Striking at the right time

Sachin Tendulkar with the CB Series trophy during India’s victory celebrations.-AP

Sachin Tendulkar chose the finals to underline his quality. He dismantled the Australian attack in a classical fashion and was the great Indian barrier at the top of the order, writes S. Dinakar.

Sachin Tendulkar laughed more like a schoolboy than a legend, and the ’Gabba, momentarily, was an emotional cauldron. The Indians had pulled off an incredible triumph. A bunch of combative youngsters led by a courageous captain and an inspirational senior had orchestrated the victory. They had reasons to celebrate the way they did.

Tendulkar scripted two epic ODI innings when it mattered, conquering groin pain and the Australian attack in possibly his last campaign down under. Class is timeless.

Tendulkar dismantled the bowling in a classical fashion, he also innovated and created. For the Aussies, Tendulkar was the great Indian barrier at the top of the order.

After an outstanding Test series, the little master appeared just a touch jaded mentally in the last phase of a gruelling Australian summer. There were loud whispers in the media about his form. But skipper Dhoni warned: “Do not write off someone like Tendulkar. He can come good any time.”

Tendulkar chose the finals to underline his quality. And the Indians inscribed their names on the last edition of the ODI tri-series. A tournament that had become a part of the Aussie summer culture will have a bunch of singing, dancing Indians among its final vignettes.

It had been a summer of controversies in Australia. The fall-out from the infamous Sydney Test was immense and Harbhajan Singh was booed each time he walked in to bat or began a spell.

Under the circumstances, Harbhajan displayed tremendous mental resilience. Despite being under the Aussie media scanner, he stayed focussed, striking crucial blows in the two finals. Importantly, the skipper and the team rallied behind Harbhajan. And they lapped the ’Gabba with the National flag.

Is this India’s greatest ODI triumph apart from the 1983 World Cup? After all, the two sides India prevailed over were the 2007 World Cup winner Australia and runner-up Sri Lanka.

This, indeed, was a demanding field, but Sunil Gavaskar’s Indians had triumphed in the one-off World Championship of Cricket down under in the mid-1980s. The tournament included all the then Test playing nations.

Ishant Sharma (centre) is congratulated by team-mates on dismissing Michael Clarke in the first final.-AP

In any case, it would be wrong to compare eras. The dynamics of the game have changed. The rate of scoring has increased, there is more power on view, the fielding and running between the wickets have vastly improved. The quality of pace bowling has gone down since the 1980s. The pitches are definitely not as livelier as they were in the past. Batting is less of a hazard.

Perhaps it would be a better idea to celebrate the present than go into the past. For the Indians, new heroes emerged. The unsung Praveen Kumar walked away with the Man of the Final award at the ’Gabba. He has the freakish ability to hit the seam, land the ball on the side and get it to skid around and achieve swing off a fuller length. He has strong wrist and shoulders, hits the bat harder than most batsmen expect. Praveen also uses the crease cleverly and varies his pace.

The lanky Ishant Sharma, a very different bowler with pace, bounce, a big off-cutter and a straighter one, made a lasting impression. Sreesanth, who has added a useful slower delivery to his repertoire, and Irfan Pathan bowled creditably in the second finals.

In the dramatic last over, Pathan held his nerve. Pace bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad has done a fine job with the boys.

The Indian think-tank also read the pitch well. The ploy to include leg-spinner Piyush Chawla in finals, particularly at the ’Gabba, was a brave one. Interestingly, Chawla had not bowled in the league stage.

The bowlers need batsmen to put runs on the board and Tendulkar & Co. were not found wanting. Rohit Sharma dazzled with his wrist-work. Gautam Gambhir, light on his feet and heavy on strokes, played some scintillating knocks.

Robin Uthappa, shedding his natural instinct to knock the cover off the ball, played a resolute but critical innings, opening the batting with Tendulkar at the ’Gabba. Yuvraj Singh, short of runs, did manage a blistering match-winning effort against Sri Lanka in Adelaide.

India’s fielding was sharp for most part — fielding coach Robin Singh had a role to play here.

For the Aussies, the finals were a bitter pill to swallow. The host played safe while preparing tracks for the finals — particularly at the ’Gabba — and played into India’s hands.

Perhaps, the form of the Aussie batsmen and the incisiveness of the Indian pacemen weighed on the home team’s mind when it came to making a surface for the second final.

The Aussies will introspect. And a few hard decisions may have to be taken. Adam Gilchrist ‘walked’ at the ’Gabba before drifting into sunset. The legend spent a few quiet moments with the family at the arena after the dust had settled on the second final, taking in as much as he can from the remains of his last match for the country.

Australia will miss Gilchrist as it misses Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. Australia and Ponting face serious challenges ahead. The Aussies are no longer invincible.

Sachin Tendulkar has regained top spot in the one-day rankings after leading India to victory against Australia in the Commonwealth Bank Tri-series.

Tendulkar, who last topped the charts in August 2004, replaced Australian skipper Ricky Ponting as the No. 1 batsman, the International Cricket Council said. He climbed 10 places following his match-winning knocks of 117 not out and 91 in the finals in Sydney and Brisbane. He aggregated 399 runs in the series.

Tendulkar also holds the records for most one-day runs (16,361) and centuries (42).

Ponting, who made only 191 runs in 10 innings, is second, 17 points ahead of South African Graeme Smith.