Archive for the ‘india’ Category

Pietersen: grit, graft and genius

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

I have been present at three of Kevin Pietersen’s five Test centuries at Lord’s.

I wasn’t present when he raised his bat after smearing the ball through the covers for four to bring up his 202*, but I was there to watch him lay the cornerstone, making bricks out of mud and constructing the foundation of a major personal achievement and a big England total through hard bloody graft.

The first day of this Test was a frustrating one for spectators, topped and tailed by rain, runs at a premium, Zaheer Khan and Praveen Kumar threatening with the new ball under a gloomy sky that made it hoop and swing.

I only go to Lord’s about twice a year these days – the provincial on day-release to the Big Smoke – but it’s a magical place even when it’s raining. I’m still recovering two days later due to acute shoulder knack after carrying all the assorted junk needed for a day at the cricket when the weathermen can’t make up their minds as to when it’s likely to chuck it down, and besides, one never knows when one will miss one’s last train back to Hobbiton and be forced to construct a shelter for the night made of sticks, cardboard boxes and a shopping trolley. It pays to be prepared. Add to that the accumulated spoils along the way of newspapers, programme, obligatory book purchased from the Lord’s shop, and I feel like a squaddy who’s done a ten-mile run with a full pack. Maybe I’ll be lucky and regain full use of my arms by Wednesday.

Anyway, while Day One didn’t give us much in the way of action, in the light of Kevin Pietersen’s mighty knock yesterday it’s interesting now looking back on the notes I made when I got home on Thursday. Pietersen looked like the proverbial long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs that day; the ball found the edge of his bat more than the middle, and England didn’t so much look in top gear as they resembled a pensioner backing a Lada Riva estate out of the driveway and onto a busy street via a sharp turn, the cat, and the cunningly placed tricycle belonging to the kid next door.

While Pietersen looked undeniably nervous, there was also a grit-your-teeth determination to him, to make it through the day and grind out the runs now matter how hard, or how ugly, they came. It is easy to say this with hindsight, but I had a feeling today would be the day which, by the application of sheer bloody-mindedness and strength of will, would be the acorn from which a mighty oak would grow.

You could point to the support of Ian Bell and Matthew Prior at the other end while KP was accelerating through the gears yesterday, but to me his most important partnership was with Jonathan Trott on the first day, because that was when runs for Pietersen came the hardest. He finished Thursday on 22*, while Trott outscored him on his way to another inexorable 50. If Trott had departed before play was called off due to bad light, the unsettling effect on Pietersen could have proved disastrous for his search for fluency.

Trott gets his 50

Trott gets his 50

That fluency was in full, imperious flow by the time Pietersen raised his bat yesterday to acknowledge the applause marking his third Test double century. His second came seven months ago in Adelaide, and while it does not feel that long ago, sprinkled as it will remain with Ashes stardust, seven months is an eternity in cricket, and in a batsman’s career.

Forgive me if I’ve gone on about this before, but the public’s relationship with Pietersen proves endlessly fascinating to me. There’s of course been all the ruckus over his vulnerability to left-arm spin, which seems finally to have been laid to rest (Strauss is now the subject of the spotlight’s glare due to his own unfortunate weakness facing southpaws) and the frequently expressed view that no one should be given a free ride due to past brilliance if this brilliance is constantly “on the cusp” of returning.

With KP, though, there’s always the sense of schadenfreude when he’s out of nick, as if he is paying the price for his arrogance, and the urge to kick a man when he is down is a temptation many are too happy to give in to. When Pietersen does well, it is expected of him; when he does not, the glee, the carping over his South African heritage, the barbs levelled at his “ego”… well, it all provides good tabloid fodder when often there is precious little else to write about. So it goes. No doubt he is used to it.

Pietersen’s first 50 runs came from 134 balls; the 50 that took him to 100 from 82. From 100 to 150 took him 85 balls; from 150 to 200 only 25. By the end he was seeing each delivery like the proverbial football; Ishant Sharma the lugubrious, floppy-haired victim of this late and gloriously unrestrained hitting.

I wasn’t present to watch Pietersen in full, triumphant flow yesterday, but on Thursday I saw him do the donkeywork. I missed the edifice’s completion, but I was there when the first stone was laid, and that feels as great a privilege.

