To understand the term ‘the ugly Australian’ you need to watch cricket

THE ugly Australian. That’s a term which is pretty common in the cricketing world, simply because one sees a great deal of evidence on the field. Yesterday, there was one more instance of the kind of boorish behaviour that serves to make every decent citizen of this country wince in shame.

Australia does not know how to lose gracefully in sport. Generally, if an Australian team loses, it is because they played badly, not because the opposition played better. And when this explanation is being trotted out, there will be also be a string of excuses offered, reasons as to why Australia could not win.

In cricket, Australia has got pretty used to winning, by fair means or foul. Since they dethroned the West Indies in 1995, Australia has been the leading team in both Test and one-day cricket, even though their record has not been anything like the West Indies during the 15 years that the Caribbean team was the top Test team.

Recently, Australia was toppled from its spot atop the Test cricket ladder and is now ranked third. This is, in part, due to changes in the team, changes brought about by retirements, injuries (there are lots of injuries due to the incessant cricket that is played worldwide) and politics.

But the behaviour of the Australian team is still appalling. One instance – and there were plenty of others, mind you – from the fourth day’s play in the third Test against the West Indies will suffice to illustrate this.

Chris Gayle, the captain of the West Indies, is a laidback person. He doesn’t lose his temper, keeps silent most of the time he is on the field, but can be a dangerously destructive batsman once he gets going.

When the West Indies began the improbable task of trying to score 359 in their second innings to defeat Australia, Gayle’s wicket was a vital one. More so, since he had made a rapid 102 in the first innings. In the previous Test he had shown an entirely unknown facet of his batsmanship by carrying his bat for 165, a long, slow and patient innings which helped the team to draw the game.

For a while, it looked as though Gayle and makeshift opener Travis Dowlin would put on a sizeable opening stand, until the latter fell to an injudicious stroke. This brought in Ramnaresh Sarwan, the other seasoned player in the side. Sarwan made a hundred when the West Indies chased down 418 in 2003 to defeat Australia; this, incidentally, is the highest fourth innings winning score in Test cricket.

Hence, both the wickets of both Gayle and Sarwan were vital for Australia to feel confident about winning. One more factor has been haunting Australia: the last time they played a Test in Perth, it was against South Africa – and the Proteas chased down 414 to beat the home team.

For a while after Dowlin was dismissed it looked as though Gayle was settling down to play a long, patient innings, similar to the one he played in Adelaide. But Shane Watson, one of the players whose abilities are highly over-rated, finally got an inside edge and keeper Brad Haddin grasped the catch.

Watson then ran to Gayle and began to jump up and down in front of him like a monkey. He was screaming out loud as well but Gayle refsued to be drawn into any kind of retaliation. He turned and departed for the pavilion. Watson was calmed down by his teammates.

It was ugly to see a grown man behave in this manner. It would have been surprising to a first-time watcher of the game – but to someone who has been watching for decades, it was just one more indication of the fact that the moniker “ugly Australian” is indeed an apt one.

Both umpires then spoke to Watson and he has been reported for this incident. It remains to be seen whether he will get off lightly as his teammates have or whether he will be hit with an appropriate penalty.

There was a constant stream of chatter on the field, right from the time the West Indies’ second innings began. The Australians have no need to talk, most of them are good cricketers and if they play to their skill-level, they can win. But they seem to think that they have to keep abusing people on the field.

This often has the opposite effect; opposition players get sufficiently worked up to play well above their abilities and things go wrong for Australia.

This habit of sledging is an indication of an inferiority complex: secretly, the Australians are always scared of losing. They have grave doubts about their own abilities and hence resort to verbal abuse to try and wear down the opposition.

This is one more reason why Test cricket is slowly dying, this display of boorish behaviour on the field.

Why is Chris Broad still a match referee?

ON A day when the fifth fastest century in Test cricket was scored, there was a sharp reminder of how the white man still rules what is essentially a colonial game.

The West Indies captain, Chris Gayle, put the Australian attack to the sword in the second half of the second day of the third Test to make 102, with a display of clean hitting that hasn’t been seen since Adam Gilchrist made a 57-ball Test hundred against England in 2006-07 at the same ground.

But it was the ugly clash between players that was the standout incident of the day – more so, considering the type of justice that was meted out.

West Indies off-spinner Sulieman Benn, a feisty character, was bowling when Australian wicket-keeper Brad Haddin angrily remonstrated with him for running into Mitchell Johnson while trying to field on his follow-through.

