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Posts Tagged ‘Virat Kohli

The Nagpur Nightmare Can Haunt India

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In the build-up to India’s most-crucial Group stage clash, captain MS Dhoni in his pre-match talk a day before stressed on the importance of a start from the trio at the top that could then allow the explosive middle-order to play its A-game. “If we have slightly longer partnerships at the top, the explosive power of our middle and lower-middle order can be used more in the positive way,” he said.

Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, and Virat Kohli form the technically-accomplished core of India’s top order and Sehwag as a devastating plunderer completes the picture. On Saturday, when India came out to bat in front of a full house the tension in the atmosphere was palpable. Sehwag hit a boundary off the first ball and was then beaten a couple of times in the opening over by Steyn. Morkel came from the other end as Tendulkar took guard to face his first ball of the match. Unlike Sehwag, the Master betrayed no nerves and played his first ball on the up, right under his eyes, with his front foot movement so precise that it looked calibrated to the last millimetre. He opened his account with a single of that first ball and Sehwag was back on strike. The third ball took the edge and went slightly to the right of van Wyk, who couldn’t move a muscle as the ball raced to the fence and Sehwag got a reprieve.

Morkel was bowling with good speed and extracting disconcerting bounce making it difficult for Sehwag but Steyn leaked runs from the other end. Lance Klusener had said the previous day that playing at home India would feel the heat but it was the South Africans who looked dazed at the start. A regulation catch was dropped in the second over and the third over went for 14 with an overthrow that cost five and a huge wide by Steyn another five. Morkel overstepped in his second over and was lucky India couldn’t cash in on the free hit. It was a frenetic start despite Morkel keeping things tight by giving just 9 of his first two overs.

The momentum shifted decisively in Morkel’s third and the innings’ sixth over when the floodgates opened with three hits to the fence. At the end of 5 overs India had 33 on the board and they leaped to 70 in just three more overs with the help of eight boundaries; Morkel conceding six of them in his two overs. At the end of 15 overs the scoreboard read 128 for no loss; Sehwag was 62 in 54 balls and Tendulkar was 57 in just 37 balls.

On the big stage of a pressure game Tendulkar was at his absolute best and it is difficult to describe how beautifully and brilliantly he batted from that first ball onwards. It was a knock that had the stamp of inevitability. He knew he was going to get the runs and if getting them had meant dodging bullets he would have done that and yet stood his ground. Even by the lofty standards of the Master this was a special knock in a crunch game where the nerves could have been frayed at the start. A commentator reflected on the first 25 overs or so saying that amidst all the commotion at the centre—where catches slipped, the South Africans conceded extra runs on more than one occasion due to overthrows, the world’s premier fast bowler lost it in the third over of the innings and conceded 14 runs, and Graeme Smith didn’t know where to hide—one man was calmness personified.

There has been a lot of useless talk before the World Cup about doing it for Tendulkar; useless because the World Cup is not about individuals. But if one were to just consider it for argument’s sake then here was a perfect stage set by the genius and it only needed some backing up. India’s veteran cricket writer R. Mohan in his beautiful piece said, “It takes far more than the world’s greatest batsman to swing an ODI even if he is Superman who once scored a double century to seal a game.” In the 90s Tendulkar did it alone on many occasions as he knew that his wicket meant the game was done for India. This is a different team though and he may well have been under added pressure to play the big shots in the powerplay with the knowledge that traditional accumulation would deny his team extra runs as the power-hitters were in the dressing room. He now knows better.

Dale Steyn, the man of the match in Nagpur, picked up 5 wickets but for his first seven overs he toiled hard and went for 46 runs without a wicket to show. His partner Morkel bowled six overs for 50 runs with the wickets column being empty. The threat was not just taken care of but had been dismissed out of sight.

