Tag Archives: Verinda Sehwag

Among the Ruins

This masonry is wondrous; fates broke it
courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate with frost on cement is ravaged,
chipped roofs are torn, fallen,
undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses
the mighty builders, perished and fallen,
the hard grasp of earth, until a hundred generations
of people have departed. Often this wall,
lichen-grey and stained with red, experienced one reign after another,
remained standing under storms; the high wide gate has collapsed.
Still the masonry endures in winds cut down …*

An archaeologist at work at the Oval yesterday surveying the third day of the fourth Test match between England and India would have seen a single wall, upright and unscathed by anything that time had thrown or bowled at it, evidence of the considerable skill and craftsmanship of a great civilization.

About the base of the wall he would have noticed fallen columns, single capping stones, dismantled steps, smashed arches and overturned cornices littering the ground; evidence of the destruction wielded against that civilization by some invading storm of vandals.  

This was not another find of the remnants of the Indian bowling, but the relics of the once great cultural expression of cricket which was Indian batting whose lyric verse no cricket lover can have ever tired of enjoying.

Rain took nearly four hours of time out of the day’s play but this forced England to declare at 591 for 6.  Bell had reached his first ‘double’ in Test cricket before perishing to the sweep against Raina for 235 (in 487 minutes and 364 balls).  Morgan had damaged his Test match reputation a little further and Bopara had done all that was required of him in personally testing circumstances.

India sheltered in their dressing room throughout the delay in play, either recovering from the pummelling they had received in the field or in dread of the pummelling they were about to receive when batting, or both.

England in contrast manifested their testosterone when going through their full pre-match preparations on the drying outfield.

Once again the Indiam batting line up had to be altered as Gambhir recovered from a concussion acquired when thumping the back of his head very hard as he stumbled backwards in a failed attempt at a catch the day before.

This necessitated Dravid opening once more, but it should not necessarily have necessitated VVS Laxman batting at number three again, but inexplicably it did.

Sehwag taking first strike untypically watched a couple of deliveries from Anderson go down the off-side before hitting the next two to the boundary in a more typical Sehwagian fashion.  All hearts were raised by the hope of witnessing this special batsman lead India’s counter attack against the Vandal horde, but Anderson was setting him up for the one that comes back and he was duly trapped LBW like a novice.

Laxman was accordingly sacrificed like some gambit with a pawn.  Who exactly is responsible for squandering the potential of this great middle order batsman against the new ball?

Tendulka arrived to another standing ovation as the crowd, keen to the history of events, willed him to the rather artificial milestone (or millstone) of a hundred international hundreds. 

This giant of all-time was all-care and all-attention but he was twice struck ducking under balls that were not that short, once on the helmet and once in the ribs.   It was an uncharacteristic awkwardness and discomfit, but he met the blow to his head with an embarrassed smile and then a perfect on-drive for four.  All might be well, thought the historically minded crowd.

But an all-or-nothing sweep him off his length approach to Swann, who came on to bowl salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs, was fraught with danger.  He must have calculated that the risk was worth it.  It revealed the Indian estimation of the wicket and the threat that the off-spinner presents, but the odds were always against it answering the destructive challenge of Swann the Terrible, and it was not long before Sachin bent his knee again and gloved the ball over his head to a waiting slip.

All who slaver are not fools.

Raina’s humiliation continued with a 40 minute duck that showed him confounded by movement and then lured by flight to over-balance and be stumped by a quick handed Prior, the batsman’s toe finding only a precarious perch on the line.

England took 5 Indian wickets in two hours (including a nightwatchman). Fifteen therefore remain to be demolished and reduced to rubble by England in two days. Swann’s figures are 10 overs, three maidens, 3 for 27.

The Wall remains 57, the only lasting evidence of a shattered civilization.

* extract from “The Ruin“, an 8th-century Old English poem from the Exeter Book by an unknown author.

N.B. The Squire has been called to Town and Third Man’s valeting services are required.  His Grace has not revealed whether this journey is in response to a call from the Governor of the Bank of England, a secretive someone in Downing Street or Duncan Fletcher, but further morning reports of deeds at the Oval will not be forth coming.

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Conjunction of the Spheres – Bangaluru Style

 

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?”

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