India's God waves his magic willow

2006 Sep 16 by DreamCricket

Countless cricket fans and Sachin worshippers breathe easy as SRT returns to form.

India lost their opening match of the DLF Cup tri-series against the West Indies at Kuala Lumpur, albeit by the Duckworth/Lewis system in a rain-shortened match on Thursday.

You would not have guessed that however if you were watching India’'s multitude of 24-hour TV news channels on the night of the match or by reading the headlines in Friday morning’s papers.

It is a measure of the awe in which Sachin Tendulkar is held in the country that the lead reports on TV and the page-one headlines in most of the dailies centred round Tendulkar’'s unbeaten 141 in his first international match since March.

The fact that India lost the match, largely due to their bowlers getting a pasting apart from the weather, somehow seemed irrelevant.

The over-riding emotion was one of relief that India’'s greatest batsman of all time has been able to overcome from the latest of a myriad list of injuries that have afflicted him since 1999.

The latest was a shoulder injury that has seen him out of international cricket since the home Test series against England. Not counting the handful of deliveries he faced in the rain-ruined match against Sri Lanka last month, this was Tendulkar’s first ODI since the tour of Pakistan early this year.

No one is saying this was among the better of his 40 ODI centuries—he was certainly lucky to be dropped behind the wicket very early on. However, considering the long absence, the endless speculation over his fitness levels and the uneven bounce of a dicey wicket, it is no wonder Tendulkar himself considers this century something special.

Though he has not said so, one gets the feeling that a large part of the satisfaction is that he has now emphatically answered the unfair criticism leveled against him a couple of months back by Sanjay Manjrekar who doubted his commitment.

While the fickleness of the average fan on the street can be shrugged off as a result of ignorance, such charges coming from by a former cricketer and teammate rankled enough for Tendulkar to have issued a rare rebuttal. The best answer of all though came from his determined bat on Thursday.

It is a measure of cricket’'s quixotic nature that the team winning the match scored exactly the same number of runs (141) as that which was recorded by the top scorer on the losing side!

There were a couple of other interesting sidelights. It is only the second time Tendulkar has carried his bat through a completed innings. And the first time that he has scored a century at a strike-rate of 90-plus.

As for the feeling of relief, it is quite understandable. Both in the run-ups to the 1999 and 2003 World Cup campaigns, Tendulkar had to fight his way through injury.

The fact that he has now so emphatically proved his form and fitness with the 2007 World Cup six months away, means the Indian cricket camp as well as its countless fans around the world can breathe that much more easy.