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Victory! - Column by Suresh Menon
by Suresh Menon
Dec 15, 2008
Four years ago, the debate in India centred on whether Sachin Tendulkar was finished as an international batsman. Now the debate has shifted gears, and the discussion has settled on another Tendulkar subject: will he score 50 Test match centuries? That's nine centuries away and the batsman is 35, but it is his 41st century that has started the speculation, and I daresay, some serious betting.

His last nine centuries came in 43 Tests and over four and a half years; in Sri Lanka earlier this year as he finished with a highest score of 31 in six innings, Tendulkar was being written off again. Yet, now with centuries in his last two Test matches, and more significantly, a century in a fourth innings chase and victory, Tendulkar seems to have regained his place on the pedestal and in the hearts of his countrymen. Now everything seems possible. The magic is back. Fantasy has met reality.

By scoring the century - and by a happy coincidence bringing up the three figures and India's victory off the same shot - Tendulkar has come to terms with some lurking demons. That he has not batted India to victory enough number of times in the fourth innings has been a constant criticism. Almost a decade ago, at the same venue, he made a superb 136 against Pakistan as India chased 271 for victory. He was seventh out at 254, and India lost by 12 runs. On Monday, he controlled the middle part of the innings, guided Yuvaraj Singh into playing the innings that might consolidate his position in India's middle order, and finished it all by thumping the air like a goalscorer in a World Cup soccer match. It had all come together for India's greatest batsman.

Yet, for once, the Man of the Match award went to the right player. Well as Tendulkar played, and despite two centuries by Andrew Strauss, the single decisive effort was indeed Virender Sehwag's 83 off 68 balls. Skipper Kevin Pietersen has come in for criticism for his field placings and England's lacklustre bowling. But his team lost the game on the fourth afternoon when they scored just 54 in the middle session (with two boundaries), and led India to believe that this was a team that did not know how to win.

This was a better bowling attack, more balanced than the one fielded by Australia in the previous series. England underlined that by dismissing India for 241 in the first innings, but just when their spinners ought to have taken charge, the inexperience of debutant Swann and the lack of cricketing nous by the left armer Monty Panesar let them down. Panesar was over defensive, and there was no one to jerk him back into reality - this was a Test match and he was expected to take wickets!

For India, victory may or may not have helped cover up some deficiencies. The most glaring, of course, is Rahul Dravid's continued non-performance at number three. This struggle is as much a misery for his fans as it is for himself. Can India afford to keep him on? Harbhajan Singh has been bowling too fast, too flat and needs to rediscover the form that has fetched him over 300 Test wickets. He is no longer a supporting act, but the side's number one spinner - a fact that does not seem to have sunk in sufficiently.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni's captaincy follows the laissez-faire route where the seniors are concerned. He has been supportive of Dravid and feels Harbhajan has the experience to sort out his problems. But sometimes a word in the ear can make a difference.
More Views by Suresh Menon
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