a casual walk in any part of India. I can say it with certainty that if he lands up in a quiet hamlet like Dalhousie, the residents of the hills having a devil-may-care attitude would all congregate in the small and tidy Mall of the remote hill station to mob this phenomenally-loved son of the Indian soil. And I mean the old grandmas as well.

He adapts to alien situations and surfaces as if they were his backyard and is completely at ease with two diametrically-different forms of the game: 47 hundreds in Test matches and 46 in limited overs. With the kind of form he was suffering from around the injury years during the middle part of the decade that has just gone, it is an astonishing achievement that his Test match hundreds have caught up and then gone ahead of his ODI tally—the ODI numbers were much higher a few years ago.

Yesterday he made an unbeaten double hundred in a 50-over match against a very good South African attack on a surface that was good for batting. He got the strike on the third ball of the first over that Dale Steyn bowled and he played the first four balls that were shaping away right from the middle of the bat for no runs. One run came from that ideal first over where Steyn could not hold on to a tough chance that Sehwag gave on the second ball of the over.

Tendulkar took the first four balls to play himself in and then he hit two gorgeous fours off Parnell in the second over and then another one to Steyn in the third over and the rollicking show started. The BBC said: Tendulkar, whose previous best one-day knock was the 186 not out that he scored against New Zealand in 1999, is already the leading run-scorer in Test and ODI cricket. But to have reached such a landmark, with a single in the final over, only serves to underline his class and add to the legacy that already surrounds arguably the finest batsman to have played the game.

Tendulkar raised his 100 in 90 balls with the help of 13 fours; all of them odd in the sense that each one of them stood out as a perfect stroke. In his last two Test matches Tendulkar got hundreds against South Africa but got out shortly after that but here there was no letting up. Immediately after getting to a hundred he pulled Kallis for a four and then smashed one straight over the bowler’s head that went like a projectile. Then he took care of Duminy by stepping out to get his first six and drilled a four again over the bowler’s head. Karthik played a wonderful hand and was gone in the 34th over having made a very fluent 79.

In walked Yusuf Pathan and he negotiated Parnell’s over safely but without adding to the scoreboard. India took the batting powerplay and South Africa brought back Steyn for the 35th over. Steyn bowled full and outside the off stump and Tendulkar had to stretch to reach. The second ball had been dispatched to the boundary and Tendulkar missed the third and the fourth but he changed his plan for the fifth ball and walked across to the offside to flick the full ball between square-leg and mid-wicket. This is the order in which the runs came in the five power-play overs: 9, 8, 17, 18, 11. In five overs 63 runs were made and Pathan went from zero to 29 and Tendulkar added 33 to go up to 157 and there was a wide.

Then there was a sensational partnership of 101 in 8.5 overs and the only one of the innings that Tendulkar did not dominate in terms of runs as Dhoni shredded the attack. He was cramping a bit but he summoned the energy to reach the summit.

A blog in BBC began by saying: “How does Sachin Tendulkar do it? How does a 36-year-old cricketer stay at the top of the game for 20 years? How does he retain this insatiable hunger for achievement after scoring more than 30,000 runs in the long (Test) and shorter (50 over) versions of the game?”

He just simply loves doing it; his passion and love for the game makes it possible. The genius is constantly learning and is always working on his game. In the last tour to Australia when he scored a hundred in the Sydney Test he was asked in the post-day interview about the jinx of 90s that had plagued him throughout the previous year. Tendulkar said ‘I was getting into bad habits and I needed to break them this year’. Simply brilliant.

Since that day Tendulkar has made 8 Test match hundreds and 5 One Day International hundreds. The ODI hundreds were all hailed as one of his best until he went on to upstage them; the 117 not out he made while chasing in the first Commonwealth Bank Series final in Sydney, the 163 retired hurt he made in Christchurch where he could have got a double but he took the decision to not take a chance with a niggle before the Test series. The 138 in a final against Sri Lanka in Colombo was another match-winning knock; and then that tremendous 175 that could not see his side home but was hailed as his best-ever hundred coming under the pressure of chasing 350. Now he’s got the first double hundred in an ODI; an unbeaten 200 against a good attack.

The last word must go to one fresh and insightful voice in the commentary box; that of former England captain Naseer Hussain: “I have never quite liked comparisons between great players, but after Wednesday’s game it must be said—Sachin Tendulkar is the greatest batsman of all time.

