Stephen Brenkley: A sporting spectacle to savour and an inspiration for Mumbai
Sparkling Test showcased the game's power as a force for good
Tuesday 16 December 2008
Test cricket can do no more. The humdinger of a match which finished yesterday in a deserved victory for India embodied the essence of cricket, maybe of all sport.
This is a tall claim to make but anybody deluded enough to think that Twenty20 is the only way to go after this may as well take to supporting one-legged underwater pancake racing for their kicks. England lost for all sorts of reasons, not least their reluctance to push for victory, but they played a significant part in a contest which went to the last hour of the last session on the last day and will be remembered down the ages.
India successfully chased 387 to win, the fourth highest winning pursuit in the whole history of Test cricket, now numbering 1898 matches. It beat by more than 100 runs the previous highest winning fourth innings in the country and the man who secured the victory in sublime fashion was the iconic Sachin Tendulkar. In accumulating the 41st Test hundred of his matchlessly auspicious career he was simply consummate.
For almost two decades he has epitomised the advance of Indian cricket and for most of that time he has been idolised and worshipped by the entire country. But there was something more resonant yesterday. It was his city, Mumbai, which was so rudely disfigured by terrorists a fortnight ago, and he is its favourite and most famous son. That Tendulkar should bat with such assurance yesterday, supplying a masterclass of how to pace an innings and measure strokes, was a reminder that Mumbai will return.
He himself was clearly touched. In the immediate aftermath of victory he paid tribute to those who died in Mumbai and to those who stood up to the terrorists. "It is hard to recover from that and cricket is a lesser thing but if we contribute in some small manner to people's happiness then we have done that," he said.
Teams are not meant to score so many on wearing pitches but from the moment India started their innings on Sunday evening, with Virender Sehwag deliciously rampant, there was an air of inevitability. India wanted victory, they craved it, England somehow were afraid of it.
But that is the nature of sport and it demonstrated ultimately why India are the best side in the world and why England are still a work in progress. The occasion demanded a match such as this. It so nearly did not take place after the horrific attack on Mumbai which forced the temporary abandonment of England's tour. In a way, it was sufficient that both sides turned up: the triumph of the human spirit in adversity and all that.
But what then ensued represented the very best of a brand of the game which has been besmirched by a series of cut price offerings parading as the real thing and remains under constant pressure from shorter forms, which are in truth merely quick fixes. Those among us who counselled further delay before resuming this tour were wrong.
It was not always scintillating in Chennai – it demanded patience by player and spectator alike. There was sometimes a chance to put the kettle on or read a chapter of your book, and that was just the participants.
For the first three days there was hardly anybody there. It was worrying and made a nonsense of the assertion by England captain Kevin Pietersen that they wanted to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Indian nation in their hour of need. There was nobody there to stand shoulder to shoulder with.
But it stayed engrossing, partly because England were slugging it out with a genuinely great side and for around two thirds of the tussle were ahead on points.
And on the final two days the people of Chennai turned up, sensing that they were about to witness history, recognising that Test cricket did indeed have it all.
By the time Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh propelled India to victory, the past and the future combining in the here and now, the place was heaving and vibrant with expectation. It was, of course, completely appropriate that Tendulkar should be instrumental in this epic victory.
But then there was Yuvraj, scourge of England in the recent one-day series when he scored two centuries. He has never made it in Test cricket and his ebullient temperament might be a defect. But he was not for disturbing yesterday and by refusing to be upset he upset England. He was marvellous.
England could and should have bowled better. In the heat of the battle, Pietersen will have learnt something about himself and his players. There was confirmation that Monty Panesar, so lauded on his initial entry to Test cricket, has simply not progressed as required. This could have been his time but Panesar showed, as insipid over after insipid over went by, that he was not ready. His eyes gave the game away. He was not in control and he did not know how he might gain control.
Perhaps it will be the making of him, perhaps it will help England to move to the next stage. They will know they could, probably should have won but it will be an enormous task for them to regroup in time for the second Test at Mohali, beginning on Friday. But that is for later. What mattered yesterday was that Test cricket displayed all its finery in front of an enraptured crowd and that one of the greatest cricketers of this or any other age commanded the stage.
Thrill of the chase: Record second-innings totals to win Tests
*Highest second innings run chases:
1 West Indies v Australia, St Johns (right), 9 May 2003, 418-7
2 India v West Indies, Port of Spain, 7 April 1976, 406-4
3 Australia v England, Leeds, 22 July 1948, 404-3
4 India v England, Chennai, 15 December 2008, 387-4
5 Australia v Pakistan, Hobart, 18 November 1999, 369-6
*Previous highest fourth inning's total on Indian soil:
India v Pakistan, Delhi, 4 December 1979, 364-6 (Match drawn)
Pakistan: 273 & 242
India: 126 & 364 (DB Vengsarkar 146 not out)
*Previous highest successful 4th Innings run chase on Indian soil:
West Indies v India, Delhi, 25 November 1987, 1st Test, 276-5
India: 75 & 327; West Indies: 127 & 276-5 (IVA Richards 109 not out)
*Highest successful fourth innings run chase against England:
Australia v England, Leeds, 22 July 1948, 404-3
England: 496 & 365-8 dec
Australia: 458 & 404-3 (D Bradman 173 not out)
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