KP lays the foundations

KP lays the foundations

Finally, another thing I’ve liked from the play so far has been the relative lack of rancour between the two sides, but we are of course only on day 3 of a possible 20 possible days of Test cricket (16 according to a confused Jonathan Trott in his amusing interview the other day) so there is time yet for a vigorous ejection of toys from prams.

The banter between Pietersen and Praveen Kumar especially has been good to see. These two know each other from the IPL (ex Bangalore team-mates) and the moment in which PK congratulated KP, and vice versa – Praveen having stepped up admirably in the absence of a hamstrung Zaheer to take his maiden Test 5-wicket haul – was a great moment.

Having had a discussion recently with another cricket fan on Twitter as to whether the notion of “the gentleman’s game” has ever been anything other than rose-tinted romantic idealism, it was a pleasant reminder that decency and respect for the opposition does not need to be a casualty in these days of spiralling sponsorship deals and endless arguments over technology.

Still, early days… This series has a long way to go yet.

England v India Lord’s preview

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

If the Sri Lankan series just concluded was a humdrum, monochrome blur – the equivalent, in televisual terms, of a clapped-out black and white portable from Radio Rentals with a vertical hold problem and half its knobs missing – India are now here with a promise to dazzle us in flat-screen glorious 3D technicolour with a kick-ass sound system.

When it comes to a vision for the future of our great game, we all know it is the BCCI hogging the remote, but clear your viewing schedules now because this shit is going to be more overblown than a Cecil B. DeMille epic – though maybe not quite as long, satisfied as we must be with four Tests.

India are the number one ICC Test ranked nation. Their batting lineup is the stuff of legend, stats-porn and “best of all time” lists. If Sachin doesn’t make your World XI list, then I doubt there is anything else we could ever agree on. Some of these galacticos we may never see in England again.

Of course the talk is all about Sachin. The printing presses of Britain’s newspapers are probably looking at an ink shortage after all the articles written about him in the Sunday sports sections. There’s even been the sly suggestion that The Little Master gave the Windies tour the swerve to give himself the optimum chance of his 100th international hundred coming at Lord’s. Given his highest score there is 37, we could be traversing the realms of wishful thinking rather than the cold hard face of probability, but it is nice to dream.

Just as much as I am looking forward to Sachin chasing that impossible dream, I am looking forward to watching Rahul Dravid, a man who has always laboured in Sachin’s shadow. The fact that both India and England have rock-steady, unflappable accumulators as their number 3s appeals to my sense of symmetry and anticipation of close contest. And if VVS Laxman shows us just a hint of the swivel-jointed wristiness that has made commentators purr and opposing nations weep (Australia in 2008, 2004, 2001 etc.) then that will make me exceedingly happy.

Of course, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see England grab the top spot with a 2-Test margin series victory. The chances of this happening are extremely unlikely, but I believe we have the better bowling attack, and “attack” will be the operative word against a side that will punish anything wayward. Chris Tremlett, with his height and bounce, will be aiming for the jugular. He will be re-entering the arena against some familiar faces. He was impressive against India at Trent Bridge in 2007, albeit in a losing cause, and knows he can give them problems. Graeme Swann, with his flight and guile, has the edge over counterpart Harbhajan, and when the ball swings, Jimmy Anderson is nigh-on unplayable.

As I’m writing this, Andrew Strauss has just scored a century for Somerset against India in the tour match at Taunton. Warm-up matches are of course not the be-all and end-all as far predictors of success go. Taunton’s is the flattest of flat decks, and the Indian bowling is rusty and missing three of its key men. Strauss may not have the strategic nous or the charisma of MS Dhoni, and must reassert his authority after handing over the captaincy reins to Alastair Cook in the ODIs against Sri Lanka, but he is an Ashes winner and one half of the duo, along with Andy Flower, who has built England up to the position of considerable strength they now occupy. He will have to do what Dhoni has rightly become famous for: leading from the front.

