A great cricketer, he is

AP

Andrew Flintoff, with his ankle injury, is the topic of intense debate. Some even wonder if he should simply carve out his career as a batsman. But the player insists that he wants to remain a fast bowler, notes S. Dinakar.

September 2: The ODI tours these days are hectic. They make severe demands on the mind and body of both the players and the scribes. You live off hotel rooms and your suitcase, and there is not much recovery time. Often, even the recent matches are no more than a blur. Roshan Mahanama, the Match Referee for the series, agrees. A mercurial cricketer in his playing days, the Sri Lankan is also surprised at the lack of effort on the field by some of the Indian cricketers . “Fielding is all about anticipation,” he points out.

This is a day when all roads at Leeds lead to the cricket ground and the Big Game. Former Indian wicket-keeper-batsman Farokh Engineer is among those travelling to the arena with friends. He is still a very lively man, never short of words or wit. He is impressed with Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s attitude. “He is willing to accept his mistakes and learn. And he is improving as a ’keeper,” says Engineer.

In the afternoon, Dhoni equals the record for most dismissals behind the stumps in one-day internationals. And Engineer is watching.

This is also a special day for Sourav Ganguly, whose 300th ODI fetches him a Man of the Match award. Dada is a feisty character who has fought off fires that have threatened to consume him. “Jungle me ek hi sher,” says a journalist from Kolkata. While this might be an exaggeration, you would have to hand Ganguly credit for his tenacity. He has used adversity as a positive influence and this is never easy.

In the evening, Yuvraj Singh and his pack head off to the nearby Manchester to catch action from ManU’s premiership game. Football cuts across barriers.

September 3: What is genius? How would you define it? Famous cricket commentator and analyst Ashis Ray still marvels at how Tiger Pataudi managed to play cricket at the highest level, and successfully at that, with just one functional eye. “I was travelling with him in a London tube years ago, when he was still an active cricketer, and he could not read the sign board at a station which was visible to all of us. Tiger had double vision and nobody, including the selectors, realised how bad it actually was for him. If there was an egg on the table, he would see two of them, go for the wrong one and come up with nothing. And imagine him taking on the fast bowlers and hitting them to all corners of the park. This was genius,” says Mr. Ray, whose book on India in the World Cups is a best-seller.

Meanwhile, the cricket caravan has moved to its last stop — London.

September 4: The teams have pre-match sessions at The Oval. The England practice concludes and Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen zip away from the stadium in a car. Flintoff’s ankle injury has flared up again, Pietersen is shor t of runs. Flintoff is the topic for much debate — how much should he bowl? Should he reduce his pace? Should he simply carve out his career as a batsman?

Former England paceman Angus Fraser believes the Lancashire all-rounder should take a break from cricket and remodel his action to remove the stress on his left ankle. Flintoff insists that he wants to remain a fast bowler. The news from the England camp would have pleased the Indians — Flintoff is very doubtful for the game.

September 5: India clinches a thriller and Robin Uthappa proves the finisher. Situations do throw up heroes. One of the match situations also led to a debate. Debutant umpire Peter Hartley changes his mind on a run out appeal against P aul Collingwood after watching the instant replay on the big screen. Former England opener and coach David Lloyd insists that the umpire had the right to reverse his decision before the bowler sets off for the next ball. This doesn’t make Hartley look better.

Sachin Tendulkar continues to stroke the ball with great timing, precision and freedom of mind. “He is batting like God,” says a local scribe. The maestro is rocking in the English summer. There are also rumours flying around that he is quitting ODIs shortly. This is an era when speculation makes news. And the denial of the speculation makes more news. It’s a funny world.

September 6: The roller-coaster series has captured just about everyone’s imagination. The man at the hotel reception, the cabbies, everybody is talking about how India has come back from the dead. This is a quiet day. The teams have a day off practice, and some of the Indian cricketers venture out for shopping. Taking the mind off a decider might actually be a nice way of focussing on the game. The pressure, though, is gradually building up, so is the tension.

September 7: It looks like Flintoff might turn out for England in the decisive game after all. He is injected with steroids, bowls during the nets. “It should be a grand finale,” says the man at the counter in the 24-hour s hop. Sometimes topsy-turvy series of this nature could also end in an anti-climax. This has happened before, could happen again. The Lord’s basks in bright sunshine, the pavilion, steeped in history, looking into the state-of-the-art media box. This is the perfect stage for the End Game.

September 8: The hordes of Indian supporters at the Lord’s leave home disappointed. Things go horribly wrong for India, from electing to bat under a cloud cover, to picking two specialist spinners, to being at the wrong end of wh at could have been a match-turning umpiring error.

Once again, everyone is talking about Aleem Dar ruling Tendulkar out, caught behind, when the great batsman had not nicked the ball. However, the legendary opening batsman, Sunil Gavaskar feels technology should be used only for the line decisions. “The technology is not good enough, at present, to be used for the other decisions,” he says.

Flintoff returns and bowls with intensity, fire and passion. What a cricketer!

Dravid is philosophical. England is the deserving winner, he says. He is right.

The Lord’s museum has pictures from the Bodyline Series staring at you. Series will be won and lost. The game lives on.