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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sublime knock submerged by tears of defeat

In the understandable hysteria generated by the dramatic atrophy of the Indian batting muscle, an innings of subliminal brilliance has unfairly but perforce been relegated to the history books.

As he sits on the cusp of the most stupendous batting record imaginable – he is just one three-figure knock away from an astonishing 100 international centuries! – Sachin Tendulkar will ruefully reflect on an uncharacteristic hoick against Morne Morkel that nestled in point’s hands, and set off the disastrous chain of events leading to defeat against South Africa.

Until that point, he was every bit the Master, as he is referred to by his friends, his Mumbai team-mates, some of his India peers and, one suspects, a majority of the opposition, too. Such was his dominance that even Graeme Smith, the most experienced captain of the World Cup, had no option but to sit back and wait for the miracle that India were all too keen on gifting.

Tendulkar’s redefined approach to one-day cricket has been chronicled far too frequently to necessitate detailed discussion. The passage of time and a series of unrelated but stroke production-hampering injuries had forced him to abandon his awe-inspiring shot-a-ball self, permanently, many believed.

Over the last couple of years, with one monumental compilation after another, Tendulkar had provided fleeting indications that he was only biding his time, that the destroyer would resurface with telling effect at some stage. For all their travails, India are fortunate that Tendulkar has used the World Cup as the stage to roll the years back, and re-embrace the role that traumatised teams in the mid ’90s and beyond.

Coming into this tournament, the 37-year-old already had the most World Cup runs and, jointly, the record for the most Cup hundreds – four. In the space of five innings, he has put daylight between himself and the rest of the chasing pack. His tally for this tournament alone is an impressive 324 at 64.80 and a staggering strike rate of 100.30; centuries against England and South Africa have propelled him well clear of Ricky Ponting, and the retired duo of Mark Waugh and Sourav Ganguly.
During the game against the Netherlands at the Feroze Shah Kotla, the little big man became the first to top 2000 World Cup runs.

For a man who has paid scant regard to numbers while stacking them up with unerring regularity, these statistics will not offer anywhere near the same satisfaction as being a part of a victorious side; for a world that judges success by figures, the legend of Tendulkar has acquired a whole new dimension over the last three weeks.

It will hurt Tendulkar, as committed to the team cause as anyone going, that neither of his hundreds in this World Cup has come in a winning cause. Against England in Bangalore, he made 120 of the finest, his century brought up in the 35th over, but India lost their way in the death overs, losing their last seven wickets for only 46 and settling for 338 when a repeat of their 370 against Bangladesh was on the cards. England’s spirited chase also netted them 338, the teams coming away with one point apiece.

Defeat to South Africa on Saturday completely overshadowed easily one of Tendulkar’s most commanding essays in recent times. Throughout the World Cup, he has been unafraid to use his feet or to hit in the air; at the VCA stadium, while his mastery of the spinners was peerless, the manner in which he systematically dismantled Dale Steyn and Morkel was simply breathtaking.

Morkel felt the initial fury in the shape of a wonderful punch-drive on the up through covers, followed by a majestic drive down the ground that is so Tendulkar. His holding of the pose to allow grateful shutterbugs to click away showed how much he enjoyed that stroke, but the coup de grace came a few minutes later, when he took Steyn on top of the bounce, swivelled at the hips and hooked him over long-leg and into the stands beyond. It was exhilarating stuff, a supposed contest of equals between the best batsman in the world and the best bowler in the world, and there was no doubt who was winning it hands down.

Fifty brought up in 33 deliveries, a 48th one-day century in 92, Tendulkar threw it all away with an ungainly slog early in the Power Play. It’s a shot he would have regretted instantly, and even more so after the pack-of-cards display that followed. Someone, somewhere, will pay soon for Tendulkar’s own indiscretion. And this time, there will be no window of opportunity.

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