The kings of world cricket versus the pretenders to the throne: it is inevitable that proceedings at some point are going to get… tense. Heated, even. On-field decisions will be questioned, there will be trash-talking and sabre-rattling and India’s new coach, Duncan Fletcher, not exactly a “people person”, will no doubt get pissed off at someone. Fletcher has already found himself in the unenviable position of being a staunch advocate of the decision review system while at the same team being national coach for a country that wants fuck-all to do with it. Fletcher’s skill as a coach is almost universally unquestioned, though I can’t help feeling it will all end in tears at some point. In the meantime, I’m sure that a purported pay-cheque of £700,000 is a nice palliative.

The visitors, with much pomp and fanfare, are marching into the valley, but England can gain an early advantage in grabbing the high ground at Lord’s. India have arrived in England on the back of three Tests against the West Indies which many critics think they should have steam-rollered beyond a simple “job done” 1-0 scoreline. Some of their key players haven’t played any meaningful cricket since the IPL, and they are now in the process of chasing 462 at Taunton, with play currently suspended due to rain. As preparation for a Test series goes, it ain’t ideal.

Egos will be bruised, tempers will flare, drama will be ensue, and legends will be written.

Grab your popcorn. Fuck Harry Potter. This is the must-see blockbuster of the summer.

The end, finally

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

43 days and 49 matches, and in the end it still came down to the two best teams.

England entertained us; Pakistan threatened at one point to go on and become World Champions; South Africa crashed and burned. New Zealand, a tournament team if ever there was one, gave hope to underdogs everywhere by once again punching above their weight. Australia lost their chance to go for four straight trophies, and in the process lost their captain. The minnows caused a few hiccups, and some irate Bangladesh fans a few security issues.

The standard of play has not always been of the highest. In the case of some of the more incongruous mismatches, that is being charitable.

The Umpire Decision Review System; the presence of the Associate nations; the role of 50-over cricket as the stale filling in an overstuffed sandwich of Test cricket (loved by purists) and Twenty20 (loved by TV channels ands corporate fat-cats)… all have been subjected to scrutiny and debate.

But when an entire country stops for a cricket match, all of that becomes unimportant.

India played Sri Lanka today in the final because the two sides were the best and most consistent teams in the tournament. The cream always rises to the top, even though in World Cups it tends to take a while to get there.

Gary Kirsten, in watching his team win their first World Cup since 1983, oversaw a triumphant end to his tenure as India’s coach. For some, though, there were no fairytale endings. Mahela Jayawardene must have prayed fervently that his hundred, perfectly paced under great pressure, would be a match-winning one. Muttiah Muralitharan, in his last match for Sri Lanka, the team for which he has become such a talisman, failed to take a wicket. Even Sachin Tendulkar failed in his bid for that 100th international hundred, getting out to the accompaniment of stunned silence for only 18.

But cometh the hour, cometh the Indian captain. Gautam Gambhir narrowly missed out on a century with a gritty knock reminiscent of Jayawardene’s – how spoiled we are to see two teams packed with such talent – but this was MS Dhoni’s day. In an unexpected and bold act of proactive captaincy, he elevated himself up the order above the in-form Yuvraj Singh and proved himself the engine of his team, powering himself and his partners at the other end in 40 degree heat towards a total that, from Sri Lanka’s point of view, must have started to look entirely  inadequate as the runs ticked remorselessly over.

His 91* was a timely response to the critics who have been questioning his lack of runs so far in the tournament, and his leadership was exemplary.

Of course, a final wouldn’t be a final without a few cock-eyed decisions. Why Sreesanth was included in the Indian XI is unclear, given his reputation as a loose emotional cannon on a hair-trigger and with bowling to match, and his performance today did nothing to challenge that reputation. Similarly, Kumar Sangakkara’s decision to bowl Nuwan Kulasekara when India needed only 27 off 24 deliveries proved puzzling and costly.

But there was much to admire about both teams, and the way they played their cricket today. Quality teams and quality cricket: you cannot ask for more than that. And while India’s win in the end was a comprehensive one, in no way did this feel like an anticlimax.

I enjoyed this World Cup more than I expected to, given the format and those nightmare memories of 2007. On the rare occasions on which there was no cricket I found myself wondering with some alarm what the hell to do with my day. In these times of packed international schedules, though, that’s not something I’ll have to worry about too often.

After all, the IPL starts in just under a week…

England ride razor’s edge to quarters

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

England: you unpredictable, inconsistent, crazy, mad bastard of a side.

