Archive for February, 2010

When cricket’s most gentle man looked at the skies to thank God and his father yesterday, there was another set of eyes that watched him with a twinkle. It was none other than Sir Donald George Bradman who came to admire one of cricket’s greatest innings, exactly nine years after his soul departed on February 25, 2001.

Though it was a different brand of cricket than what Sir Don mastered, it left behind the Laras and the Pontings to christen Sachin Tendulkar as the new God of world cricket. By scoring a double century in ODIs, Sachin stamped his heir-apparent status to Sir Don’s legacy. After this, we can safely prefix Sir Don’s ‘greatest-batsman’ status with the word ‘arguably’.

Sachin is one of those dyed-in-the-wool cricketers who blossom more in their twilight. In Gwalior, Sachin tipped South Africa the wink in the second over itself when he first drove and then clipped Parnell for consecutive fours. Kallis threw the ball to every Tom, Dick and Harry who could bowl but Sachin was relentlessly in the zone. That he faced 147 balls – almost half of the overs – tells you how ably the strike was rotated by Karthik who faced 85 balls for his 79. He was keen as mustard to get his maiden ODI ton but sadly missed out.

Sachin’s destiny is penned in a manner where he is the first to reach most of the milestones. Probably that is the reason why he hasn’t made a triple hundred in Tests, but that’s not a complaint. If Nasser Hussain is to be believed, Sachin has now surpassed every name is the history of cricket. The former English captain said, “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.”

Talking beyond the statistics and the stature of this massacre, it’s hard to recall any post-independence Indian who has handled the pressure and expectations as well as Sachin. Sara and Arjun not only inherit cricket from their father but also the feet-on-ground attitude that plays a big role in handling pressure and fame at the top. This characteristic of Sachin, coupled with his achievements, makes us doubt if there would be another Sachin Tendulkar, ever.

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Before doling out bouquets to India’s efforts at the Eden Gardens, a moment needs to be spared to stand up and applaud the heroics of Hashim Amla who was the only ‘undefeated’ South African in every sense of the word.

It was an inning of limitless concentration, flawless technique and class and ultra fitness that remained unscathed among the ruins of SA batsmen. India failed to craft a delivery to get the better of a dogged Amla who refused to wilt under piles of pressure exerted by Harbhajan and the state of the game. Graeme Smith aptly defined him as “our glue at No. 3.” The ‘glue’ was in no mood to de-adhese from the wicket and India almost gave up on getting him out and concentrated on the opposite end.

It would be hard to find another nearly match-saving inning parallel to Amla’s marathon knock that lasted 499 minutes and 394 balls. That he got 123 runs en route is only noteworthy for the feat of scoring a hundred in each inning of a Test. It was the time and deliveries he consumed that almost rowed the match towards a draw.

The morning began with a jaw-dropping site of Zaheer sitting in the Indian balcony and not available to bowl. Reduced to just three regular bowlers, spinners had to share most of the attack but Ishant still had a role to play. The first wicket of Prince was a hard-earned one but when it came, it was soon followed by another when Mishra trapped AB.

Another two wickets came quickly after lunch when Harbhajan took his tally to four by scalping Duminy and Steyn in quick succession and the scorecard read 180/7. But this was the start of stiff resistance displayed by SA lower order in support to Amla. It was a disappointing bowling effort for the rest of the post-lunch session. While Mishra was getting easily read by Amla and Parnell, Harbhajan kept a tight leash without much success. New ball was taken but Ishant bowled his most unimpressive spell of the match and the duo remained unseparated at tea.

Ishant was not getting any favors from the crowd but Dhoni persisted with the Delhi seamer after tea and a different Ishant surfaced. He got rid of Parnell soon and sucked Harris into one outside off after he was dropped on zero by Badrinath. Twenty-two overs remained when Morkel joined Amla at the crease.

While the crowd waited to burst into celebrations any moment, Amla and Morkel were counting overs. The word, however, was that the match would continue until 4:39 p.m. even if those 22 overs were completed. Soon from counting overs, time came when SA starting counting balls. With just seven overs left, Dhoni summoned Sachin to script a climax in India’s favor.  He bowled a couple of overs and tried to make use of the rough outside Morkel’s off stump but couldn’t get one sneak through or take an edge.

