Oct 2005: Return of the Sach
31 Oct 2005
By: Neil Pickup
They said he was finished. They said that he was injury prone, that he was a shadow of his former self. They said that the baton had passed. They should have known better.
It's officially the winter season. Australia's latest set of tourists - this time the much-vaunted and far-less-united ICC World XI slumping to defeat after defeat as the hosts proved that they were, in fact, far from limply conceding their position as the best side on the planet.
Adam Gilchrist's return to form and Shane Watson's efforts with both bat and ball stood out as the one-day series descended into one-sided farce, the World XI batting order lacking in both inspiration and perspiration and only Kumar Sangakkara's persistence saving the "dream team" from further embarrassment.
Come the Tests, the hymn sheet remained identical as Matt Hayden took on the role of lead chorister, repaying the selectors' faith in him to render the combined bowling efforts of Steve Harmison, Andrew Flintoff and Muttiah Muralitharan insufficient as their batsmen once again failed to show the necessary stickability - shot out twice more for sub-Bangladeshi totals with Stuart MacGill the destroyer-in-chief. Yes, they were that
Meanwhile, South Africa have extended their ODI record to twelve consecutive victories over New Zealand without actually playing well once - no stand out individual performances, just solid teamwork and - most un-South Africa-like - coming through in the clutch to seal tight matches. Has Graeme Smith managed to eradicate the legend of the Proteas' panicking? We'll see come the World Cup should the scores become close or the skies leaden.
Thus by elimination we reach the contest in India, finally rid of Ganguly for the visit of Sri Lanka. On second thoughts, I'm unconvinced whether "contest" is the most apt noun for the circumstance, as Sri Lanka have seemingly only competed with themselves to find the most interesting way of plummeting to defeat. Not content with seeing Irfan Pathan slam eighty from number three, they crashed to 122 all out before spectacularly failing to defend 300 as Mahendra Dhoni blasted 183* - which probably does deserve some credit on the batsman's part.
This series was about more than the outcome, though. It was about the return to Indian colours - and the top of the ODI order - for a national talisman and national hero, and the answer to question whether the Little Master was back in presence or merely in name.
Two and a half hours, ninety-six balls, nine fours, two sixes and ninety-three runs later, the question had been answered. Disposing Dilhara Fernando over the mid-wicket fence with an effortless clip midway through the sixth over suggested the signs were positive, and as shot followed shot and the adrenaline began to course through the Nagpur crowd, India dared to believe.
This was not the restrained version of Tendulkar we had seen in the last three years, tentative and within himself, this was Sachin playing as he did in the storybooks and legends told by parents and older brothers. An unbeaten fifty, filled with boundaries of textbook timing and evocative artisanship to guide India easily home.
Despite Dhoni stealing the sunlight at Jaipur, Indian cricket is once again shrouded in optimism. Ganguly and Chappell's row forgotten, three consecutive wins... is this revival, at long last, for real?
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