I’d come to terms with the fact they’d be going out of the World Cup in the group stages. I was sad but resigned. Hell, I was even taking a leaf from Michael Vaughan’s book and looking for the dreaded “positives”.

Bowlers who needed a rest. A big summer of cricket to prepare for: Sri Lanka in May, India in July. And England still have the Ashes. ODIs – well, who gives a shit about them anyway.

And yet. Part of the deal that comes with being an England fan is you pretend not to care. You are punch-drunk with continual beatings and shambolic performances to the extent where you find solace in criticism. A good rant can be therapeutic. It’s healthier than turning to drink.

And yet somehow we’ve come through all that, and hope – thankfully –  has a habit of springing eternal.

There were a couple of results that needed to go England’s way, but they helped themselves by beating the West Indies in a match which was in turns infuriating, bizarre, topsy-turvy and finally, heart-stopping.

“Do you enjoy captaining this England team?” Andrew Strauss was asked at the post-match presentation. “No,” was his commendably direct answer. Let’s hope England afford Strauss a little more job satisfaction at the Premadasa, where they will face Sri Lanka on Saturday.

And let’s also hope England win the toss, because 66 per cent of the day-nighters that have been played at the ground have been won by the team batting first.

Whether or not James Tredwell and Luke Wright will be retained after their match-winning efforts against the Windies remains to be seen. I’d like to think Strauss’s selection process will be guided more by cold logic than sentimentality, but it would be difficult to drop these two after they saved England from an early flight home.

Nevertheless, Sri Lanka, with dynamic opening duo of Tharanga and Dilshan and double class-act of Sangakkara and Jayawardene, will be the overwhelming favourites. England are more battle-weary than battle-hardened, and while all the quarter-finalists have shown chinks in their armour, England’s looks less like it has chinks in it than it looks composed almost entirely of rusty old frying pans and welded together by some bloke called Dave in a south London chop-shop. Whether this will be enough to see off the likes of Ajantha Mendis, Lasith Malinga and some chap called Muttiah Muralitharan is anyone’s guess – because really that is as accurately as you can forecast an England performance these days.

But, somehow – defying logic, common sense, and the form-book – England have made it this far. Any match from here on could prove to be the final curtain, but given their gloriously roller-coaster campaign, at least they can say they did it their way.

Before that, though, there is much to look forward to. Pakistan versus the West Indies should be gloriously anarchic; we will most likely be waving farewell to the boys from the land of the long white cloud; and Australia will be out for blood against the mighty India in the wake of their defeat by Pakistan and the rumours that say Ricky Ponting’s days as captain are numbered.

It’ll be a surprise if anyone other than South Africa, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan go through to the semi-finals, but in a World Cup that’s proved vastly more entertaining than its 2007 counterpart, none of this should be regarded as being set in stone.

And… I’m spent.

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Andrew Strauss wasn’t kidding when he said England tend to raise their game against bigger opponents than the Netherlands. Only trouble is, he may as well have added, “We are England, so nothing is ever that that straightforward”.

It seems appropriate that this game against India would end in a tie, given the similarities between the two sides with both bat and ball. Sehwag gave three chances in the first over and then got out for 35; Tendulkar, making history yet again, made his 5th World Cup ton (his 98th international hundred – age shall not dim him, the years not weary him). India were past 300 before Tim Bresnan took 3 quick wickets and they were all out for 338.

In England’s reply, they were level on runs with India after five overs. Pietersen, still working on his strategy as an opener, made 31, while Andrew Strauss played a captain’s innings and then some with a magnificent 158. We were treated to Ian Bell bizarrely playing the Yuvraj role  – chipping in with an aggressive half century and providing able support for his team’s top scorer.

Just when it seemed an England victory was nailed on, and Indian fans were streaming from the ground – the fools – Zaheer Khan steamed in to take three quick wickets and turn the match. A desperate, almighty six from Ajmal Shahzad straight down the ground, two needed off the last ball, and throats being screamed raw at the Chinnaswamy as Shahzad and Graeme Swann ran like Forrest Gump stricken with the shits and sprinting for the nearest khazi. (Which reminds me – get well soon, Stuart Broad.)

All this, and we’re still only in the group stage.

