It is not too easy to remember the last occasion when an Indian had last played such a sublime innings on a pitch which was anything but that. No wonder then, Sachin Tendulkar himself has termed it as one of the best knocks in his career, but to me, it was one that was probably the best in his fifty-overs career. Agreed that it is a bold statement to make, given the ‘big’ man’s 400 plus game career, but not often does one have a potent enough concoction of a pressure finals, a tired track, a cramping batsman and opposing bowlers who have exhibited enough prowess to get the better of most on these conditions.
In a way, it was a sheer delight watching those cover drives through the short extra cover region. Again, on a wicket where the ball exhibits the tendency of doing funny things before coming onto the bat, or even if does not, has filled enough pieces of doubts within the batsman’s minds, the most difficult shot to play is the stand-up-tall-and-punch. Even more so is the ability to pierce the gap with a barrage of fielders on the off-side; the first and the second slip is slightly uncommon in the ODIs, but what is definitely a huge rarity is the first and the second short extra cover! Yes, two fielders up close on the off-side along with the usual ring of field that included the point, covers and the mid-off!
Oh and yes, it was a pressure finals. That thing which is – was, after this and the CB series, 2008 effort – christened as one of Tendulkar’s rare Achilles Heels. Evidently, there was a sense of expectation from the side to do well, after having floundered in the previous final they had played in the country, again, against the same side – Sri Lanka.
Sharjah ’98 and the CB series ten years later were equally pressurising finals as well, undoubtedly. What was different was that the pitches in both the instances were more to Tendulkar’s liking; a ball bouncing in the bowler’s half would invariably go over the batsman, another in the batsman’s half would have the propensity to hit the meat of the willow almost as regularly as the squatting in this game. Unlike the RPS, where, unevenness was the name of the game. Then, if there were two shots that most batsmen would want eschew, at least till they would be well set in the innings, it had to be the one across the line and another that entailed the batsman going on the back-foot and giving it a punch. Not so Tendulkar!
There was also an obvious case of the scars from previous game that the two sides had played in. The Indian side had capitulated like a club XI chasing a similar total, and that should have played a part in every individual’s mental preparation before the game. It would have been rather difficult for most Indians to put that at the back of their minds and get going with the game as if it was business, as usual. Again, it was Tendulkar who led from the front, pushing the memory of that woeful display of batting from the previous game, not only to the back of his mind, but also out of it, in all probabilities.
Had the start not been the manner it was, I do not have too many qualms in claiming that the other high scores in the innings would have been more conspicuous by their absence.
Apart from the Tendulkar innings, there is one other small point I keep going back to after yesterday’s encounter. To the naked eye, it looked far too evident that there wasn’t too much peace within Kumar Sangakkara throughout the duration of the game; with the growing frustration quite visible to those around. It began with the unnecessary cribbing on the wide deliveries bowled by the bowlers – to the captain, none of them seemed too wide to be called – and also included a not-so-friendly chat with Rahul Dravid, when he had come out as Tendulkar’s runner. Sanga had had an issue with Dravid backing up too far, which may or may not have been the case.
These issues seemed to have boiled over to Sangakkara’s innings, when he seemed to have made a tactical blunder – he tried to bat out the innings by pushing for the singles and twos. While in theory, the strategy sounds good, the one aspect of the game one mustn’t forget is the heat and the humidity under which Sanga had kept wickets through fifty overs of the first innings, and then, to come in and try and run through most part of one hour would have taken its toll on Sangakkara. To me, it would have been a better bet for Sangakkara to have continued with the kind of blitzkrieg that the openers had provided, and expected a Thilina Kandamby to pursue his own strategy of playing through the innings. And to round it off, Sangakkara forgot to keep changing the gloves which ensured that the bat slipped out of his hands and caused him untimely, and rather bizarre demise.