Finally, it was left to Eden’s favorite son, after Saurav Ganguly, to do what he always does here and that’s take wickets. Harbhajan – the turbanator – signaled the start of wild celebrations on and off the field by trapping his fifth victim (5/59), Morne Morkel, in front. This led to a deafening roar in the ground and the noise was relentless. Bhajji ran all the way to the boundary and didn’t hide his emotions one bit in a pumped-up display of celebrating India’s win and thus retaining the crown of No. 1 Test team in the world.

It was one of the most nerve-jangling Test match one could ever witness. Interestingly, South Africa played a couple like this back home against England recently but have been at the receiving end of all three. Harbhajan was excellent in that he never looked like giving up and kept bowling in the right areas. After Nagpur, there were talks of dropping him but he buried that all at his favorite venue, the Eden Gardens, Kolkata.

“Well, that’s four SA bowlers with a ton against their names – perhaps its Smith who should declare now.” This statement written on the cricket website cricinfo.com laid bare the state of the deciding Test match at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata. The only facet it doesn’t highlight is that while four SA bowlers gave away more than a hundred runs, four Indian batsmen scored more than a hundred runs.

Beginning day three at 342/5, Dhoni declaring at 643/6 hardly figured among possible scenarios. But then the Indian skipper and VVS had other ideas on joining each other. Mishra’s contribution of 28 runs couldn’t be undermined either as he blunted whatever SA were up to on a fresh morning. He was sent back by Morkel at the score of 384. Another wicket there would have let SA step on the Indian tail but instead a South African nightmare was scripted.

SA couldn’t believe their bad luck when Duminy once again dropped a catch; this time at point and of VVS who was on 48. He too made them pay just like Sehwag and went on to score 143 not out. Dhoni’s knock (132 not out) was an example of how to place an inning, as he first garnered runs and then put on an attacking garb once the total went past 550.

As if a partnership of 249 between Sehwag and Sachin wasn’t enough to injure the visitors, Dhoni and VVS rubbed salt into SA wounds by putting together an unbroken 259-run stand when Dhoni decided to declare at 643/6, a deficit of 347 runs for SA to erase. Light faded earlier than the first two days and Smith and Petersen took it without any hesitation whatsoever at 6/0 in 0.5 overs.

With six full sessions left to play in the match and a massive lead of 347 before them, SA batsmen have to show a lot of character and bat out of their skins. Weathermen have some good news for Smith & Co with overcast conditions and possible showers forecast on day 4. India, however, would have hoped to get 5-6 overs in by stumps on day three and may be a wicket or two but light once again was on SA side and spared the tourist some anxious moments.

All said and done, two remaining days – rain/bad-light delays included – should allow for enough play for India to take 10 wickets and score 100-odd runs if SA can take it that far. I, though, doubt India needing to bat again. Let’s see!

The dreaded third session of Kolkata Tests lived up to its reputation and claimed Indian hopes Sachin and Sehwag after an epic 249-run partnership that broke just short of assuming a match-winning status.

India gave unexpected 30 runs before claiming the last SA wicket at the score of 296 and had the pressure of opening well against a disciplined SA attack. Sehwag, however, remained unaware of any word like pressure and started bludgeoning the bowlers to all parts of the ground. Gambhir too looked pretty fluent before getting run out against the run of play for no fault of his. Sehwag called his partner for a second run but turned him away mid way, leaving no chance for Gambhir to return back. Both had added 73 by then in no time and the platform was set.

Murali Vijay striding in put to rest all talks of Laxman being promoted to number three. He was tested from the word go with short-pitched stuff and never looked in. Morkel finally added him to his wicket-shopping cart and the scoreboard wore a worrying look at 83/2. Sachin and Sehwag knew from the outset that they had to take the responsibility in light of a fragile batting line up with Dravid and Yuvraj missing.

They went from strength to strength and never let the SA bowlers take control or dictate terms. Sehwag was his attacking best and Sachin was intent on building his inning and rotating the strike. Sehwag continued to add to his reputation against SA and rocketed to his 19th hundred in just 87 balls. Sachin never remained silent either but read the game well and let Sehwag do bulk of the scoring, while keeping a check on his partner’s selection of shots. It wasn’t long before Sachin reached his 47th Test ton and only the second at the Eden Gardens.

The partnership never gave SA any chance or leeway except on two occasions when Sehwag was let off by Duminy and AB DeVilliers at 47 and 119, respectively. Harris tried his best to bowl outside the leg stump but Ian Gould was in no mood to show any leniency and wided him whenever he considered the delivery unplayable and/or negative. While doing this, Harris brought to his name an unwelcome world record of bowling the most number of wides (10) in a Test match.

