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{October 21, 2008}   India’s winning habit

Trucks in the Punjab are famous for the one-line messages they carry. One of the typically earthy ones is, “Vekhi ja, par chedi na [Keep watching my truck, but don’t fiddle around].” For four days and a bit in Mohali, India were the runaway truck that Australia could only watch and do nothing about.

It is a rare happening: When was the last time a team toyed around with Australia? When was the last time Australia were so dominated? One has to go back more than 10 years, to the same opposition and country, to Eden Gardens 1997-98. So long ago that only four players, on both sides, from that Test played in this match. Between Eden Gardens and Mohali, Australia played 117 matches, losing 15, without being so completely outplayed even once.

What would be more satisfactory for India, though, is that this win didn’t come on a crumbling dustbowl; home advantage counted for nought this time. It was a good batting track, looking like any Australian pitch, with a little less bounce, on the first day. Contrast this with Eden Gardens 1998, when India played with three spinners, and Sourav Ganguly opened the bowling. Over the last five days, though, and on the same pitch, the ball would lose all potency the moment it was handled by Australian bowlers.

To be fair to the Australians, this isn’t the same team that dominated the world over the last decade. Some of the best players in that side – Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer – have gone. Also, they embarked on this tour – possibly their toughest assignment of recent times – without Andrew Symonds; discipline problem or not, it’s a mistake they may yet come to regret. Even so, it would take a special effort to put the boot in, simply because of their winning habit and the belief that they can pull themselves out of any kind of strife.

It’s perhaps fitting that this defeat has been inflicted by India, who have stood up to Australia, competed against them more consistently than any other team in the past decade. And India are the only team who constantly threaten to outskill them: once it was their mysterious spin bowling and imperious batting, here the biggest difference between the teams was the quality of the pace bowling.

While Australia struggled for any disconcerting movement, the Indian bowlers got prodigious swing, both conventional and reverse. A TV split-screen visual of the six-over-old ball being used by both the teams told a story. While the one Australia used was scuffed up all over, the one India used had two markedly different sides, shiny and rough. That meant the ball started reversing as early as in the ninth over at times, a sensational phenomenon. And since it’s still hard and new that early, as MS Dhoni suggested, it was all the more difficult to face. “The ball [from Ishant Sharma] that got me would get me 95 times out of 100,” Ricky Ponting confessed.

The batsmen and the spinners did their job too. Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag gave India two fiery starts, putting Australia on the back foot right away. The middle order revived them after a brief blip. Amit Mishra’s debut was phenomenal, a throwback to the old days of classical legspin bowling. And Harbhajan Singh fast-tracked Australia to their demise in the second innings.

Right from the toss, India did little wrong. The one potentially distracting period was when Tendulkar moved towards his record but India regrouped well. They were aggressive throughout, and there wasn’t a single player in the side they needed to hide. You could say they had nine potential Man-of-the-Match winners, something we rarely see with the Indian team. Perth, earlier this year, was a team performance, but not nearly as destructive.

It can be argued the destruction started even before the toss. Perhaps Zaheer Khan had sensed in Bangalore that this Australian team could do with some dominating. The debate over who won the moral victory in Bangalore can continue but it’s clear who gained more from that result.

Two moments summed up the match for India and Australia. One of them came early on the second day. India had contrived to keep Australia in the game on day one, even though the latter chased leather throughout the day. At 326 for 6, India were still capable of being bundled out for a below-par total. In walked Dhoni, and he got a bouncer first-up. He hooked that for four, then hit another for a six, and “the most defensive side in a long time” was being taken to the cleaners.

Then, on the fourth morning, India played Australia at their own game, applying ruthlessness and urgency – and clarity of thought – in their approach to setting the target, and giving themselves close to 130 overs to bowl out a side low on confidence. And when Matthew Hayden tried to intimidate the bowlers, they didn’t take a step back. The inevitable soon happened and, as it usually happens in India, it happened too fast once it started.

Naturally Dhoni was pleased with his team’s effort. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said. “Especially at one time in the first innings, they were 22 from 13 overs. I said to Rahul [Dravid], ‘Look at the board, we won’t see that again.'”

The way this Indian team is playing, don’t bet on it.

Source : CNN IBN



The stifling suspense and the prolonged wait finally came to an end as Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar  on Friday (October 17) emerged as the highest run-accumulator in Test cricket’s history, staking a legitimate claim as the best batsman cricket has known since Don Bradman, both aesthetically and statistically.

After his mission incomplete in Bangalore, Tendulkar redeemed himself in Mohali in his 152nd Test and West Indian legend Brian Lara was toppled from the highest Test run-accumulator’s pedestal. Test debutant Peter Siddle sent down the first ball of the post-tea session. Tendulkar glided it to third man for three runs to surpass Lara’s record of 11,953 runs and raise the bar even higher for posterity.

Relieved to have achieved the milestone that eluded him in Bangalore, an overwhelmed Tendulkar took the helmet off and looked upwards in a silent prayer and suddenly all the hostility surrounding the Indo-Australian Test series evaporated as Ricky Ponting and his men came to shake hands with him.

Sourav Ganguly walked down from the non-striker’s end, patting him on the achievement and firecrackers went off around the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium in a pre-Diwali celebration to mark the golden moment in the history of Indian cricket.

Tendulkar arrived here with 11,939 runs against his name from 151 Tests, averaging 54.02 hitting 39 centuries in the process. His ODI record put together– he tops the run-accumulator’s chart there too with 16,361 runs — Tendulkar has scored more than 25,000 international runs with the help of a mind boggling (42+39) 81 centuries and 138 half-centuries.

