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|December 29, 1999||
Still hanging onHarsha Bhogle
India hung in there. By the skin of their teeth and the grill on the helmet. It was pretty nerve-wracking stuff for the last hour but matches are won and saved by wickets taken, not close shaves. So, India hung on but only just.
For a while it seemed like Adelaide revisited. V V S Laxman was out playing a shot that I have never seen him play before and it suggested a troubled state of mind. That had been apparent early on when Ramesh walked in with the wrong pair of gloves. It was a sight that will hopefully never be seen again for as Ramesh fiddled through plastic bags containing new gloves, he sent a message to the razor sharp brain of Steve Waugh. ‘I am not ready’ it said and Waugh must have been grinning through the narrowest of slits between his lips.
But to be fair to him, he took whatever came his way. To say that he was unsettled against Brett Lee would be understating the case. The blow that hit the grill of his helmet was a sickening and a potentially very dangerous blow. No Indian batsmen will come out tomorrow without a grill for there will be lots more where that ball came from.
In the context of what Ramesh was going through, and in the context of his own private battle against form, Rahul Dravid’s gesture of keeping the strike in the final over was a fantastic team effort. Struggling to get going himself, he was quite happy to play out the last over to allow Ramesh to get his bearings back.
But just as heartening was the fact that Ramesh chose not to accept it and immediately called for and took a single with three balls to play. India may not save this match but they are showing some character.
And for inspiration, they only need to look to the gallant century that their captain produced on Tuesday. It was a captivating innings and if ever anyone needed proof of who the best batsman in the world was, it presented itself with style. It was an innings that grew on you. While it was being played, the tension surrounding the match situation did not allow one to comprehend the enormity of the task being performed. But as you think about it, as it settles down into consciousness and the little facets emerge, it acquires a very strong character.
It was significant that Tendulkar had a lot of time to play both McGrath and Lee. But it was his encounter with Warne that took the innings to a different plane.
All great batsmen dictate terms to the bowlers and when Warne was bowling to Tendulkar, it was the batsman who seemed to determine the flow of the contest. Everytime Warne threatened to find rhythm, he would step out and play the cover drive, once he cleared the boundary with remarkable ease, and the moment Warne started searching for his leg side line, he began picking him away for runs behind square.
There were shots to be played on this pitch but there was a match to be saved as well. Tendulkar sacrificed one for the other and it was only when Kumble gave him the confidence of support at the other end, that he ventured into shot making. He was profuse in his praise for Kumble and it is an ability that is touching. Clearly, he is the leader in the team.
Now he will be called upon to play that role again as India seek to play 105 overs of hard fought Test cricket. Again, he must resemble the rock and the chariot at the same time; he must resist and he must charge. A century in each innings will be a mesmerising way to end the other century.
Will he? The mouth waters, but like him, all of us would be quite happy to trade it for a match saving effort.
Tailpiece : The affable Ranjan Madugalle is going to be in the thick of more action as more calls go out to discipline Ricky Ponting after his amazing outburst against Javagal Srinath after being hit on the helmet. He was furious and clearly used abusive language. Given the uproar that has accompanied the sentencing of Venkatesh Prasad (the Australian has an edit writer condemning it and asking for Warne and McGrath to beware!), he will have to be seen to do something.
Will he? It is going to be a very interesting interpretation !
Mail Prem Panicker
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