What then happened to India? How come the explosive batting line-up Dhoni was referring to went off like a cheap cracker? It wasn’t a choke as umpteen newspapers proclaimed in bold and big headlines on the front as well as the sports pages. A choke happens in a situation where a team has victory in sight but to get there it has to absorb some pressure (little or big) and not let the situation, the opposition, or its own hesitancy/lack of belief get to it—when it gets to the team you can say they choked. At 267 for 1 in 39.3 overs with Steyn having just three overs left and India having nine wickets in hand even the remote possibility of pressure had been taken out of the equation. What unfolded was far worse than a choke as India imploded without any pressure at all. And unlike a choke, where a team loses wickets by being tentative, India blazed its way to hell. They fuelled and lit their own pyre.

The first problem was the batting order and it started with number three. Gambhir is a really good player and if an early wicket had fallen he was an ideal choice but he has not been in the best of form and a crunch game was not the time where he should have been sent up to find his feet, especially after a blazing start. Virat Kohli has been in terrific touch for more than a year now and he also did exceptionally-well in South Africa earlier this year and India needed a player high on confidence and scoring freely without risk to allow Tendulkar to breathe easy for a while. Kohli at number seven is a complete waste as he is not someone who bludgeons the ball but plays conventional and smart cricket.

The combined average for Kohli at number 3 and 4 is 52.90 while at number 6 and 7 it drops to 12.66. Dhoni picked on the top order needlessly as they have done reasonably-well in the tournament and his emphasis on the explosive game of the middle-order belies its fragility and builds a case for wanton hitting.

South Africa was under the pump at 144 for 1 after 18 overs and Smith would have given his life for a sedate partnership compared to the carnage that had taken place. The next 18 overs yielded just 93 runs and South Africa clawed their way back into the contest. Even Tendulkar lost the pace of his innings with Gambhir finding it difficult to break free.

The bigger mistake was to send Yusuf Pathan up the order and I am not saying this out of retrospective intelligence. The move was disastrous for two reasons and the first is that the team management should have considered how Pathan has done in different situations. In 9 innings before Nagpur where he has batted up the order (batting positions number 3, 4, and 5) Pathan averages 14.11 with three ducks and two single-digit scores and not a single half-century—that average has now fallen to 12.70. In 26 innings at number 6 and 7 Pathan has an average of 42 with two hundreds and three fifties.

It is no secret that Pathan struggles against fast bowling and since India had already taken a powerplay, South Africa was always going to use their strength and would not have foolishly obliged the Indians by bringing on a spinner against Pathan. The other reason why his promotion was a mistake has to do with the message that it sends to the dressing room. It means that we are going hell for leather even at the cost of digging our own grave. Was the middle-order under undue pressure to cash in big time after a great start to demonstrate that the captain’s belief in their explosive abilities was not unfounded?

This game has made it clear that the explosive middle-order can implode any moment and they should be chastised for their approach rather than given encouragement for their suicidal ways. India’s middle-order showed a complete lack of understanding of the game’s situation. Dhoni himself could do nothing to take charge of the situation and shepherd India at the finishing line. It wasn’t an epic fightback that brought South Africa back into the game and Steyn didn’t bowl a hostile and unplayable spell. It was a complete abrogation of responsibility by everyone bar the trio at the top that let South Africa in.

Tinkering with the batting order was not a good example of out of the box thinking. A good one would have been to take the batting powerplay right after 15 overs with the instruction of playing normal cricket to Sehwag and Tendulkar. That would have caught the South Africans by surprise and it would have forced Smith’s hand to either bring back his strike bowlers, who had gone for plenty, or operate with lesser bowlers to two set players in a powerplay. Either way India would have benefited and could have been above 170/180 in 20 overs without breaking a sweat. And South Africa would have been gutted with the game killed for them.

Instead this game has thrown India’s campaign in disarray and though this team has shown character and bounced back on several occasions the biggest disadvantage here is the lift that the South African team would have got from it. They were dead and buried after the England game and were down and out against India after just 25 overs before India handed over the impetus to them. Graeme Smith saying that it is a massive win for us is actually an understatement.

There are matches that have little bearing on a team’s campaign bar their result and there are those that have psychological implications that go well beyond the immediate and sow seeds of self-doubt in the camp. This match potentially has the power of going beyond the Saturday and India would do well to remember the lessons and forget the game. How they bounce back from here would be the thing to watch out for and it would be very interesting to see their approach if they meet South Africa again in the tournament.

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 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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