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Hitting the High Road



Just like Test cricket is considered the real test for any cricketer, the fourth innings chase is considered the greatest test for batsmen. Many great players have failed this test; very few teams have achieved glory on that parameter.

For Sachin Tendulkar, this was the one big blot on his career – his fourth innings average before this match was 33. He had come close only once in his 19-year career to take India to a famous fourth innings victory – in 1999, against Pakistan (but heartbreakingly failed by 13 runs). And that too was at Chennai. Now he finally breached this barrier with a brilliantly paced innings, and soaked the pressure like he had seldom done before. That, for once, staying on till the victory was complete meant a lot to him was borne out by his celebrations on reaching the win, and his own assessment of the knock as one of his best ever.

Ironically, the Indian with the best fourth innings record was the only failure today. Rahul Dravid has all but faded out of international cricket – in fact, his demeanour after his dismissal seemed as if he has made up his mind to retire. Given Dravid’s sense of occasion, it is unlikely he would announce his retirement on a day like this when there is so much joy after this landmark win. If he is persuaded to play the last test, then chances are that will be his last. But it seems unlikely that he will play international cricket beyond 2008. It is a sad end to a great career – his spectacular slump in the last two years might require the fickle Indian cricket fan to be reminded about his heroics but more about that later.

This is the biggest fourth innings chase in the subcontinent and it is a landmark one for India in more ways than one. It marks the beginning of a new era for Indian cricket with Dhoni firmly in the captain’s saddle and with the most balanced team in its history – both in terms of bowling attack and youth-experience ratio. Yuvraj finally looks set to fulfill the promise of his great natural talent, while Gambhir-Sehwag look to set new standards for opening batting.

Sehwag’s status in Indian cricket needs to be closely examined once again (more about that later too). He has redefined the parameters of opening batting internationally and is one of the all-time great openers in the history of the game (the fact that he made a comeback this year and has made more test runs than any international batsman augurs well for a career that is set for even more stratospheric heights). This astounding innings that turned a five day test match on its head in just two hours (83 in 69 balls chasing 387 to win in the fourth innings – it sounds outlandish even now) was an unbelievable follow-up to his utterly bizarre comment at the beginning of the fourth day to Ravi Shastri. England were 240 ahead with 7 wickets in hand as they set a fourth innings target and Sehwag said – “We are in control”.

It is sad for England who have such great ambassadors of the game – not just in coming back to play test cricket after the Mumbai terror attacks and donating half their match fee for the victims’ families, but also the manner in which they played and conducted themselves. Strauss’ hundreds in both innings marks one of the great English performances in their game’s sub-continental conquests and the fact that he still ended up in the losing side has as much to do with their relative pusillanimity on the fourth afternoon session when they barely added 50 runs in two hours whilst setting the target as it does with Sehwag’s extraordinary response where India knocked off those same runs in the first 7 overs of their innings.

It will take a lot from England to compete in the next test but this England side does not seem an ordinary one either. It all augurs so well for international cricket.

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