And all those runs flowed from the blade of someone who, rather reluctantly, swapped leather-flinging with willow-wielding after a blunt Dennis Lillee told the 12-year-old aspiring fast bowler in a Chennai camp that he had no hopes as a pacer. Or probably the blame actually lies with Waqar Younis.

Tendulkar was hit on the mouth by Waqar in his debut Test series in Pakistan with dripping blood drenching the shirt of the cuddly teen with curly hair. Nineteen long years since the incident and bowlers around the world continue to bleed even to this day for a folly of one of their predecessors. Worse, the torment is far from over.

Almost as a matter of revenge, Tendulkar lorded over the bowlers since that 1989 series, eclipsing virtually every batting record and piling on mountain of runs and setting new benchmarks for batsmanship in the process.

Impeccable technique, perfect temperament and unflinching commitment to his craft have made Tendulkar a paragon of all batting virtues and his single-minded determination and an incredible ability to insulate himself from anything unwarranted have only added to his aura.

With no real chink in his batting armour, bowling to him is often a trauma for the bowlers, although Shane Warne preferred to call it nightmare. Equipped with every shot in the book and endowed with the flair to blend routine with recherché, Tendulkar grew in stature with ever game before eventually attaining cult status. Don Bradman anointed him as his heir and euphoric Indians fans deified him.

He did burn his fingers with captaincy before renouncing it but the aura and idolatry remained intact. Unlike others, his name is not debated in selection meetings. They just enquire about his fitness. Loudmouth opponents like Australia refrain from sledging him, not as a favour but out of fear as it often brings out the best in Tendulkar. Bowlers fancy his scalp and whenever hit for a boundary, considers it comeuppance.

For his legion of fans, Tendulkar has been nothing sort of a messiah. Every time he walked out in the middle and took guard, he was expected to excel, regardless of opposition, condition and everything else. And on most occasions, Tendulkar did just that and his cult grew.

His impeccable demeanour on and off the field and a childish love for the game have endeared Tendulkar to all, making him a genuine ambassador of the game. With this new feather added to his already well-decorated cap, Tendulkar is now in a league of his own.

List of world’s top Test cricket batsmen after Sachin Tendulkar broke Brian Lara’s record to become the leading run scorer today (Name, country, Tests, runs, centuries):

Sachin Tendulkar (IND) 152* 11,955 39
Brian Lara (WIS) 131 11,953 34
Allan Border (AUS) 156 11,174 27
Steve Waugh (AUS) 168 10,927 32
Rahul Dravid (IND) 127* 10,341 25
Ricky Ponting (AUS) 121* 10,239 36
Sunil Gavaskar (IND) 125 10,122 34.

Besides Tendulkar, only Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting are the active cricketers in the list while Brian Lara, Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Sunil Gavaskar have already retired.



{May 28, 2008}   Australia Beat West Indies

Several concerns emerged from Australia’s effort in the first Test, where they were seriously challenged by the world’s No. 8 team, but the most worrying aspect was the form of Stuart MacGill. The team management has been adamant that MacGill remains the top spinner in Australia and can be a valuable asset for the next couple of years. His performance in Jamaica might have the selectors and coaches wondering if they spoke too soon after his return from surgery.

MacGill’s match figures of 4 for 143 look reasonable and he finished off the Test with two wickets in two balls when he removed West Indies’ No. 9 and No. 11 batsmen. The big problem was that he never seemed like getting a middle-order wicket in the second innings. On the fifth day of a match where the pitch was playing tricks, against a team not adept at handling high-quality spin, it was a telling result.

The timing was not ideal for MacGill, who is trying to convince his doubters that he is still a match-winner after having an operation on his right wrist in December. The surgery dealt with the carpal-tunnel syndrome that had troubled him in Hobart in November, when he had a miserable match against Sri Lanka and delivered some wild full tosses due to numbness in his hand.

He declared the operation a success and made a reasonable comeback in the Pura Cup, which makes it even more baffling that he was back to wayward ways at Sabina Park. MacGill has always been prone to sending down loose balls, but it was forgivable because so many other deliveries would be potential wicket-takers. Unfortunately, in his comeback Test, his ripping legbreaks were too often long-hops, while the full tosses remained.

His analysis flattered him. The two wickets to finish the game were genuine tailenders, while of his two successes in the first innings, the ball that got Shivnarine Chanderpaul was such an ordinary full toss that Chanderpaul himself, the most occasional of legspinners, would have been ashamed of it. He was also largely responsible for giving West Indies a sniff on the final day when his poor spell allowed Darren Sammy and Denesh Ramdin to build a handy partnership after Stuart Clark and Brett Lee, who rattled the top order, were taking a much-needed break.

For a man who shows little joy at picking up wickets and rarely appears satisfied on the field, it was strange that MacGill seemed so unperturbed by his struggles. Is the desire still there? He claims that he is desperate to play at the highest level for as long as possible, but if he changes his mind he has other things to fall back on, including a television career that began with a wine programme last year.

At 37, he is already looking older than his years – the grey crew cut doesn’t help – and after he also battled with a knee injury and general fitness late last year, there must be some lingering doubts in the minds of Australia’s decision-makers over whether he really is a long-term option. Their problem is that in the domestic scene the spin cupboard is alarmingly bare. Shane Warne always had a grand sense of timing and his announcement that he would consider an Ashes return – if asked – came at an awkward moment for MacGill.

Still, one bad match does not mean a man who has taken 207 Test wickets at a strike-rate of 53 should be written off. But what MacGill can count on is that he will be monitored very closely in the Caribbean.



et cetera