Friday, November 6, 2009

Sachin 175

5th Nov’09 –
Australia bt India by 3 runs

6th Nov’09 –
Sometimes you don’t want to think about the past, not because the experience fails to be as rich as in the moments when you actually were a part of them, but more for the unacceptability of the fact that the events have ended and are now a part of history. Sometimes you want to go back in time just enough to make a small correction.

Sachin Tendulkar must be feeling the same.

A score of 350 on board can shore up the confidence of any team defending that total and if it’s from Australia then a victory should have been a stroll in the park. There isn’t any need to take note of the Australian bowling attack as the bowlers when required to defend such a total need only be half decent as their best. The team chasing such a score would have already buckled under the weight of the required run rate proving yet again that a score of over 300 can be a sure reason for victory.

But the story that unfolded yesterday was more than just of a team succumbing to defeat. It was of defiance – a defiance so determined to go against the natural order of the day that one starts to wish for the surreal. What Sachin did a day ago would be preserved in the cricket almanac as the day when he attempted to defy the will of Gods.

It was a story scripted by the vivid expressions on the faces of two men on the field – Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar. While Sachin showed the stoic determination of a defiant resolved to change the course of fate, Ricky on the other hand wore an anxious look drained by the suspense that kept him on tenterhooks. With even the last man standing for India sending the ball into the stands and along with that a chill down the spine, Ricky must have made several nervous entries in his mental logbook before the match was formally declared over.

Ricky knew that to get to the target India would require heroics from Sehwag, Yuvraj or Dhoni. Sachin wouldn’t have figured in his scheme of things, as strangely many, just as he, have started recognizing Sachin as a spent force. Sehwag would have been the primary target. The world of cricket knows that Sehwag is like a ticking bomb – when it explodes you are blown away to smithereens. So it was imperative for Australia to get him away from action as soon as possible. For India it was imperative that he stick around to give the much needed momentum and perhaps also a victory. Sehwag obliged the Australians. The celebration in the Aussie camp, the smile on Ponting’s face, the enthusiastic punches in air – all reminded sights of familiar celebrations when some time ago Sachin’s dismissal used to bring untold joy to the opponents. Grimness however soon returned to Ponting’s face as he knew too well that Gambhir, Yuvraj and Dhoni could still address the issue. One by one the three musketeers fell and left the Indian camp in disarray. Australians were all set for a thumping victory!

But why was Ponting not looking as jubilant as others in his team did? Surely his bowlers, ignominiously labeled second-rate, had dismissed with equal disdain the formidable Indian batting line-up. What was holding him back from rejoicing and being content at the only result which every one had already assumed? Indeed what!?

The diminutive figure of Sachin Tendulkar was still on crease.

Wisdom has always preached that the tip of an iceberg belies its enormity beneath water. Amidst all the carnage on the pitch Sachin had quietly plucked away some quick runs. No one had the faintest suspicion that that clutch of a few runs was just the preview of what was to come. On an otherwise bright and sunny day the crowd would have rooted for Sachin and bayed for another merciless hundred. But this time around the raucous enthusiasm from the crowd was missing thereby further lending belief to the fact that he had already been unceremoniously pushed to the corners of everyone’s psyche like a useless grenade that wouldn’t even better a Diwali cracker. Yet, encased in that helmet emblazoned by the tricolor, Sachin’s mind had already worked out how he would demolish the Aussie celebration. The worry on Ponting’s face was only understandable as he knew too well of what Sachin was capable of and the beating, which recently his team had received downunder at the hands of Sachin too would have served as a gentle reminder.

It didn’t take much time or effort on Sachin’s part to materialize Ponting’s worries. Sachin just needed some stability at the other end of the wicket and when it did come in the form of Suresh Raina, the proceedings took a fresh turn.

Remarkable was the audacity and the arrogance with which Sachin wielded his bat. He batted with such command at his disposal that predicting a four or a six became an interesting game of matching one’s guesses with Sachin’s whims. Power and control were literally exuding from the centre of the field where Sachin stood deciding when to step on gas or just play around for a few singles. Seeing Sachin nudging now and unleashing then, Ponting couldn’t have helped anxiety take the better of him. You get frustrated if your fielders disappoint you but what do you do besides feeling helpless if the shots are played with such precision that the only job left for the fielder is to fetch the ball every now and then from the boundary!

Then there were these gems of moments essayed on the field which made the match even more engrossing. In the course of his innings, Sachin executed a sparkling shot from a very good delivery. It came suddenly in a flash and surprised everyone as it stood out amongst the array beautiful shots he had played. A testing delivery on a nagging line and length got released from the hand of the bowler, hit the deck to rise in a bounce menacingly towards the off-stump; en route came Sachin’s bat and the ball found itself piercing the gap between point and an uppish third man. The disbelief that such a gap’s existence could even be conceived was evident by the expressions on the faces of Ponting and the bowler, who gathered the remaining shards of his shattered pride and went back with drooping shoulders to prepare for his next beating. Some shots were executed with such ease and method that the bowler didn’t even bother to stop and contemplate but rather taking the result as a foregone conclusion simply walked away.

Some of the best moments were the non-cricketing ones such as when Sachin walked up to the umpire to clarify on the batting power-play. The commentators by their analysis had already proclaimed that the power play was long due but Sachn’s insistence on delaying the decision perplexed not only the pundits but also Ponting. Ponting had more things to worry about. Sachin was already going at a run-rate that didn’t require a power play; now to add a power play to that would be calamitous by any standards. With Ponting mulling over the possibilities, Sachin was observed walking up to the leg umpire to have a word. The effect of this brief conversation was felt a few feet away where Ponting was standing. Ponting gathered the obvious nature of the conversation and barely managed to hide the concern on his face. He turned his away only to contend an uninspiring countenance of a bowler staring at an uncertain fate. The element of drama that this scene captured could have beaten any cinematic brilliance known till date.

When Titanic set sail, it epitomized the human endeavor of equaling the might of Gods. Gigantic in scale and hope, it almost achieved what it had set out to but not before Gods had their will lest the humans succeeded.

Sachin scored half the runs required to win. Colossal on score board, the runs were sailing India towards a fantastic victory. And all this happened before Gods said – you must stay human. Sachin looped a shot into the hands of a fielder. It was a shot played almost as instructed. The mighty sank. And none of others could hold on to keep victory from slipping away. Some still fought in the sinking tide. Praveen, cricketer from a house of pahalwans, produced a six out of thin air. Lo and behold! Is there still life in this match? What’s the equation? Can India do it?

The match went down as one of the most memorable knocks of Sachin. India lost, Sachin won. Selfish? No. You should have seen the match.