Battle With Honour
It was poetic, it was brutal and it was grand. It was Test cricket at it’s very best.
On a pitch that offered opportunity to bowlers and nothing but hope to batsmen, Sachin Tendulkar and Dale Steyn engaged in the kind of battle that is seen all too rarely these days. There aren’t enough top notch bowlers going around the world right now, and far too many batsmen with claims of being in the top drawer for truly evenly matched combat; which is why, when it does happen, it is to be savoured and cherished.
Today was one such occasion. Today,a bowler with real claims to being one of the all time greats took cudgels to a batsman who hasn’t had to fight duels at these levels for years on end now. And it made for gripping, compelling viewing.
Aesthetically, Steyn won. Hands down. He was fast, he was (mostly) unerringly accurate and he was every inch the snarling, in-your-face paceman. His seam position was impeccable, his length varied only for the purpose of intentional surprise and his line deviated from just outside offstump just the once, at the most: for the express purpose of getting Pujara leg-before.
Sachin, on the other hand, was noticeably uncomfortable. To call this criticism of Sachin is to not know cricket, for no one, bar none, can look comfortable on this wicket. He played and missed innumerable times, he pushed tentatively to deliveries that might have been left alone and he had to bring all his knowledge to the fore so as to simply stay at the wicket, let alone score runs.
But, and this is crucial part, he did it. He gritted his teeth, he dug in his heels and he stayed in. Every so often, he would bring out a shot from his arsenal – now the uppercut, now the on drive. If the attack allowed it, he unfurled a couple of majestic cover drives. But mostly it was just a matter of of negating a champion of seam and swing.
He stood outside his crease, which in itself is a rarity. He took a deliberate step in and towards the off stump, and made sure of where it was. He would get well forward, and literally smother every delivery that he could. Those that he couldn’t, he would either let go, or fend at and lose a battle.
But he’d be ready for another, for he was still in the war.
A war that still continues, as I type. It’s barely a couple of overs after tea, and Bhajji has just gotten out.
But the old gnarled Indian warrior remains, proudly unbowed. And the young South African brave still steams in; he still, and truly, believes.