India will be worried by the fact they could not defend 338. Andy Flower, judging by his expression while those around him on the balcony clapped and cheered, will be wondering why the hell England didn’t win.

We are nine days into this World Cup, and while only yesterday I was musing that this tournament has yet to bore me, now, it is properly exciting me.

Is this thing switched on? Why yes. Yes it is.

Australia lose, and Warne weighs in

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

There were only ever going to be two ways this Test would end.

Wickets would either fall today like corn before the scythe, or the Indian team would bowl out Australia’s tail early and then chase down the runs needed to win with relentless superiority.

Today at Bangalore it was the latter. Bowled out for 223, Australia presented India with a target of 207 to win and this they did, without undue incident, for the loss of only 3 wickets. Bit of a stark contrast to the oxygen-starved tension of Mohali, but I did say yesterday that the unknowables are what make Test cricket great.

In this case, one of those unknowables, or unknowns, more precisely, was Indian debutant Cheteshwar Pujara. The 22 year old came in at 3 after the loss of Sehwag and proceeded to bat with a combination of freedom and maturity that bodes well for the future when India find themselves in the same situation Australian cricket did three years ago when Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist retired.

He went for 72 and it was left to those two redoubtable old stagers, Tendulkar and Dravid, to bring it home. In this match Sachin has made history – again – and so it was fitting that he scored the winning runs, giving India victory at a ground they last won on in 1995, and solidifying India’s lead at the top of the Test rankings.

If your name was Nathan Hauritz, you probably found you were in a nightmare from which you couldn’t wake up. I will be surprised if the selectors keep him after this, and I too was one of many who held their head in their hands every time he came on and an Indian batsman’s eyes lit up.

It was like watching a game of buzkashi, where the batsmen were the horsemen and Hauritz was the headless goat corpse being torn apart between them in the battle for possession.

His figures were grim – 3-229 for christ’s sake, but in the cold light (or warm glow, depending on who you were supporting) of an Australian defeat, let’s look at things a tad more sensibly. Firstly, the conditions are always tough in India. Hell, even Warne’s record there is average: only 34 out of his total of 708 wickets were taken in Tests in that country, and the only time he took more than 4 wickets in an innings it cost him 125 runs.

Secondly, Ricky Ponting’s captaincy betrayed an utter lack of faith in Hauritz. Fielders were scattered in the deep, moved into positions only after that area had been targeted. It was passive and defensive captaincy with fields set for bad bowling: not the best way to give your bowler confidence.

One man especially riled by this cruelty to his spinning brethren was Shane Warne – currently between poker tournaments and no doubt on a plane somewhere – who let rip on Twitter with:

It’s tough to disagree with this sentiment. Ponting’s captaincy has received much scrutiny since the days when, due to having Warne and McGrath at his disposal, the team pretty much captained itself. At best, some of his decisions have looked random; at worst, downright fucking stupid.

One can argue till the cows come home about the merits of Nathan Hauritz as a Test spinner. His favourite line seems to be wide of off-stump while hoping the ball will turn; a lot of the time it doesn’t. He is ironically more effective when he bowls a tighter line; Ponting seems to want an Australian version of Harbhajan, but this may be a step too far.

Hauritz has, however, put in some decent Test performances when his side have needed them, and Steve Smith, the man many think he should make way for, is arguably more effective with the bat at the moment. Smith still averages about 50 as a bowler, and is very much a work in progress still. Replacing Hauritz with Smith in the Ashes may be too early. Plus, it is very unlikely Hauritz will be quite this shit on his home turf.

Nathan Hauritz must now try and pick himself up in the upcoming ODIs followed by a couple of Sheffield Shield matches for New South Wales, and put forward a convincing case for Ashes retention. No doubt everyone and his dog will have an opinion on whether he should be part of the Australian line-up at Brisbane.

The selectors certainly have a lot of thinking to do.

All (big) Guns (to go down) Blazing

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Peter George had something of a tough day at the office yesterday.

Expectations were high for the young newcomer on his Test debut. His bowling for South Australia has been called “McGrath-like”, which is uncomfortably reminiscent of the fact Phil Hughes was compared to Bradman before Steve “straight to 2nd slip” Harmison rediscovered the killer inside himself and took Hughes apart with viciously directed straight lifters in last year’s tour match at New Road.

