Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Prince of Trinidad

It was just a matter of time before Brian Lara broke free of the shackles that had bound him over his last few innings. And break free he did, in his own inimitable, unsurmountable style. Against a bowling attack composed of McGrath, Warne and Lee, the Prince of Trinidad conjured up yet another one of his astounding innings, leaving by yet another record in the bargain.

I have always believed that Lara is a better Test batsman than Sachin. For one, Sachin seems to lack the concentration to play really long innings; his 100 to 200, or even 100 to 150 conversion rate is absymal. Also, rescue missions headed by Sachin in Test cricket are extremely scarce. Most of all, Sachin is no more the scintillating warrior he used to be in 1998 (he averaged 80 in that year); today he is more of an accumulator, and no more the 'nightmare-inducing' Sachin he used to be. On the other hand, Lara - flawed genius though he is - remains very much the aggressor. A certain gentleman named Muralidharan can vouch for that.

There have been innumerable articles on Lara and Sachin (Cricket 24X7 has a fine collection on Lara here), but my favorite one talks about both of them, battling together against Australia in 2003. I reproduce some passages here:

McGrath decides he needs to sledge Sachin to wind him up a little. He begins by bowling a short one outside off, and spits on his follow-through: "So...you broke these days, I hear? Asking the government to pay duty on your sports car?"
...
The next ball is an outswinger. Sachin watches it very closely into Gilly's gloves. "Hit that if you can, you little so-and-so...," chirps Pidge. Lara comes a couple of steps down the pitch, taps the pitch with his bat while looking closely at Sachin from under his maroon helmet. He catches the Bombay Blaster's eye, winks and goes back
.
...
t
he next one is a little short from McGrath but has steepling bounce and is just outside off. Sachin steps back and across and powerfully uppercuts it over third man for six. The crowd, which has had plenty of action so far, now goes completely berserk. Lara comes down the pitch, beaming broadly, and pats Sachin on the shoulder.
...
Waugh and Lee are deep in conversation as are the two batting princes in the middle. Sachin seems to be belaboring a point while the Prince of Trinidad, long white sleeves flapping as he squints into the sun, seems to be barely paying attention. But as Sachin stops talking, Lara turns to him and smiles broadly. Brian Charles Lara is enjoying this, while Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar seems all business, very serious. Then Lara turns towards his crease, all grace and quick steps as he adjusts his helmet strap. He checks his guard with umpire Taufel and then looks around to survey the field. Four slips, two gullies, cover point, mid-off and the lone man on the leg side at a funny position between mid-on and mid-wicket. Tugga has been studying tapes with Buchanan and has noted the Trinidadian's penchant for pulling in the air. He may have asked his hit man Lee to try and bounce Lara out. The suspicions are confirmed when Tugga asks the man at cover point to come further in, to silly mid-off. The man at mid-off, Justin Langer, is now moved to forward short leg. Just as Lee reaches the top of his run- up, Sachin decides to slow things down a bit. He takes a couple of steps down the pitch and says something to Lara. Lara nods in response and takes stance.
...
Lee comes in again and bowls a 97 mph thunderbolt. Unfortunately, it's a tad too full. Lara, already into his high back lift and the typical feinting movement backwards, flows into a booming cover-drive like a ballet dancer. There is no one there, and someone from the flag-waving, cheering crowd, picks the ball up and throws it towards Damien Martyn, who polishes the ball and walks up to Lee to offer some encouragement.
...
Lee steams back in, looking a little aggrieved, and bounces Lara. The ball is way too high and Lara calmly watches it fly over his head to Gilly. The next ball is also short and very quick. Lara swivel-pulls on one leg to the mid-wicket boundary, his bat speed camouflaging the superb control over the shot as it speeds all along the carpet to the mid-wicket boundary.
...
Suddenly, Tugga pulls a master-stroke, or so it seems. Lee, who has been bowling from the Vulture Street End, is being replaced. He throws the ball to Shane Warne who will now bowl from the Vulture Street End.
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Warne starts off with a regulation leg-spinner to Sachin who defends towards Punter at silly point. “Well bowled, Warnie,” shouts Gilly. Sachin sweeps at the next one, but fails to time it. He however gets hold of the next one, dancing down the pitch and lofting it high and handsome over the sight screen.
...
What followed was the perhaps the fastest spell Lee ever bowled in his career. The cherry was whizzing past noses and helmet frames seemingly at his will. Brett Lee was making the old cherry talk and it was talking business with a very mean accent. At the other end, Glen McGrath was replaced by an inspired and fired up Jason ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie who also threw everything into a tremendous assault on the batting gladiators who seemed intent on setting the Tasman Sea alight with their sparkling stroke play.
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Only twelve overs were completed in the second hour, but they were twelve of the best Dizzy and Lee could conjure up. Rippers, jaffers, snorters, rib-ticklers, and one (perhaps miscalculated) beamer. Near misses and fierce hooks, balls brushing shirt sleeves; sharply lifting outswingers and spanking square cuts and drives; reverse swinging yorkers and blazing straight and on-drives—all were testament to one of the epic battles between bat and ball, with no quarter asked and none given. Fierce pride, razor-sharp intensity and breathtaking talent provided a glow of magic to the proceedings for the Brisbane crowd.