But it was the third session that again turned out to be the culprit in a Kolkata Test. Seven wickets fell on day one and everyone expected something similar on day two as well. Indians almost scraped through unscathed until Smith brought in part-timer Duminy to undo his dropped chance earlier. He struck gold immediately by removing the dangerous Sehwag for a stroke-filled inning of 165.

It would be fair to add that light played against India as it held on for longer than it did on day one. It was during that extended period that India lost the precious wicket of Sachin (106) to Harris and also Badrinath who couldn’t keep out Steyn’s reverse swing. At last, Dhoni had to send in Mishra as night watchman. Light was offered almost soon after and Laxman and Mishra accepted that gleefully with the score at 342/5 and a lead of 46 runs.

It would be fair to say that India bagged the honors on day 2 but losing three wickets in the space of 11 runs has brought SA right back in it. The new ball will be due in another four overs and with a newish pair on the crease, Steyn and Morkel will steam in and bowl with their tail up to bundle up India inside 400.

India, on its part, would look to add at least another 100 runs to stretch the lead to around 150. Looking at how the pitch behaved, it’s difficult to see it letting out snakes in the third inning but batting in the fourth inning will surely be a challenge that India would want to keep at bare minimum. Intriguing!

It was a busy day for me personally and frankly speaking, day 2 of the Nagpur Test didn’t have much different happening from day 1, with SA once again winning the honors in all three sessions.

The proceedings belonged, no doubt, to Amla who’s studious double hundred took his team on the other side of 550, almost bringing curtains down on India’s chances of winning. Indian bowlers kept toiling away and looked more like waiting for Smith’s declaration to stretch their legs. It was the same story as day one, except that Kallis couldn’t get going and once again missed a double hundred on offer. Amla (253) feasted on a tired Indian attack to carry his bat through.

The most interesting aspect of today’s events was the way DeVilliers started playing from the word go. He was coming down the track to spinners almost every other ball. The intent didn’t seem attacking, rather it looked like a ploy to scuff up the pitch that would aid Harris when he comes to bowl. The ball was already turning and if DeVilliers did his job, Indians could be in for a torrid time when the South African left-armer comes to bowl. That’s a mouth-watering battle on offer on day 3.

My laptop’s battery is already shouting, which means I can’t go any further today. See you tomorrow!

Was the wicket a shirt-front, did the South Africans bat well or was it that the Indians bowled badly? Whatever be the reason, nothing can be taken away from the Kallis-Amla combine and none but Zaheer Khan can hold his head high among the Indian bowlers.

Winning the toss and batting was no doubt vital but that’s not where the game ends; in fact, that’s where it begins. If a team doesn’t get what it wanted, that’s more reason to double up the effort since the opposition is already at advantage, courtesy the toss and injuries to Laxman and Rohit Sharma, which brought Badrinath into the eleven along with Wridhiman Saha who made a lucky debut.

Things didn’t begin badly for India, rather it was all hunky-dory with South Africa reeling at 6/2. Prince was at the receiving end of a snorter from Zaheer that took the shoulder of his bat and ballooned up in the air for Dhoni. The Zaheer-Smith rivalry continued from where it left in South Africa but it was the Indian left-armer who once again got the better of South African skipper.

Kallis and Amla bat well together but nobody had a clue that the wellness would stitch together a 285-run unbroken partnership and guide the African safari to safer territory. They made Dhoni’s moves look ordinary but the credit, or the lack of it, for that goes to the Indian spinners who hardly troubled historically spin-scary Proteas. On the contrary, Kallis and Amla looked more at ease against spin than pace.

Harbhajan has now been struggling for long and it was nothing different today at Nagpur. The tide may turn in his favor tomorrow but that doesn’t mean his lifeless performance on day 1 should be overlooked. He and Zaheer share the responsibility of taking most of the 20 wickets in a Test. If even one of them doesn’t fire, efforts of the other are wasted. That’s what we saw today. Ideally, early wickets from seamers should help spinners settle in and tighten the grip but Harbhajan and Mishra couldn’t do that. To make the matters worse, Harbhajan was the costliest of Indian bowlers giving away 3.85 runs per over.

Let us admit that Indians looked flat or were flattened by an imposing partnership between Kallis (159 not out) and Amla (115 not out) that took their team to 291/2 at stumps. Things already look ominous for India and if the pacers fail to make use of the newish ball tomorrow morning, there is no hope in sight with uninspiring spinners.