Stuff happens. Sometimes, when men and women play with time and space, patterns emerge. As India and England began their first encounter in the ICC World Cup there were, however, few signs of untoward conjunctions.
Those who eagerly traverse the Twittersphere looking for runes to read would have done well to note a tweet from that Mighty Magus, Shane Warne. Unable pre-match to chose between the teams, the Wizard of Oz half joked, “It’ll be a tie” (for the which he might have given odds of 1,000 – 1).
Note to the wary: Beware Mighty Magi who half-joke.
At first, though, the times looked all a-kilter. On a flat and tacky deck in Bangaluru, Sahwag’s bat persistently preceded the ball into the space marked ‘Contact Zone’. The first time it did so, the white sphere shot skywards towards second slip eluding the outstretched hand of Graeme Swan by millimetres and microseconds – an improbable start.
Repeating the partial eclipse of bat and ball, Sehwag, then squirted the orb squarewards in a looping trajectory just over and beyond a diving Bell (irresistible pun) leaving Anderson the bowler, in a time and space of disbelief. Impossible.
The first pattern to emerge in this awesome encounter between the best on the planet whose batting power stretched before England like a beam of light heading towards the edge of the universe: Tendulka, Sehwag, Gambhir, Kholi, Dhoni, Yuvraj, Pathan, Harbhajan et al … and the Ashes victors who had been all but humbled by the Dutch and whose form coming into this match was questioned even by their staunchest supporters … yes the first pattern to emerge, therefore, was one of disarrangement, as Sehwag continuing to err in bringing bat and ball in line again played a nanosecond too soon – the ball’s predestined elliptical orbit this time describing a route over the head of an out-of-position mid-on. Impenetrable.
From that moment on, and across the remaining 99 overs, the stuff began to configure. Sehwag found the middle and the boundary (an oxymoron which can only be achieved in cricket) and produced a pressure-free atmosphere in which Tendulka could harmonize body and bat with sufficient time to treat the millions tuning in through their cathode rays and flat screen sets to the music of the spheres in a flawless innings of 120.
Surely this match, if not this entire tournament, could not produce a better example of batcraft? But to believe that was to ignore the power of the developing patterns and symmetries in this matchless match.
At the halfway mark, Third Man’s patent predictor suggested a final score of 340, but at the end of the 30th over a simple doubling of India’s score – the more normal forecasting device – gave India hope of 360.
We had witnessed one great innings and were to witness another, but before that Bresnan, who had already removed Sehwag, returned to take four further wickets to deprive India of a stellar score and to keep them tied – yes tied – by a gossamer thread to Mother Earth at 338.
Brezzer’s figures were 10.1.5.48 with an economy rate of 4.8 runs an over. The nearest effort by an England bowler was 6.4 and the worst 9.25. India’s best would be Bhaji with 5.8 and even the sage-like Zhan’s three wickets were obtained at 6.4 runs an over. Such was the carnage bowling took on this benign wicket, but such also was the eminence of the Yorkshireman whose 5 wickets were surely the equivalent of an innings of 169 runs and deserved for him the title of Man of the Match (which no doubt went to a batsman).
And from the start of England’s innings this appeared ordained to be the bright and hoped for example of Total Cricket with Strauss and Pietersen playing without fear from the off.
Pietersen fell at 68 to the third ball of the ninth over when his blistering straight drive was parried by Patel who caught the rebound seated on the ground like a child at a birthday party accepting a rabbit from a hat.
Bell brought to the wicket craft to equal Tendulka’s. They do things right, they do things well, they exhibit a balance that is near perfection and to see them both at their best on a single day is good fortune in deed.
At the other end the England Captain selected his shots with the precision of a great engineer building a bridge across a broad bay. Give me a lever long enough and I’ll move the world, had said Archimedes. Strauss effortlessly levered his way to 50, then, 100, and beyond to the 150 mark. Nothing seemed able to stop him and England, at 281 for 2, from moving the Earth.
But Bell, suffering from cramp, begged his captain to allow him to kill or cure the pain and restriction with a swipe or two. Strauss called the batting power play and Bell immediately skied to extra cover. The batsmen having crossed, Strauss was instantly pinioned – hey-presto – by speed of hand from Khan the Incontestable.
After a time of turmoil and falling wickets, England’s collapse looked terminal when Yardy departed with 32 still required off 15 balls.
But the Chinnaswarmy Stadium offered not only a flat track, but short boundaries to provide an environment more suited to Total Cricket than Total Collapse.
Dhoni chose Chawla to bowl the 49th over with England requiring 29 from 12. The choice seemed acute when the first ball confined the batsmen to a single. But then Swann swiped the ball over the midwicket boundary for six and Bresnan smote the fifth in the same direction for another six.
Hope had briefly returned to English hearts with 14 required from 7, but Brezzer missed the next by a mile and was bowled.
The young and inexperienced Shazad strode to the wicket – exactly the qualities Total Cricket demands in this situation. Swann’s 2, then a single off the first two balls seemed a capitulation, but that single had brought Shazad and his fearlessness to the time and place of his fate. He struck his first ball for a six straight that skimmed like a shooting star to the blackness of the sightscreen behind Patel.
Five runs were required from three balls and the batsmen ran a bye to the wicket keeper. From the second to last ball Swann running frantically and India fielding clumsily, completed a second run.
On the identical 5th ball of the 49th over in India’s innings, Khan had similarly called for two but the laws of symmetry had ended there. Khan had not made his ground and, worse, Patel had placed his bat on the line of the crease. That line belonged to the umprire, aptly named Erasmus, who smiled the smile umprires smile at such times because they love nothing more than to signal and shout ‘one short’.
This is where Total Cricket brought us yesterday. To a point in time and space at which a wicket would win it for India, a single would bring the conjunction of the scores in the freakish feature of a Warned tie, and two or more would give England the magician’s cape.
Swann’s single to mid-off was both climax and anti-climax, coincidentally bringing relief, regret and rejoicing in the Total Conjunction of one of the great 50 over matches of All Time.
As the Mighty Magus might have said, “What other result could there possibly have been?”