So the boy George would have been understandably nervy when thrown the ball for the first time during the evening session of Day 2. Faced with the task of bowling at India’s galacticos, his first over was all over the bloody place and Sehwag duly took a liking to him, pasting him for 2 successive boundaries.

George did manage the one maiden in that session, and as Sachin and India marched inexorably on the next day he seemed to settle down and find his line with more consistency. He also introduced us to the slo-mo bouncer, which we all had a good laugh at, but when we’d stopped pissing ourselves realised it proved quite effective in that when he bowled it no runs seemed to be forthcoming.

It did cross my mind during that nightmare first over that such is the irony, comedy, karma, providence of cricket, call it what you will – or maybe just the hand of a cricket god moved to mercy by a young man’s thankless exertions – that Tendulkar would probably be Peter George’s first Test wicket.

And so it proved to be. Whichever god it was who wrote the script did ensure that the maestro wracked up another couple of stratospheric achievements – 49th Test ton, another double hundred, and so it (and he) goes on – before a beautiful swinging delivery from the debutant found Sachin’s inside edge as he tried to cut and chopped the ball onto his stumps.

If there is anything guaranteed to give you a little confidence on your maiden appearance for your country, taking the wicket of the world’s greatest batsman must surely be it.

A couple of days ago this Test match was wandering along the flat road leading to the nowhere of a nailed-on draw. Tomorrow, Day 5 will dawn with the promise of a victory. For whom, it’s too tight to say. India hold a slight advantage but it all depends on whether they can take Australia’s 3 remaining wickets quickly. At the moment Australia’s lead is 185, and five of their 7 wickets have gone to the spinners. Can Hauritz replicate the success of Ojha and Harbhajan? Will Ricky Ponting trust him enough to let him try?

There will be heroics. There will be tension. Larynxes will be screamed raw as bowlers appeal for everything. Batsmen will go to the middle all guns blazing and get out playing stupid shots.

Or, the last three wickets of Australia’s innings will fall cheaply and India will do the cricketing equivalent of stealing confectionery from a small child in knocking off the runs required.

The not knowing is part of the excitement, and it is part of what makes matches like this great.

Welcome… to Test cricket.

Murali Vijay: Super Sub

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Murali Vijay was only 5 years old when Sachin Tendulkar made his international debut in 1989.

Today he took his place at The Little Master’s side to help India to a total of 435-5 at stumps on Day 3 against Australia at Bangalore.

As usual, the focus of the large crowd’s attention was Tendulkar’s faultless batting – he scored his 49th Test hundred and finished the day not out on 191 – but his partnership with his young apprentice added 308 runs for the 3rd wicket, and has made it very unlikely that India will lose this match.

The only times I have seen Murali Vijay bat in Tests he has been filling in for someone else. His first Test appearance was in November 2008, when Gautam Gambhir was banned for elbowing Shane Watson during the previous Test at Delhi. The debutant acquitted himself respectably, scoring 33 and 41 and, probably more importantly, running out Matthew Hayden when the god-bothering flat track bully was on 16.

Since then he has been in and out of the Indian team, called up to the ICC World Twenty20 squad in April to replace Sehwag who was suffering from a back injury. He has played 8 Tests including this one, and, until today, his highest score had been 87. Today he went one better, and despite suffering a couple of nerve-wracking moments – a run-out chance early on when a Nathan Hauritz throw missed the stumps, and an lbw shout off the bowling of Ben Hilfenhaus – he brought up his hundred with a scampered run and a celebratory leap. It was an innings of composure, elegance, superb driving and invaluable in the support it lent to his more illustrious partner at the other end.

The problem with being a substitute is that you will invariably be outshone by the established superstars that surround you. Today Murali Vijay made some progress in emerging from their extremely long shadows.

As a footnote, I was amused and exasperated to learn that since scoring that magnificent 139 (his innings ended with a tired swipe at a wide delivery from Johnson), Vijay has received “an official reprimand for breaching the ICC Code of Conduct and regulations governing clothing and equipment”. He apparently was displaying too many logos on his pads.

The laughable bit about all this was that the forbidden logos received a good long camera close-up while they were being covered up with tape yesterday during a break in play.