Better than Brian Lara and Ricky Ponting, the other two great players of my era. Better than Sir Viv Richards, Sunil Gavaskar and Allan Border. And I would even say better than Sir Don Bradman himself.”

The Australian Coverage Was An Embarrassment

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Some publications and cricket writers in Australia have a tendency to pounce on a visiting team if they have an indifferent start to their campaign or lose the first match badly. The press takes no time in writing them off as spoilers of a summer entertainment that is considered a natural right of the Australian public that enjoys healthy competition. Apart from a few brilliant writers like Gideon Haigh, respected the world over and those like Greg Baum and Peter Roebuck who give every visiting side its due; a lot of the Australian media sometimes forgets the essential thing while writing about visitors: the context. The West Indies have been the latest sufferers after their capitulation inside three days at the Woolloongabba, Brisbane.

The coverage accorded the West Indies after their defeat inside three days at the Gabba even by the expected low standards was harsh. It is a different matter that West Indies picked themselves up and the next match was a draw and the loss at Perth was close and could have easily gone the other way. Australia made 520 batting first and when the West Indies came out it was a Gayle thunderstorm and not the Fremantle Doctor that struck the WACA.

Gayle was the first wicket to fall having made 102 in 72 balls out of the total of 136 runs for the first wicket; he struck nine fours and six sixes in the counterattack. The team could only manage 312 and that gave Australia a lead of 208 going into the second innings. The West Indies blew the Aussies apart for 150 in the second innings and in their chase of 359 runs just fell short by 36 runs.

During India’s 2003-04 tour of Australia, Steve Waugh’s farewell series, the two words that India heard in the lead up to the first Test at the Gabba were ‘chin music.’ The Gabba is an Australian fortress where the last time Australia lost was in 1988 against the West Indies and for India in Brisbane what could one say in a preview. “Playing an Indian team softened by early defeat at Brisbane—as seems inevitable—will be the perfect platform to greater things. Steve Waugh’s retirement at the end of this series might symbolise, to the sentimental, the end of an era—but by no means will that bring an end to Australia’s dominance in world cricket,” wrote Amit Varma of Wisden Cricinfo India. Seldom have series results been predicted before even a ball is bowled but such was Australia’s domination in home conditions that it is the Indian team that should be hailed for their performance rather than admonishing the writer for getting his series preview wrong. It was a 1-1 draw and Steve Waugh’s farewell series was saved more by Steve Bucknor and Billy Bowden in the second innings in Sydney than by their batsmen. It has been written about and the Cricinfo coverage can be accessed to see the merit in this assertion.

Veteran writer and commentator on Caribbean cricket Tony Cozier said that no one is more painfully aware of the rapid disintegration of West Indies cricket than West Indians themselves. The proof has been before our eyes for at least a decade now, at our once-filled grounds, on our television screens, in our newspapers.

“For all that, the abuse and scorn heaped on the team in the Australian press following its defeat in the first Test in Brisbane last week—by an innings and in three days—was undeserved. Comparisons with Australia’s similar decline in the 1980s, when their overall win-lost ratio in 92 Tests was 18-36 (5-16 against West Indies), were conveniently ignored.

Instead, we had this supercilious comment from Malcolm Conn, the long-serving writer for the Australian: ‘Have the West Indies really sent their full-strength team to Australia? Surely the real team must be still on strike, because if this is the best the combined might of the Caribbean can muster, then Test cricket is in terminal decline.’

He was in the Caribbean with the Australian team in 1984 when West Indies did not lose a single second innings wicket in the five Tests, winning the series 3-0 on the way to six successive victories. As I recall, no one suggested then that Test cricket was in terminal decline because of it.

Nor was there any consideration by the West Indies board that the series ‘should be cancelled and all tickets refunded’, the line Ben Dorries came up with in the Brisbane Courier-Mail after the Brisbane match. And, as bad as the Aussies were back then, they were not chided that their Test cricket had become ‘a complete and utter joke’, another of Dorries’ pearls.

Fortunately there are those of substance and influence with a more sympathetic, and realistic, take on West Indies cricket, men such as Greg Chappell. “I’m hopeful that some of the work that’s being done to help West Indian cricket become strong again is successful because I think they’re a very important member of the cricket family,” Chappell said.”

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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