Wednesday, February 24, 2010

An Ode to the 200

I have always considered Sachin a very good batsman, a very good selfish batsman who ensures that people talk about him 20 years after he has retired, much like his mentor and city-dweller Gavaskar. Famously, fierce foes from both sides of the border, Gavaskar and Javed Miandad, concurred on one thing, that this new kid on the block will re-write all batting records. Well, may not be everything, but definitely he replaced one yesterday. And what a knock that was!

Enough has been said by now in the surprisingly low 893 news articles in google news about the match and the context in which he achieved it, which I read through all morning. Having missed the live version yesterday until my passionate friends rang me up to tease me, I even caught the replay of the entire innings in my own 4*4inch tv, aka mosaic in this part of the world, as I wanted to write a proper account of it. What caught by attention was the quality of the innings, rather than the number of runs scored. Here was a guy timing his innings to perfection, he wanted to achieve the landmark and he knew exactly what he had to do to achieve that. Having gone to 191 in the 43rd over, he strolled to his 200 in the 50th over and left it till the very end, keeping the billions watching to the edge of their seats. No one knew whether he would make it, but for himself. He also was keen to ensure that he batted the whole 50 overs "to test himself", so that injects more sense into it. It was least surprising for me, who has watched almost all of his 46 hundreds, and his agonising and lengthyyyyyyyyy 90s.

That Sachin would be the first to the landmark was a bit surprising to me. I would have expected the dasher version of Sachin in the 90s to have done it, I would have expected the frenzy of Sehwag to have accomplished that, I would have to even think the 6 hitting chaos of Jayasuriya to have gone past it. But the Sachin of today is more focussed, he knows he doesnt have the time left in him and he has to make the most of what comes to him. With 10 hundreds in the last 12 months, and with 93 centuries to his name now, I am sure hes on the right track. Yesterday, he could not have asked for a better combination than a small ground, flat pitch that road contractors would be proud of, a number of able partners who took the pressure off him and a wayward attack that pours full tosses and full length balls. But still, the credit goes to him for making it stick, where a lesser player would have thrown his wicket away.

Although I do crib about the selfish attribute of Sachin's innings, there have been some classy innings by Sachin which I have admired along the way. The Perth genius of 1991, The Cape Town massacre of 1996 with Azhar, Desert Storm at his peak in 1998 and a lesser version of it in Australia 2009, the Chennai heartbreak of 1999 which I happened to watch live at the stadium and the equally poignant Hyderabad version of 2009, the World Cup classic against Pakistan in 2003 are the ones that have stuck to my mind. Being a critic of Sachin is never easy, but given only a handful of gems in 600+ innings doesnt make my feelings any better.

I always rate the quality of an innings by a few factors, the number of edges, the number of threes, the number of fours to name a few. The bowling attack is irrelevant as you are as likely if not more likely to get out to a poor shot than to a good ball. It is in this respect that the innings yesterday stands out for it was of an outstanding quality. Sachin had the discipline yesterday to rival his cover drive-cutting innings of Sydney 241 and Nagpur 100. He hardly had any edges, with every ball striking the middle cleanly. It was phenomenal that in 50 overs and 200 hard runs, there wasnt even one half chance. That the maximum consecutive dot ball count was 4 at the start of the innings is a glorious statistic. He even ran two 3s, and quite a few singles, which has characterised all his innings and shows that he doesnt mind working hard for his runs. He doesnt mind having to run unlike some of the lazy bums around in international cricket content with whacking the balls out of the ground. The 25 fours that he hit yesterday was another record I am proud of, cos it means he found the gaps to the boundary on a small field with 11 fielders on it. This is where the men are sorted out from the boys who whack 6s like in street cricket. His accumulation of runs were brilliant, his 50s taking 37, 53, 28 and 29 balls respectively. This is where most of the dashers like Sehwag, Jayasuriya and Afridi fail. Theirs is more likely to read 19-26-out. The beauty of the innings is the way the acceleration comes after reaching the primary 100. While the others done care if they get out at 0 or 99, Sachin doesnt care whether he gets out at 100 or 139. Definitely, he does care about 99, 149 or 199, where he wouldnt mind offering a perfect defensive stroke or two to the combined agony of a billion souls ;) And the way he takes a single to fine leg or square leg or third man to invariably reach his hundred off a single behind the wicket is testamount to his superior skills of eschewing risks while reaching landmarks.

Sachin is definitely the world's premier run machine whose consistency is outstanding. While there could be one off wonders like Zimbabwe's Coventry who will continue to threaten this record created yesterday, I am sure there will be some like his overall ODI run tally that will stand the test of time, similar to the first ODI 200 which took 39 years in the making. Records are meant to be broken, like he himself said it, but class is permanent. He is a class apart when it comes to run scoring and creating benchmarks for others. Hats off to Sachin on breaking the unbreakable. Like the famous Roger Bannister's mile under four minutes, I expect that many will follow suit now that the seemingly unbreakable has finally been broken. If there is a winner yesterday, its the spirit of sportsmen, which constantly breaks the barriers considered unbreakable.

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