A raw deal

Had umpire Simon Taufel not intervened, this would have been Tendulkar’s first Test hundred against meaningful opposition since Sri Lanka in Delhi in December 2005, writes David Hopps.

The leg-before decision that ended Sachin Tendulkar’s designs on a 38th Test hundred was held to be debatable. That is not debatable as in the normal sense, where a batsman might sulk a little and a lone drunk might boo the big-screen replay. That is debatable in the world according to Sachin Tendulkar, where India is virtually paralysed by rage.

In India, as Tendulkar retreated to the pavilion, victim of Simon Taufel’s raised finger, rivers sighed and prepared to run uphill again, and the lion and the lamb were heading for another one-night stand. Meanwhile, the managing director of Indian Effigies Corp felt a windfall coming on.

Tendulkar padded up to Paul Collingwood from the sixth ball after lunch and Taufel calculated, probably erroneously, that the ball would have hit off stump. It was straighter than the balls that had preceded it but still not straight enough.

‘Cricinfo’, cricket’s leading website, was swamped by hundreds of indignant emails. One called it “an atrocity, corrupt and unsportsmanlike behaviour”. Another alleged that the umpires had been nobbled during the lunch interval and that MI6 was bound to be involved. The rest were a bit fanciful.

On ESPN, a special programme was announced to investigate the Tendulkar dismissal. Taufel’s equally dodgy decision to give out Sourav Ganguly caught down the legside barely merited an afterthought. As for the drawn Test at Lord’s, where India scrambled a draw because Steve Bucknor refused Monty Panesar’s appeal against Sri Sreesanth, that was conveniently forgotten.

For any fervent administrator of a Sachin Tendulkar website, this was no time for rest. “Tendular dismissed on 91; bad decision by umpire,” said tendulkar.co.in.

One of the most intriguing things about celebrity websites is how everybody tends to be defined by their link to the star in question, no matter how tenuous. So Ashley Giles, who had the temerity at the weekend to remark that Tendulkar’s batting prowess had waned a little, exists not as a former England left-arm spinner who was part of the Ashes-winning side, but as “the bowler remembered for his tactics of bowling outside the leg-stump to Tendulkar which the master batsman found it hard to counter [sic]”.

The weekend had begun so favourably for Tendulkar. On July 28, he became the third batsman to reach 11,000 Test runs, with only Allan Border and Brian Lara ahead of him. England’s bowling coach, Allan Donald, remarked how “boyish” he still looked — India lives in dread of him ageing — and his young batting partner, Dinesh Karthik, told of his pleasure whenever Tendulkar addressed him by his name. This is a rare dressing-room phenomenon; Alastair Cook, as far as we know, does not hang on Kevin Pietersen’s every word. As there are rather a lot of them, that is perhaps no bad thing. Years of such hero worship have deepened Tendulkar’s reserve. He has never been particularly gregarious but late in his career his protective mechanism has left him more introverted than ever. Just as his growing vulnerability, at 34, has persuaded him to restrict his game when the situation demands, he seeks equilibrium at the crease.

Ganguly smacked a divot in irritation and ran up the pavilion steps after his dismissal; Sachin merely left, a little disappointed, and in his controlled emotions set an example that might not demand many TV playbacks, but which did him enormous credit.

England — even the new, unappealingly waspish and aggressive England — do not sledge Tendulkar. This is another rare tribute, especially in a series not short of boorishness. It might be in part because England realise it is a waste of breath, but it also signifies his exalted status.

If India win this series the status of their venerable middle order is probably safe for another year. The tone was set during an exemplary, yet unrewarded, morning stint by Ryan Sidebottom. He swung the ball menacingly in a spell of 9-6-7-0, and Tendulkar faced eight of those overs, settling for only three scoring shots. When Sidebottom’s spell came to an end, he put an arm around Tendulkar’s shoulders as if to express his recognition that he could do no better.

Ganguly, doubtless content to watch from 22 yards away, said: “He bowled very well at Sachin and it was important that we got through it. He just keeps on producing.” In reality, plagued by elbow trouble, he has not produced regularly of late. Had Taufel not intervened, this would have been Tendulkar’s first Test hundred against meaningful opposition since Sri Lanka in Delhi in December 2005. Perhaps he needed a hundred badly; India certainly did.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007