Only in cricket…

No more worlds to conquer

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

“When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”

Sachin Tendulkar does not have this problem, as he seems to break records and expand the limits of what is possible in our best loved game on a regular basis.

Today at Bangalore, on Day 2 of the 2nd Test against Australia, he punched Nathan Hauritz through the covers for 4 and became the first man in history to reach 14000 Test runs. In January this year he passed the 13000 mark. Altogether, his international runs exceed 30000.

Those are just crazy numbers. It’s like Monopoly money. Genius sets its own goals, redefines its own standards of greatness, dismantles them, and sets them again. It is genius that ordinary mortals can barely find words for beyond the same oft-used clichés, because Sachin is better at cricket than most of us will ever be at anything.

There is no flash or bluster about The Little Master. You wonder whether achievement piled upon achievement, records set from the day he took guard in international cricket as a 16-year-old, have jaded him. How much can one man possibly achieve before the extraordinary becomes commonplace? When fans in the crowd hold up placards saying “God is at the crease”, “Keep silent, Sachin is batting”, when the howl of a crowd thirty thousand strong reaches a roaring crescendo as the bowler starts his run and you wait for that delivery that could be right for dispatching to the boundary en route to another milestone… how long do you have to be the best at what you do before you ever get used to that?

He goes quietly about his business with the bat, letting the weight of runs and the beauty of his strokeplay speak for him. It is only afterwards, when questioned, that he tells you honestly and modestly exactly what each achievement means to him. “Last 20 years I have pushed myself really hard. Challenges are always going to be there for me. All I need to do is to focus as hard as possible, work on my fitness, lead a disciplined life and use my body cleverly. When I started playing, I didn’t think of all these things. God has been really kind. I’m enjoying every moment.”

He gives as one of the keys to his success the fact that he still enjoys the game, and that the ball still finds the middle of the bat. The ball finds the middle of his bat with such consistency because, after a difficult period accompanied by injury, India’s failure in the World Cup of 2007 and critics like Ian Chappell questioning his place in the team, he is arguably now in the best form of his life.

Sachin is 37 years old. In the words of Indiana Jones, “it’s not the age; it’s the mileage”.

There is a lot of mileage under Tendulkar’s belt, and one hell of a lot of runs.

And he isn’t finished yet. Because just when it seems there are no more worlds for Tendulkar to conquer, he goes and finds another one.

Johnny Come Lately at the Last Chance Saloon

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

Realistically, this 2nd Test against India which started today at Bangalore is Marcus North’s last chance to secure himself a place in the Australian team for the Ashes.

His scores prior to today make for pretty gloomy reading, if you are a Marcus North fan. I wouldn’t say I’m president of the Marcus North fan club, or even secretary, or god help me club mascot  (even on the weekends, when there’s no one else to help out), but let’s just say I don’t have as big a downer on him as a lot of folk who think he’s not Test quality. He is stodgy as fuck to watch, and will make you cry with the sheer, mind-numbing tedium of his dour, earnest scoring, but 96 at Edgbaston last year as well as three hundreds in his first six Tests suggests he is of some use when he gets himself set.

Of course, this won’t be the first time he has left it to the last minute to pull his arse from out of the fire of imminent selectorial rejection. He saved his career in the series in New Zealand earlier this year where he followed up 112* in Wellington with 90 in Hamilton, only to have the pressure pile back onto his shoulders by not exceeding 20 and only reaching double figures a total of three times in the three Tests prior to this one. By any measure, his form coming into this Test was bloody diabolical.

The Australian selectors will want him to make a big score at Bangalore, not least because his success here will save them an almighty Ashes headache. More at home on flat decks than turning ones, he made the most of a drying wicket that had early on aided the spinners to finish on 43 not out at stumps, with his country on 285-5.

There were other performances that would have been similarly encouraging for Australia: Shane Watson continues to confound us all by posting consistently big scores while miraculously remaining entirely uninjured, and Ricky Ponting managed to steady the ship with Mike Hussey after a brief flurry of wickets fell after lunch.

But all eyes will be on Marcus North when he re-takes his guard tomorrow. He will be looking to kick on towards a big score*, and Australia will be eyeing at least 400.


*note that having written this, I have likely ensured he will be out first ball. Despite the best laid plans of mice, men and Australian batsmen, shit does happen.