Is sport at its finest when it throws up the unpredictable? Or does it attain its heights when a genius reveals up and makes the unbelievable look completely predictable? It can be the cheesiest of film scripts: our hero bats out of his pores and skin towards the world’s finest workforce to pull his struggling facet into the ultimate of a match the place they meet the identical opponents, and beat them thanks to a different masterful effort from our hero, who, hold on, occurs to be celebrating his 25th birthday.
When it occurs in actual life, it is breathtaking.
Two days on from his 143 amid swirling sands, Sachin Tendulkar scored one other majestic hundred in a tall chase, to nearly singlehandedly put the Sharjah tri-nations cup in India’s arms. More than that, the standard of his batting ensured that this match – a cola-flavoured tri-collection in an ocean of cola-flavoured tri-collection – will transcend its quick context and dwell within the reminiscence properly past the careers of these concerned in it.
Decades from now, highlights of this match will fill our TV screens every time April 24 comes alongside, bringing us the gleeful faces, fated by no means to age, of the followers who – as Tony Greig put it two days in the past – danced within the aisles. We’ll nonetheless be speaking about Shane Warne going around the wicket, and Tendulkar greeting the transfer by leaping out of his crease, exposing all three stumps, and launching the ball out of the footmarks and over lengthy-on for six. The cowl drives, the again-foot punches, the paddle-sweeps, the straight drives off Damien Fleming and Warne, respectively, that left Sourav Ganguly and Steve Bucknor, respectively, on their backsides; these will stay seared in our reminiscences.
But for all that, Tendulkar has scored – and can rating – a whole bunch far more difficult than this 25th birthday bash. Australia’s assault contained solely three frontline bowlers, leaving batting allrounders Tom Moody, Mark Waugh and Steve Waugh to fill at the least two-fifths of their bowling quota. During sure stretches of Tendulkar’s innings, all he needed to do was milk these lesser bowlers for singles to the deep fielders, singles that Australia had been joyful to present away within the low-depth ready recreation that the center overs of ODI innings usually are.
Australia’s lack of real wicket-takers, aside from Warne and Fleming – who, by the way, was celebrating his 28th birthday – pressured them to play this ready recreation and hope for India to crumble beneath scoreboard strain. This might have occurred had India misplaced a few early wickets, or – as they did within the final spherical-robin recreation two days in the past – a few fast wickets halfway by their chase, however they did not, as Ganguly, Nayan Mongia – as soon as once more promoted to No. 3 – and Mohammad Azharuddin all performed helpful arms round Tendulkar. Without these wickets, the goal Australia set – 273 – was difficult however not almost sufficient given their bowling assets, and given Tendulkar’s astonishing form.
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