Maestro’s day out

Tendulkar was aware that the day’s work had just started for him and there was a calm assurance in his gait that might have made a monk proud.-Pics: K. R. DEEPAK

Tendulkar notched a score that was on par with Kapil Dev’s historic 175 that ambushed the Zimbabweans during the 1983 World Cup. And yet, when the match ended, Tendulkar sat forlorn inside the dressing room as victory eluded the little big man of Indian cricket, reports K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

A colossus cast a giant shadow that threatened to nudge Ricky Ponting’s men into darkness. Sachin Tendulkar played an innings of a lifetime making fans and connoisseurs believe that they were blessed and privileged to witness a slice of history that was rich in beauty and poignant with pathos.

Tendulkar’s 175 nearly derailed the smug Australians, but in the end the maestro’s effort could not prevent India’s three-run defeat against Ricky Ponting’s men in the fifth One-Day International of the Hero Honda Cup at Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium on November 5.

“He played a mighty innings,” said Ponting as shock and awe still lingered in his voice while his dejected counterpart M. S. Dhoni said: “Sachin played a special knock and it was sad that we couldn’t win the match after that fine effort from him.”

It was a day of significant numbers for Tendulkar. He eased past 17,000 ODI runs with a dab off Ben Hilfenhaus. Scored his 45th ODI hundred. Notched a score that was on par with Kapil Dev’s historic 175 that ambushed the Zimbabweans during the 1983 World Cup. And yet, when the match ended, Tendulkar sat forlorn inside the dressing room as victory eluded the little big man of Indian cricket.

Chasing Australia’s 350 for four in 50 overs, Tendulkar helped India battle past a top-order slump, encouraged Suresh Raina (59, 59b, 3x4, 3x6) to express himself and almost reached victory’s doorstep. The sporting gods willed otherwise and India was bowled out for 347 in 49.4 overs while Praveen Kumar’s face turned ashen and grief welled up inside him as the third umpire upheld the run-out appeal.

The pursuit of a huge target commenced with Virender Sehwag contributing his usual cameo. Tendulkar meanwhile acknowledged the vociferous cheers from the stands for his 17,000th run with a half-raised palm. He was aware that the day’s work had just started for him and there was a calm assurance in his gait that might have made a monk proud. The support-cast of Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and M.S. Dhoni, all fell with single digit scores as the Australians eyed an early finish with the score reading 162 for four. However, they remained wary of their old tormentor — Tendulkar.

Tendulkar (175, 141b, 19x4, 4x6) unfurled a bouquet of shots that displayed his mastery and power. The seamers — Doug Bollinger, Shane Watson, Clinton McKay and Hilfenhaus — were punished with pulls, punches and drives. Ponting then employed his spinners Nathan Hauritz and Adam Voges and watched the ball vanish past the sightscreen.

Tendulkar had rolled back the years and the fans were delirious in the stands while Ponting chewed his nails and remained inscrutable. Tendulkar and Raina added 137 runs for the fifth wicket and statisticians quickly flipped their books to figure out the chronology of big chases. Raina pulled with panache and Tendulkar bled Michael Hussey with deft placements and an improbable victory had moved into the realm of probability.

A dejected Tendulkar at the post match ceremony.-

However, hope sagged as Raina and Harbhajan succumbed to Watson and when a tiring Tendulkar tried to get one over short fine-leg’s head, the stadium lapsed into shocked silence. The tail then lost its head through comical run-outs at the wrong time and the Australians were delirious in their huddle.

Earlier, opener Shaun Marsh’s maiden ODI hundred — 112 (112b, 8x4, 2x6) — vindicated Ponting’s decision to bat on winning the toss. Marsh like his father Geoff, tested the Indian attack while starting out dourly in the company of an aggressive Watson (93, 89b, 9x4, 3x6). The duo shared a 145-run partnership that hinged on Watson’s ability to clear the ropes against an error-prone Indian attack though Harbhajan Singh gained some respect initially.

Harbhajan scalped Watson but Marsh, gaining in confidence, played his shots as Ponting (45, 45b, 3x4, 1x6), Cameron White (57, 33b, 2x4, 5x6) and Hussey (31 not out) hammered a hapless attack though Dhoni did swap his bowlers and was innovative in his field placements. A short mid-on for Ponting and two fielders manning short third-man for Marsh revealed a captain who was keen to stem the run-flow but it proved impossible as his bowlers sprayed the ball around.

Dhoni did not help his cause either, as he failed to pouch Marsh’s snick off Harbhajan and later Sehwag dropped the southpaw.

Marsh soon displayed strength as he slammed Harbhajan for six and later whipped Ashish Nehra and company for some steady runs. “Marsh played one of the finest innings I have seen in India,” Ponting said. And it helped that the Indian fielders displayed butter fingers and frail feet. Marsh was out in the final stretch but White and Hussey drove home the advantage to dent Indian hopes before Tendulkar threw a lifeline and then sadly watched it unravel in despair while Australia gained a critical 3-2 lead in the seven-match series.

THE SCORES

Australia: S. Watson c Jadeja b Harbhajan 93, S. Marsh c Gambhir b Nehra 112, R. Ponting b Praveen 45, C. White c Tendulkar b Praveen 57, M. Hussey (not out) 31. Extras (lb-6, w-5, nb-1): 12. Total (for four wickets in 50 overs): 350.

Fall of wickets: 1-145, 2-236, 3-270, 4-350.

India bowling: Praveen 9-0-68-2, Nehra 10-0-79-1, Munaf 9-0-73-0, Jadeja 5-0-44-0, Harbhajan 10-0-44-1, Yuvraj 7-0-36-0.

India: V. Sehwag c Bollinger b Hilfenhaus 38, S. Tendulkar c Hauritz b McKay 175, G. Gambhir c Hilfenhaus b McKay 8, Yuvraj Singh c & b Watson 9, M.S. Dhoni c Voges b McKay 6, S. Raina c Manou b Watson 59, Harbhajan Singh c Manou b Watson 0, R. Jadeja (run out) 23, Praveen Kumar (run out) 9, Ashish Nehra c Hussey b Bollinger 1, Munaf Patel (not out) 2. Extras (b-1, lb-5, w-8, nb-3): 17. Total (all out in 49.4 overs): 347.

Fall of wickets: 1-66, 2-92, 3-126, 4-162, 5-299, 6-300, 7-332, 8-333, 9-335.

Australia bowling: Hilfenhaus 10-0-72-1, Bollinger 10-0-75-1, McKay 10-0-59-3, Watson 8.4-0-47-3, Hauritz 5-0-43-0, Voges 3-0-19-0, Hussey 3-0-26-0.