Sachin enlivens show

Chelmsford is about to undergo a facelift costing millions of pounds so that the next time cricketers of the quality of Stuart Broad and Sachin Tendulkar grace the ground they will have a backdrop to befit their deeds.

At the moment it is a mundane, cramped, utilitarian place that fits the deeds of Essex men perfectly.

The county lies alongside the East End, London’s working man’s area and it is the genteel place where those who find success and money naturally make their new home.

They bring their traditional manners, customs and habits and so the cricketers they prefer are grafters, stoical men with determination, a large helping of courage and a mass of commonsense.

Graham Gooch was their obvious folk hero. There was nothing of the fancy dan about Gooch who believed in early morning training stints — often two before breakfast — hitting the ball in the middle of the bat and not too much of those elegant touches on display from David Gower.

No wonder he was a god in Chelmsford, Colchester, Ilford and Romney Marshes. But that does not stop these men and women who have tugged themselves out of the East End by their own bootlaces from appreciating the artistic and it is to their credit that when Sachin Tendulkar came visiting they cheered him to the echo.

Tendulkar is also a batsman who visibly works hard for his runs. I have the word of Ravi Shastri for the quality of his 171, full of the sort of tough shots that are his characteristic, balanced by remorseless defence, and a smattering of delicate glances, nudges and tickles.

Perfect Sachin? Shastri, recently the team coach on India’s trip to Bangladesh, now back in the other side of his life as a TV commentator, thought so. “This is his best innings for a long time,” he said.

The Little Master wants this tour — which will almost certainly be his last to the country where he has so many admirers and where his first Test century was hewn relentlessly from a strong England attack — to be memorable.

He must expect to be his own one-man tribute band to Sachin Tendulkar, posting markers to his own greatness.

There is no-one with a cricket soul who will regret it if Tendulkar lays down his memorial stones in every match he plays. He is one of the truly great batsmen — like Bradman, like Lara, like Gavaskar — whose distance from the merely good and competent and worthy we do not appreciate until there is a chance we will not see them for much longer.

The sportingly intelligent of Essex — whether they spoke like Cockneys or Bengalis or sang his praises in Hindi or Urdu — loved his time at the crease and, had they known, would have applauded his wish to give his side’s match against England Lions a fine finish.

Andrew Strauss, the Lions’ captain, turned down the offer on the final morning after both sides had used up their practice time on an all too true pitch, but it is difficult to criticise him.

At the moment Strauss, a well-brought-up young man, may forget to pass you the sugar, step on your toes without an apology or omit to introduce you to someone you desperately need to interview. He is in the middle of the worst “trot” of his life and nothing else is on his mind. Risking defeat while in charge of England’s second team cannot have been his first priority; he needed a good innings.

His 80 was perhaps the next best thing. It was a stumbling, unworthy shambles; he might have been run out, caught out, given out lbw and the longer he batted the more he hung his head and clearly berated himself.

Yet it may bridge the gap between his misery and a return to form and long, perfectly formed innings. I remember Mark Taylor, Strauss’s model if ever there was one, at Edgbaston in 1997 playing just such an innings, keeping his place in the Australian side and having another couple of years as one of their highly successful captains.

I had another moment of vivid recall at Chelmsford as I watched Stuart Broad spring into action, hear his name announced as one of 13 for the first Test and then completing his best five-wicket haul.

It was my first sight of Ian Bishop, who might but for injury have been the greatest of all the massive fast bowlers. As he took the first step of his run-up I was struck with what a great athlete he looked.

So with Broad, son of the England opening batsman Chris, 6ft 6in and still growing but, best of all, a precise, you-miss-I-hit fast bowler in the tradition of Glenn McGrath, Shaun Pollock and Brian Statham.

In 2007 his deadly accuracy overpowers tail enders more easily than it accounts for batsmen but as he gains weight and strength and miles per hour Broad is bound to destroy prolific openers, middle order giants and giant all-rounders just as often. By 2010 he may be as bit as Bishop in every sense.

He is still learning — “not the finished article” as Gooch put it while still watching with admiration. There are so many aspects to cricket, especially for the young starlet trying to achieve maturity.

Young Broad has even developed a joke to help him through the press conference or interview. “I had to be a bowler,” he grins. “Dad did all the batting; I had to improve my bowling so that I might get a chance with the bat.”

(In fact he will soon be a good No. 8 in a Test, he opened the batting for his school — well, he was already 6ft 3in at 14 — and at Chelmsford he helped Tim Bresnan reach his century so his time with the bat was hardly wasted either.)

The Essex lads and lasses loved him too, starting his run with a bound, upright at the crease, following through to within spitting distance — no, of course not, heaven forbid — of the batsman. The ball heads for the stumps like an arrow, not yet at more than 85mph, but true, the mark of all his great predecessors.

Those spectators do not often see international cricket although the club hopes that by expanding its facilities the old County Ground may attract more big matches. So it was not surprising that as I made my way out after the game was drawn I found the ubiquitous securitymen and steel railings surrounding the back of the pavilion to keep at bay the more enthusiastic fans. By this time there were a majority from the sub-continent but whoever appeared — whether it was a slim-line Indian or a steak-fed England player — was sure of a cheer.

It was never a great game but we saw the past in Tendulkar’s innings, the future through the Broad band and 2010 at the County Ground when a few million pounds should have transformed the homely, hospitable place of cricket into something more pleasing to the eye of spectator and performer.

The scores:

England Lions 413 for 8 decl. (T. Bresnan 126 not out, J. Denly 83, S. Broad 50, Zaheer Khan three for 119) and 227 for two decl. (A. Strauss 80, O. Shah 77 not out) drew with Indians 383 (S. Tendulkar 171, M. S. Dhoni 76, Yuvraj Singh 59, S. Broad five for 76, G. Onions three for 90) and 91 for one (D. Karthik 51).

Ted Corbett