Sachin v Warne
Warning: Nothing to do with Pune, everything to do with cricket. But I couldn’t resist.
Back in the Kolkata Knight Riders v Rajasthan Royals game, Gayle was up against Warne. He had been blasting every bowler out of the park until then, until the wizard came on.
Gayle was circumspect against him, not wanting to give up his wicket, principally because he was tonking everybody else out of the park anyways. Even so, given the age old battle between a batsman’s ego and a spin bowler’s guile, he seemed ready to take Warne up, given half a chance.
And late into the fateful over, Warne obliged. He flighted one up a little more than usual, inviting Gayle to make what he would of it. Gayle – you could see him hesitate a fraction – should he go for it, or not? And Gayle being Gayle, he chose to wade in.
The trouble was, the ball had just that extra bit of tweak. It had been sent just that little bit wider than usual. And it was beginning to dip just a little in the flight. And by the time Gayle had finished trying to loft it up, he knew he had been done in – he skied a catch, and the battle was won.
Warne has done this for all of his international career, getting batsmen out by luring them into a shot that they had sworn they would not play. And has succeeded against practically everybody, except for the one that he probably wanted the most of all – the little master.
Those battles are still discussed, still savoured. The twinkle-toed footwork, the change in flight, the relative mastery of Sachin over Warne – and one of the reasons I can live with the IPL and it’s commentators is being able to watch Sachin v Warne again.
And yesterday, that battle was worth going miles to see.
It was the 16th over of the match, Mumbai needed just 48 from 30 balls. Sachind had struck three glorious straight drives in the previous over, and the match was in the balance. Warne had just one over up his sleeve, and he gambled.
The first two or three deliveries were mere jousts, two adversaries sizing each other up. And then the decisive ball. Sachin took his time, sizing up the field, stepping away from the wicket, and making Warne wait. Warne, apparently impatient, waited at the top of his run-up, twirling the ball.
Sachin took his guard – outside legstump. He was plainly going to walk into the shot, apparently giving himself room to hit over the offside. The intention was clear, no matter what the line, he was apparently aiming to clear the offside.
Warne must have taken note as he started to amble in to bowl. Sachin knew that Warne would take this legside guard into account – what, Sachin must have been thinking, would Warne do? Try and follow him onto the legside, probably. So what should he, Sachin, do? Step inside and sweep – either for a single or possibly more.
But here’s why watching this battle is worth all the money in the world – Warne was a step ahead. And instead of firing it down the legside, he fired it right on to the stumps. Flat, with barely any flight. And marginally faster.
Sachin walked in to the line of the stumps, he tried to sweep. But he had not anticipated the line, nor the trajectory. Plumb in front, the ball struck him on the pads.
Warne won this one.
And the spirit of cricket rejoiced, for cricket as it should be was played out even in the circus that is the IPL.