Vantage point

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Those Two

People would have followed the India-Pakistan series in 2 ways. Either watched it on TV, or checked the score on the net or radio. It is very easy to tell the difference between the two.

Those who just checked the scores are the ones who are suddenly making a lot of hue and cry about the "decline" and "end" of sachin Tendulkar. Those who actually watched him bat for his 60-odd runs in this series know that his star is on the ascendancy.

He was self-assured and confident when at the crease, looked relaxed, and most importantly, his natural pace of scoring was back. He was neither grafting around for runs, nor was he just launching a blind counter-attack. Each of his short innings featured at least a couple of delectable vintage Sachin shots, including the cover drive which he had so much trouble with. So each and every ball he played, with the exception of the three that dismissed him, showed a master who's gotten his touch back.

Let's look at the three dismissals. At Faislabad, it was the rising delivery, and as i wrote earlier, he made a wrong call. Even Sachin's biggest critic won't say that he has a weakness against the short ball, so that dismissal can be thought of as just an unfortunate one-off incident. In the first innings at Karachi, it was an in-seaming delivery, and Sachin played down the wrong line, to be bowled. That was perhaps the only mistake he made in the whole innings, and as the infamous Tendulkar luck goes, he had to pay fo it. While it was a fault on his part, we can not write him off for that. The third dismissal was due to the ball staying low and could have happened to anyone. As the replays showed, he was playing down the right line, and he had covered the movement of the ball well. It just stayed too low!

The composure and the assured manner in which he batted when at the crease in fact indicates everything contrary to what the media is talking about. He has at least a couple of years left in him, and he seems to have regained complete fitness, since he is playing his full array of shots.

A few words about Ganguly. In the two innings that he played, Ganguly looked very compact. He handles Shoaib quite competently, and had a well-thought-out plan against the short delivery which he by and large adopted. It shows that there is still a lot of fight left in the man. It was also very encouraging to see those crisp drives through the offside that he is so famous for.

Having said that, one must note the situation in which he was playing. In both innings, India was in a crisis, and personally, his career was on the line. It was a lifeline fate had thrown him. Some very good deliveries got rid of the top order in both innings, while he was able to get off to a start and play himself in. The stage was set for a legendary fightback similar to Brisbane03. He just had to make a hundred, stave off the crisis, and he would have been difficult to dislodge from the team. But he let himself and the team down very badly in the first innings by holing out to a hook shot.

Ganguly has been in these kind of situations often enough to know that when the bar is set higher, true champions still cross it. Even though his two innings were "decent", they were not good for the situation he was in. His first innings dismissal was particularly suicidal and avoidable.

With Yuvraj Singh's fortuitous century, and Mohammad Kaif's Ranji triumphs, there is now no justifiable reason for Ganguly to be picked for the middle order any more.