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It was one over from Warne that changed things. Warne was getting appreciable drift, making the ball bend in its loop away from the left-handed Trinidadian, before pitching wide outside his off-stump and turning sharply in. This is when Warne was at his best: the drift, the loop, the variation in length and sharp, consistent turn. Warne pitched one wide outside off, just short of length and dipping. Lara ballet-danced towards the pitch of the ball and with his left leg dramatically in the air after pushing off for his shot, he nonchalantly lofted it over deep mid-wicket Jason Gillespie’s head for a big six. The timing was so extraordinary and the bat speed so rapid, that most spectators, some of who were in the throes of “Foster’s haze”, didn’t even realize Lara had played anything more than a defensive push. Sachin applauded at the other end.
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The next ball, a flipper, was pulled to the mid-wicket boundary for four, just to the right of a diving Martyn at mid-wicket. Warne again flighted the ball. This time it was hit straighter, right over the sight screen, for a six. Next ball, outside off, didn’t turn. Lara watched it into Gilly’s gloves. Last ball, again a flipper. Lara decides to get creative – he moves inside the line and square drives it for four. The crowd now awakens from their lunch-and-liquid diet-inspired stupor and get caught up in the Lara show.
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Once Lara got in his stride, Sachin began rotating the strike brilliantly, occasionally producing a stroke of such delicate touch that Boycott invented the phrase “Oozing to the boundary”. Like the oh-so-very-late cut that he played off Warnie’s leg-spinner or the tuck off his hips, feet in the air – reminiscent of a Gavaskar in cruise mode against the Windies pace battery – for a single behind square off McGrath.
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Next ball, Dizzy throws it outside off-stump—a back-of-the-hand slower one. Lara late cuts and the square third man ran around to collect. Sachin, ever the earnest partner, is rapidly moving past Lara, who is ball-watching, on his second run and calling Lara through for the third run that would compile a well-crafted century. But Lara doesn’t hear Sachin amidst the crowd noise and is settling for the striker’s end, when he looks up and notices Sachin half-way down the track. He sends him back, grimaces and then starts up the track himself. The throw from Martyn thuds into Gilly’s gloves who promptly breaks the stumps and begins to celebrate. Lara turns around, takes off his helmet and starts walking back to the pavilion. The crowd is stunned into some silence and a slow clap starts.
...
Steve Waugh runs up to the square leg umpire and gesticulates towards the middle of the pitch. The square leg umpire, Hariharan, calls out and halts Lara. He consults with Simon Taufel and eventually beckons to Sachin. Sachin dejectedly looks at the umpires and walks off. Sachin run out (Martyn/Gilchrist) 74. ROW 197-3. “Yeah, get the li’l fella off, Tugga…,” the comments from the outfield slowly filtered up to Lara’s ears. Lara realized Steve Waugh was playing another mind-game. He would now throw the ball to Glen, and try and bait me… Trying to play on the Lara-Sachin rivalry. Well, I’ll be…
...
The next few overs were a fiery confrontation between the bowlers and Lara. Lara, on 99, was not concerned about the single. Instead, he seemed more intent on proving a point to the Aussies. The circumstances revolving around Sachin’s departure had made him very, very upset; he put it out of his mind with a great effort just before every ball.Gillespie now changed his field for Lara. He conceded the single, while keeping the boundaries covered. He banged in one short and Lara jumped around his crease, seemingly indecisive in his approach. McGrath was brought on at the other end and he, too, began peppering the upset Lara with sharp lifting ones aimed at his ribcage/chin area.
...
Then, Gillespie banged one more in short. Lara decided this one was in the slot, even thought there was Lehmann at deep square leg and Warne at deep mid wicket. He pulled viciously over deep square for a six and reached a well-deserved century. He pulled off his helmet and gestured towards the dressing room where Sachin was standing to applaud, still with his pads on since he hadn’t gone into his dressing room after getting out, wanting to see Brian get to his hundred. Lara bowed to the dressing room after acknowledging the crowd.
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The next half hour or so before tea and the session after that was pure mayhem. Lara unleashed a dazzling array of cover drives, on drives, cuts, pulls and hooks of such savage power that rarely did the Australian fielders have a chance to affect their inevitable destinations to the boundary line. By the end of the day, Lara had posted a double hundred in grand style, with consecutive fours off Warne.
...
The two doyens on the art of batting had not only provided a day to savor, but one of them had inspired the other to the kind of heights he always seemed capable of, but never brought off completely convincingly.

I have practically reproduced the whole article here, and am not even sure of its authenticity. I don't even care; the mere vision of the match is enough. I'd give my right arm for a video, if one exists! Read the complete article here.

1 comment:

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