Haddin had no business getting involved in what was an accidental clash between Benn and Johnson.

But he did, and thereafter things hotted up. Benn fielded the next ball as Haddin stroked it down the pitch and made as if to throw down the wickets at his (Haddin’s) end. Haddin pulled away from the wicket and extended a hand to Benn, inviting him to throw the ball. There was no need to do that unless he wanted to aggravate the situation further.

When the over was bowled, Benn began to make some comments to Haddin who was coming up to mid-pitch to have the normal chat with Johnson that batsmen have between overs.

Johnson brushed Benn’s hand as he came up and this led to Benn pushing him away. Yes, Johnson made the first contact.

It was only at this point that umpire Billy Bowden got involved and asked the players to stay apart.

But, strangely, when match referee Chris Broad adjudicated, Benn was charged with a level two offence and Haddin and Johnson with level one offences.

Broad penalised Benn one Test or two one-day games. Haddin was asked to forfeit 25 percent of his match fee and Johnson will lose 10 percent.

Apparently, those who contest the charge get stiffer penalties; Benn contested the charge while the two Australians did not.

Haddin was the agent provocateur; if he had minded his own business, nothing would have happened. Johnson is old enough to look after himself and has been in the team much longer than Haddin; if he was a junior player and at the start of his career, one can understand Haddin’s involvement.

Yet Benn earned a heavier penalty than the two Australians.

Broad has form in this regard – last year when Australia was in India, Gautam Gambhir and Shane Watson collided on the pitch and Gambhir copped the heavier penalty, a one-match ban. Watson forfeited 10 percent of his match fee.

In the same series, India’s Zaheer Khan was fined for a verbal exchange with Matthew Hayden; the latter was widely known as one of the most foul-mouthed players in his time.

A third incident in the same series: Australian captain Ricky Ponting earned not even a rebuke for continuing to appeal long after the umpire had ruled Virender Sehwag not out on a lbw appeal. But he did not earn even a rebuke from Broad.

It’s interesting to recall that when Broad, a former England opener, was given out in the Sydney bicentennial Test in 1988, he knocked all three stumps out of the ground with his bat in anger and was fined £500, the maximum possible fine at the time

It looks as though the ICC takes every chance it gets to penalise the countries that line up behind India when it comes to voting. India is the powerhouse in the cricketing world and the white members of the ICC just hate this – they long for the days when they were making the decisions. This is their one way of getting back at the coloured nations – appoint a match referee who can get a bit of their own back.

Fast bowlers have lost their skills

WHY are today’s fast bowlers unable to attack a batsman’s body? Why are they unable to bowl a decent yorker? Why do they just keep bowling up-and-down stuff when the wicket is one of the bounciest in the world?

These are some of the questions that came to mind as I watched part of the first day’s play in the third and final Test between Australia and the West Indies at the WACA ground in Perth. The pitch there is one of the fastest in the world and the West Indies have found it a happy hunting ground in the past.

But this time, they do not have the bowlers to take advantage of the bounce that the pitch offers. Only one, the youngster Kemar Roach, was able to use the pitch to some extent. He gave the Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, a good working over and forced him to retire hurt after getting one ball to rise and hit Ponting on his left elbow.

Like all great batsmen, Ponting – and despite the fact that he is in the twilight of his career, the Australian captain is still a class act – has his moments of vulnerability at the start of an innings. Last January, he was given a good working over by the Indian teenager Ishant Sharma and lost the duel. This time, it remains to be seen what he will do when he resumes his innings sometime later in the game.

The rest of the West Indies pacemen were innocuous. They tried to maintain a good line but never threatened. Ravi Rampaul may be a decent tailend batsman but he is no class as a bowler.

The third paceman, Antiguan Gavin Tonge, from the same island that produced the feared Anderson Montomery Everton Roberts, looked to be bowling well within himself and needs to free up his action a bit to generate enough pace. He looks cramped when he bowls though he has the height and physique to be a good fast bowler.

But height and muscle are only half the story. The late Malcolm Marshall was a small-made man but find me a batsman who felt unafraid when the Barbadian with the whippy action was marking out his run-up. The willowy and graceful Michael Holding could hardly be called muscular but batsman called him “Whispering Death.”

Fast bowlers no longer seem to be able to bowl the famous “throat ball” that Colin Croft made his specialty. They seem to be unaware of the “Sandshow crusher” which was a favourite of the great Pakistani fast bowler Waqar Younus who would often knock over all three wickets with one.

