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Of champions and twilight

February 5, 2008

The Border-Gavaskar trophy has been handed out and before one could say “skill-be-damned-bring-on-the-mayhem” three games of the pajama variety have concluded, one where the ‘reigning champions’ were given some lessons and two that fell prey to the age old enemy, weather. The hysterical nature of the cricket calendar means that by the end of the month, there will be a whole new set of statistics (both Win-Loss and Averages) to be dissected and commented about. The street-smart cricketer who by definition is one who has learnt the intricacies of an endorsement deal before having scored a run on a difficult pitch then will not fret over an inability to get the ball off the square for the duration of the test series or the majority of the triangular series. All he needs is a couple of well-timed innings preferably against opposition that is resting its best bowlers. The blinding but myopic glare of every media vehicle will ensure that he will still count as one of the successes of the tour.

The test series nevertheless will be long remembered by a few for being the swan-song of the most prolific wicket-keeper batsmen of all time. Adam Gilchrist remarked on the reception he got when coming out to bat in the MCG 20-20 that he now realised how Sachin Tendulkar felt everytime he went out to bat. That one of the most destructive and awe-inspiring batsmen only felt that kind of pressure that is completely independent of the match-situation itself and is purely of an externally imposed kind is a damning testimony to the kind of supplicants we, as a cricket-viewing public have been.

Just as fervently noted, and more poignant, was how this would most likely have been the last appearance down under for the run machine from India. Due to cricket’s dependence on all the variables in the mix – pitch, outfield, weather, opposition (not in any particular order), all runs scored or wickets taken are not equal. The value of a hard fought counter-attacking fifty on a difficult track in a match where the opposition comes out guns blazing is far more than a dreary innings worth three times that against an insipid track and opposition. Kumar Sangakarra, the only man within range of reaching Gilchrist’s stratospheric heights said in his column that playing in Australia is an examination of one’s cricketing abilities.

Burning the statistics books (or hard-drives to be correct), the most watchable sights in cricket are fast bowlers steaming in on a hard-grassy track, top-class batsmen in full flight on a true pitch, lush yet quick outfields and picturesque grounds with noisy crowds that appreciate good cricket. Tendulkar playing test cricket in Australia was that irresistible combination although the odds were rarely, if ever, in his favour. One can only imagine if he had half the support from numbers 1,2 and 3 that Ricky Ponting has had. What made the contest so riveting was that the best of the opposition bowlers would be operating, exerting every sinew to get him out. Glenn Mcgrath, Jason Gillespie, Shane Warne and now Brett Lee, all have wanted the wicket of India’s #4 more than that of any other name on the list. The hostile conditions down under have seemed to bring our the best in Tendulkar – decisive footwork, crisp punched drives, definitive pulls and even the odd hook. While Australian pitches and teams will still produce quality cricket, some of the sparkle will be forever lost when Sachin Tendulkar walks off an Australian pitch for the last time.

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