Maestros ready for the fray

Stephen Brenkley weighs up the merits of two geniuses who face off on Tuesday
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The Independent Online
EVEN now, 295 international wickets down the road, Shane Warne is unlikely to have forgotten. Almost every bowling record in the book is at his disposal, but when Sachin Tendulkar strolls to the wicket in Bombay on Tuesday something will surely stir in the Australian wrist.

Four years ago, Warne was playing in his first Test, at the age of 22. Tendulkar was already a veteran, 18 years old and in his 14th Test for India. By the end of that drawn match in Sydney, the new leg-spin bowler had dropped a catch, delivered 45 overs and taken one for 150. The batting prodigy from the sub- continent had scored an unbeaten 148, shared in a record fifth-wicket stand and become the youngest player to score a Test hundred in Australia.

That was their first and last serious encounter - disregarding, though not forgetting, the small matter of the Pepsi Australasia Cup semi-final in Sharjah in April 1994, when India won by seven wickets.

Both Warne and Tendulkar, two of the three most charismatic cricketers in the world, have long since become talismanic to their sides. Warne was initially spared from the bludgeoning uncertainties of limited-over internationals while he established his Test credentials.

Those days have gone. Warne's influence is pervasive in all forms of the game. He yields more runs in the truncated version but he still defies batsmen to take risks. The variety in his armoury remains enormous but it is the relentless accuracy of the leg-spin which makes him so fearsome.

In 53 one-day internationals he has taken 88 wickets - he has 207 in Tests - and after his containing job against Kenya on Friday he brought down his average of runs per over conceded to 3.85. That performance - one for 25 in 10 overs - made nonsense of the state of Warne's Finger.

He has had two recent cortisone injections in the third digit of his bowling hand to relieve the pain, and just before Australia's opening World Cup match he warned that doctors thought it might be arthritis.

This might explain the slight deterioration in Warne's one-day performances in the past year. In 35 limited-over internationals up to the end of January 1995, Warne averaged 1.8 wickets per match, one every 30.8 balls and 3.74 runs per over. In the 17 games he has played since then, up to the World Cup, those statistics were down to 1.41 and up to 39.8 and 4.14.

If he bowls to Tendulkar on Tuesday it will probably mean that the Indian has not only seen off the new ball but also got off to another flier. India's one-day performances have come largely to depend on his talent for plundering attacks at the top of the order, and in both their matches in the World Cup so far - 127 not out against Kenya and 70 against West Indies - he has not been found wanting.

There has been some discussion about his methods and the introduction of plenty of bottom hand into his leg-side attacking shots. The young maestro, who recently signed a sponsorship deal worth $10m, calls it a floating technique. Those who have seen him at close quarters testify that the exquisitely orthodox strokes off the back foot through the off- side remain intact.

Tendulkar may now be considered indispensable as a one-day opener but he came to it almost by default. He batted in the middle order, as he does in Tests, until India's 1994 tour of New Zealand. Promoted because of Navjot Sidhu's neck strain, he made 82 from 49 balls, followed it with 63 and 40, and a legend was born. His innings against Australia will be his 101st in limited-over contests. His average stands at an estimable 33.98.

It is but one game in a long competition, but the way Shane and Sachin conduct themselves on Tuesday, four eventful years since they first met, will help to shape the World Cup's destiny.