#16: The Oval – 94 (81) vs England
The failure in the 2007 World Cup was definitely bothering Sachin and then the “mirror mirror” article from Ian Chappell (declaring Brian Lara as the Greatest batsman ever) acted as a fuel in the fire, and the result was Sachin erupting like a volcano in the summer of 2007. In the first eight games (ODIs) he smashed five 50s (3 Nineties) including two scores of 99. Sehwag was dropped, post world cup, and Sachin was paired with his old partner Sourav for the summer in England.
On the fifth day of September India found itself facing a must-win situation as they trailed 2-3 in a seven match series with two still to go. England called it right and went to bat in first. The decision looked questionable as the hosts found themselves at 5/137 in 31st over, however, a fantastic hundred by Owasis Shah, supported by a Luke Wright half century and a Mascarenhas cameo of five consecutive sixes of Yuvraj, leapfrogged the hosts to a commanding 316.
India began their pursuit with their heaviest artillery, Tendulkar and Ganguly, firing in unison. Ganguly set the tone, putting James Anderson away through his favourite point region. Tendulkar then responded with a flick off Broad that flew off the bat and it was game on. There was decisiveness to the calling as the pair pinched quick singles. While they still traded largely in boundaries, there was no hesitancy in the running between wickets.
Tendulkar picked off Anderson for three consecutive boundaries – an off drive, a flick through square leg and a repeat of the earlier stroke – in the eighth over, and Ganguly was keen not to be left out. Off the next over he came breezily down the pitch to Broad and carved him over cover and another trip down the pitch sent the ball several rows back in the stands behind long-on. The fifty for India – hardly maniacal – came off 49 balls, and soon enough Tendulkar brought up his 83rd half-century. The next Indian fifty came even sooner, off 37 balls, and suddenly the target of 316 appeared manageable.
With Tendulkar sweeping past short fine leg when the man was in the circle, and hitting inside-out through cover when the field changed, there was little the bowlers could do. Needing to score at more than six an over for the 50-over span, it needed runs from both ends, and Ganguly matched Tendulkar in volume and entertainment. He even unfurled the pull, timing and placing the ball perfectly, one bounce and over the ropes. The first wicket put on 150 in mere 22 overs.
Soon, Tendulkar fell in the nineties (2/156 in 26) for the fifth time on this tour, and soon after the complexion of the game changed. The run-rate dipped and India kept losing wickets. Next 15 overs only produced 79 runs and 3 more wickets fell. However, Uthappa, kept is nerves cool, and finished the job that was well started by Sachin-Saourav, with two deliveries to spare. Robin’s hit through long off fence sealed the win and leveled the series for India.
This was Sachin Tendulkar’s most unfettered innings of the series and had a boyish touch to it. He played masterful flicks against Anderson, paddle-swept Dimitri Mascarenhas and shimmied away from the stumps to hit Panesar through covers. The inning was masterful but it also had chutzpah. He batted murderously but had moments of playfulness. It’s a big game, he seemed to be saying, but it’s still only a game. He was in such pain because of cramps that he took a while to walk up the stairs to the dressing room. He hobbled away in agony but had, by then, conjured up a kind of magic not seen in recent times. He used his crease skilfully – moving across to the faster men and backing away against the spinners – and struck the ball with a crispness that’s been a highlight of the series.
This summer marked his return of form. Even though he missed seven chances of scoring hundreds in that year (in 2007 he got out in 90s seven times including 3 scores of 99), he went ahead and scored 22 more tons for his country and went on to become the only cricketer in the universe to get a century of international tons. This innings at the Oval and this summer in England was definitely his come-back wagon and a fitting reply to all the critics of “Endulkar” band wagon (including Mr. Ian Chappell)!!!
-Nikhil Sharad Jadhav