Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hail the Master!- Sachin Tendulkar

India vs Australia Test Series 2008

The second test match between India and Australia is over and India has taken a comprehensive 1-0 lead in the 4 match series.

Lots of things have happened even before the series started and I will start by discussing that.
Australia landed in India with a team that many thought was the weakest Australian team. Australia always take playing in India as a challenge and this was the first time that this team was in a major series, in India, without their stalwarts. The retirement of McGrath, Warne and Gilchrist will definitely weaken any team no matter how good the reserves are. It also did not help that a few of their players were injured, and with MacGill and Hogg gone, the spin department is virtually zero specially when touring a country like India. Also a major setback was an incident, which also in a way highlights the way the Australian cricket and its board functions - not considering Andrew Symonds- one man who could have influenced the series! That was a major decision no matter which way you look at it.

Sachin Tendulkar also stated before the series that India-Australia rivalry is now bigger than even India-Pakistan rivalry. This is absolutely true and I can’t see anyone disagreeing with this statement. In fact I would say that India Australia rivalry is the biggest right now in world Cricket perhaps even greater than the Ashes!
Honestly with the focus now shifting to Twenty over games and people questioning this original, longer version of the game, if people are going to watch a test match, it will be this- India vs Australia.......

I am a great admirer of Harsha Bhogle, a very intellectual person and an excellent commentator, reader and avid follower of the game. I am mentioning him because I remember years ago when India had toured Australia, the matches used to start around 5 in the morning- India time and once while signing off after the first day’s play, he just suggested people in India waking up at 5, lying down in front of the Tv set with a blanket on (Winter was on at that time) and I really liked this idea and that is what I did precisely. And I remember the excitement of watching an India vs Australia battle. Now perhaps very few people can imagine someone doing this- waking up at 5 on a cold winter day out of the warm blankets etc, getting up just to watch a test match! I doubt if people would do that even for a World Cup match! But I think it speaks volume, both of me as a Cricket fan as well as the quality of an India vs Australia contest.

Before this series started, I did feel that India had an upper hand, playing on home ground, with many senior players who might be playing their last series against Australia and specially the fact that the bowlers were in excellent form. This is a major factor and I can’t remember the last time when anyone talked about India’s bowlers! Specially, test matches was all about Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh doing all the damage that too on the 4th and 5th day track and people hardly talked about the fast bowlers. However, this is changing since the tours to England and Australia and now India boasts of a formidable and amongst the best pool of fast bowlers!

I knew that this war would be decided on the basis of who won the smaller battle of- Australian batsman vs Indian bowlers, because the batting department of both sides is quite strong. And as of now, it is Indian bowlers who have clearly dominated and the result is that India is 1 up in the series! Also I was very interested to see how the Australians would play when they had a target of 516 runs in the second test match. Zaheer had mentioned after the first test that this was the most defensive Australian team he had ever seen. So the ball was completely in Australia’s court and no matter what they did, they were going to lose. They couldn’t possible have survived so long while playing for a draw, nor could they have got the target but I am glad that the Australians played the way they always have and came out attacking. I would praise them for doing it. They did not meekly surrender but decided to go down fighting which is admirable.

One important announcement that was made before the series was that Sourav Ganguly would retire from Cricket after this series. I did feel and even do now that it was an excellent move by the shrewd Sourav Ganguly. Not that it was just a tactic of his; he was in fact under tremendous pressure constantly, but the reason I feel that he made a very good, tactical move is because before the series I thought that looking at the current form, India would go in for 5 bowlers including Munaf Patel which means Sourav would have to sit out. But after this announcement of his, no selector has the guts to exclude him for the 4 tests. It virtually confirms his place in the playing eleven. But he has come good and clearly wants to leave on a high. So finally this has turned out to be the best for Indian cricket because now there will be no more questions on Sourav Ganguly, he will not have to constantly answer questions from everyone and be under pressure and it will also free up a place in the team for any talented youngster. And I feel that his place might be taken by either Yuvraj Singh or Rohit Sharma if they play 4 bowlers.

In the two matches that have gone by, there was some really exciting old fashioned Test match action. Test matches clearly have something that the other forms don’t. The long spells and the contest between bat and the ball, the test of patience, the charm of watching a bowler weave a web and finally get the batsman out. If you can see that, you will definitely enjoy it. Some of the battles have been pretty amazing. Zaheer Khan is bowling unbelievably well and what can we say about the progress of Ishant Sharma. One can’t help but be impressed by this 20 year old. His battle with Ponting is definitely worth watching and he has triumphed over Ponting. Also the battle of Harbhajan Singh with Hayden and Ponting too is worth watching. Australia do have bowlers with good pace but Lee hasn’t been at his best in terms of number of wickets mainly because he isn’t getting much support.

I, at times in this second match did feel bad for the Australians. To be in a country like India, with the kind of heat and humidity there is and the tremendous home crowd support that India gets and further, if India is dominating then it can be really demotivating but the Australian fast bowlers were still putting in the efforts and in the field department too.
Well, other teams have suffered a lot at the hands of the Australians and it is only fair that they too once in a while get to face this!

To summarize both the teams, India right now truly have the best opening pair for both forms of the game and I see this pair opening the innings in both forms for years to come now. Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman still have it in them to keep on playing as long as they wish, Dhoni is currently the finest wicket keeper in the world, and specially as a Captain too he is just fantastic and the bowling department looks the best it has ever looked, with Zaheer and Ishant leading the way and the likes of Munaf, R.P.Singh, Pathan and Sreesanth waiting in the reserves. Also one thing is clear that unlike many other teams, India right now need not worry about the spin department and that the replacements are now ready for Anil Kumble as and when he retires with Mishra and Chawla and others, unlike Australia who has the biggest conundrum of replacing the spinners.

Australia still has a good batting line up, Hayden is still a force to reckon with and I would like Phil Jacques in with him. Katich is a gritty cricketer whom Steve Waugh called his successor but he hasn’t been able to fill in his shoes. Ponting’s woes in India continue and barring his century in the first game, he hasn’t clicked at all. Hussey and Clarke make a solid middle order and Symonds can make it more dynamic and balanced. Australia do need to think about their bowling department though and get the combination right and solve the problem of a quality spinner.

And finally, one of the great things that happened in the course of this series was that Sachin Tendulkar overtook Brian Lara and also crossed the 12,000 run mark in Tests and became the first person to do so. He now has the record for the most runs in both One day and tests and also the most centuries too in both forms of the game which is an unbelievable statistic. For a man to play on for 19 years the way he has, there can be no words to describe him. That is precisely the reason that my post was mainly about Sachin Tendulkar but when you really feel a lot for anything, you become speechless and that is pretty much it. I have admired this man for the past 18 years like anything and still do and that’s why I can’t write much on him because words will fail me!
Interesting Fact- Sachin Tendulkar was named after the great music director Sachin Dev Burman (father of Rahul D Burman)
* Hmm, wonder if Rahul Dravid was named after him! That would be interesting
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