On April Fools’ Day 1998, Agarkar made his debut against Steve Waugh’s Australia at Kochi. Ajay Jadeja scored a 100. India posts 300+. Man of the match? Sachin Tendulkar, 5-32! They say, “History repeats itself”. Yes, it does!
As Kris Srikkanth did sum it up in “Fourth Umpire” (the otherwise normal sounding name that has disgusting non-cricketing comperes, in Doordarshan, that’s as resolute as ever in not making upward reforms), Catches win Matches. Zaheer, Sehwag, Ganguly all pulled off quality catches as India completed a comfortable win over Pakistan. Hopefully this will help set some statistics right, considering all lousy numbers of head-to-head records with Pak. Maybe, someone could talk about umpiring as well, considering the hat-trick (trick?) of Aaqib Javed (all 3 lbw — Ravi Shastri, Azharuddin and Tendulkar — and not out) etc.
But above all, yesterday’s match was an exposition of cricket in general, and life in a sense. Sehwag should have been out first ball. But he’s going through a purple patch, so Mohammad Hafeez drops him. Ganguly is going through but the worst phase of his batting. An innocuous ball, going down the legside (probably marginally towards leg stump), kinda swings late and uproots the leg stump. First ball. That’s cricket. And that’s life, as Ganguly did put it at the presentation ceremony. However, I am happy for Ganguly in that a lot of commentators (who obviously know what cricket is) do sympathise with him, esp. Ravi. I loved the way in which Ganguly takes it all, smiling, “For once, I’m hearing something different”, as the Kochi crowd cheered — rather than jeered, as in Kolkata and Bangalore — as Ravi allowed a second extra, for Ganguly to bask in that momentary joy!
Overall, a great win. A much-needed one too, after the debacle at Bangalore. It was important to push down Pak morale a bit, and pick ourselves up, and that’s what we exactly did. It’ll be great to see the likes of Yuvraj and Kaif come good in the forthcoming games — Pak will be asked a lot of questions! And as Sriraj’s been saying, I too would love to see Dhoni open with Sehwag in one of the games.
But what would be the batting strategy? Pak’s bowling being as lacklustre as it is, we could survive batting first up. But, from my memories of the 1998 series, played exactly around this time, openers for the side batting first performed rather badly, due to the moisture and sponge bounce (that took Tendulkar yesterday too), whereas the middle-order performed very well. I guess we should hold fort for 8-10 overs, attack harshly for the next 5-7 and then play normal cricket. And batting second would not be a problem, unless of course, there is a 285+ total to chase, or the pitch turns venomously (unlikely). Pardon me for this analysis, but I am certain this is better than all the garbage we hear from the commentary panel, Ravi excluded.
Finally, a word about the ball of the match. Quicker one, directed at the off stump, kisses the top of the bail, bowls Inzamam. Sachin picks his first of five. What a player (quoting Tony Greig, Sharjah 98)! Incredible.
p.s. Any guesses to why Dravid pumped his fist on reaching the 100? Was it at the media ignoramuses who keep questioning the Rock’s (no longer the Wall, and he’ll be the Mountain when he retires!) ODI capabilities? The last time I remember him showing some real fury on the cricketing field was on reaching his 100 in that ever-so-famous Kolkata test, 2001, when he pumped his bat and helmet in the direction of the media box.