What was nail-biting? Well what else could have been the past few days? The 6th ODI in the NatWest series was an edge-of-seat-don’t-switch-places finish.
Unpredicatability showed its dreamy face every now and then. In the beginning, India dominated: got early wickets, fielded well (probably the best in this series), and didn’t give anything away. Apart from all of that, there seemed to be a lot of spirit in the team: a thirst to win, not just to stay alive in the series. All was well until the youthful 20-20 specialists walked on the crease. Luke Wright was mighty surprize, but was India’s dismay; Owais Shah started out rather edgily, but went for the kill after his half-century; Mascarenas murdered the part-time bowling of Yuvraj, making a mockery of his bowling by logding 5 from the over for 6 a piece, and of Dravid’s captaincy which saw Yuvraj bowling the last over, when Powar, a much-better option had another one left. The last 100 runs of the England innings came from the last 8 overs. With 317 to win, and India’s abysmal record of chasing, the series seemed to be over, almost un-wrenchably gripped in England’s hands.
To be fair, one thing must be said about India’s chasing record: they may fail to chase 250 against South Africa one day, 230 again England on another, but successfuly chase 330+ against South Africe and 326 against England on another. Rare are such occasions, but they speak volumes about the abilities of the star-studded Indian batting line up.
Tendulkar and Ganguly set the tone of the chase. The boundary that came off Ganguly’s bat from the 1st over made his intensions clear; even the most depressed Indian supporter would have sat up from the slumped posture he might have been in, awakened by the flicker of hope that maybe, just maybe, it might happen this time. Tendulkar played one the most aggressive innings in the recent past, which was reminiscent of his youthful days of power and exuberance; this onslaught of the duo saw them go past another century partnership.
India were 150 without loss in under 30 overs and things seemed to going fine, until Pietersen took a brilliant catch to dismiss Ganguly. Tendulkar followed shortly thereafter, falling to Panesar, again only a few runs short of his century. Perhaps that was due to his cramps, or the loss of concentration on its account, but Panesar’s reaction to Tendulkar’s wicket told a story: there was no Bhangra dance, just a sigh of ‘Thank-you-God’ relief, a testament to who Tendulkar really is, and what he can do to a bowler. Three other batsmen came, made their contributions and went.
Dhoni and Uthappa were the crease, needing over 70 runs in less than 50 balls. Nail-bitters digged deeper into what was left of thier nails. Dhoni seemed to pull off every cheeky and cute shot, but fell due to a rather poor one. Uthappa was joined by Agarkar; and it was chaos galore: run-out chances became extra runs, misfields let to boundaries, but the young Uthappa kept his cool and stayed ground when Agarkar leapt off his for a non-existant run only to run himself out. Zaheer followed with 10 needed on 7 balls and returned falling to another run out. It seemed as though Uthappa would run out of partners from mere run-outs! The last over began, with an ask of 8: the first ball of it was a dot ball, the second a boundary, and not a straight forward one; it was a cutest of paddle shots played to fine leg after much ‘thinking-on-the-feet’ by Uthappa; 3 balls remained, 4 runs required; fielder came up at fine leg,; Uthappa was on strike; Broad to Uthappa; Uthappa stepped down the track, and hit the ball down the ground which missed a desperate England fielder and ran away for four. The winning stroke was hit was a hero was born!
The presentation ceremony saw an ungaurded Dravid and an emotional Tendulkar. Questions must be asked here. Was Tendulkar emotional only because of India’s victory or was there more to it? Did he think he might not be able to play the decided at Lords? Did he think he was nearing the end of his ODI career? It was rather saddenning to see him struggle up to the dressing room after his wicket fell earlier in the day. What was even more bizzare was the retirement speculation that followed the historic victory. Cricinfo reported here that Tendulkar might retire from the shortened version of the game at home after the series against Australia and Pakistan; this was followed by another report where Tendulkar allegedly denies the rumors, and then another stating that the denial was by the India administration manager, not Tendulkar.
I think it is not just sad, but bad to report such rumours when the man is in sublime form. Should Tendulkar retire now or not? I think he has at least couple of years of it left, but he is the best judge of that; not Greg Chappell, not Ian Chappell, not you, not me and definitely not the media. It remains to be seen if Tendulkar reaches the milestone 50 ODI centuries or 100 ODI half centuries; only God and the master himself can tell.