When a fast bowler can home in on a batsman’s body and get the ball to bounce awkwardly, it is only a matter of time before the ball is fended off to a close-catcher. And the West Indies were masters of the art of doing exactly this.

On the Australian side, Mitchell Johnson occasionally does get the ball to do unpleasant things but he is erratic and can bowl 20 overs all over the place before he gets one over on target. As a result, batsmen do not have difficulty negotiating his bowling.

Doug Bollinger is good with the old ball though one has to see whether he can use the Perth strip to good effect. The third Australian paceman, Clint McKay, is an unknown quantity.

It is interesting to note that during the West Indies heyday, the 80s, their bowlers were the match-winners more often than the batsmen. The bowlers conceded only around 24 runs per opposition wicket, a figure that went up to something around 26 in the 90s. By 1995, Australia had dethroned them.

In the 2000s, the West Indies bowlers have been getting wickets at the cost of about 50 runs apiece. Their batting figures have stayed relatively stable over these three decades.

Which goes to show that during the good times, the bowlers were the ones who pulled the irons out of the fire. They do not have bowlers of that class anymore – occasionally, someone shines as Jerome Tayor did when they beat England by an innings in Jamaica earlier this year.

But for the most part, the West Indies bowlers cannot take the 20 wickets required to win a Test. And that, one fears, will be the case for some time to come.

West Indies captains are generally conservative

WHEN West Indies captain Chris Gayle opted to continue batting into the final day of the second Test at Adelaide – despite having a lead of 296 at the end of day four – he was just following in the footsteps of previous captains from the region.

Gayle could have looked for a bit of history by being the first Windies captain to win a Test in Australia in this decade. Yes, that’s how bad the Windies have become, the last time they won a Test against Australia in Australia was in 1997 at Perth.

Gayle chose to bat into the final morning and did not declare; he left the decision on when to send Australia in be taken out of his own hands by waiting until his team was bowled out.

But coming off such a terrible record – he has captained the West Indies in 16 Tests and won just three – one can’t blame him.

Let’s recall here that Clive Lloyd did something similar in Melbourne in 1984 – and he had won his previous 11 Tests, six against Australia on either side of five against England. The West Indies were then three years into a reign of supremacy that would see them spend 15 years without losing a Test series.

Lloyd batted into the final morning, despite having a lead of 346 overnight. At the end of the fifth day he was left to rue the fact that his bowlers had taken eight Australian wickets and could well have taken the remaining two if only they had an extra half-hour.

That half-hour had been taken up by Lloyd who extended the lead by another 23 runs to set the Australians 370 to win. Australia was 198 for eight at the end of the day. And the West Indies bowling attack was comprised of Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Courtney Walsh and Roger Harper, not one to be sneered at.

Lloyd had one bad experience in the 1970s when he set India 404 to win on a spinning pitch in Trinidad and, despite having three spinners – Imtiaz Ali, Raphick Jumadeen and Albert Padmore – in the side, ended up losing to India by six wickets.

And thereafter he was always conservative. He never took a chance but then most of the time he never had to, because he was winning and winning without having to strain even a sinew.

Indeed, the only example of a West Indies captain making a sporting declaration (in this case, calling it suicidal is better) I know of, is the case of Gary Sobers who set England 215 to win in the fourth Test of the 1968 series. England duly won the Test and the series as a result of this victory.

Gayle’s cautiousness means that this time too, the Frank Worrell Trophy will remain with the Australians. The West Indies have never been able to win it back since Australia regained it in 1995, the closest they have come to it being the 2-2 series draw which Brian Lara’s team achieved in the Caribbean in 1999.

Gayle may be able to end the tour in style by leading the West Indies to victory in the final Test at Perth. But he’s missed a chance that will never present itself again – to challenge Australia for the trophy.

Time-wasting is killing Test cricket

TODAY is the fifth and final day of the second cricket Test between Australia and the West Indies and I am watching the final session as I write this. I have been watching, and listening to the game on radio, since I was 10 years old and I will probably be fascinated by it till I die.

The West Indies, surprisingly, have had the better of the exchanges in this game, after losing the first Test in three days.

Test cricket is a slow game and has always been so. Yet it has been made progressively slower over the years by the disgusting tactics adopted by players and the inability or refusal of umpires to reel them in.

Take the ongoing game. The post-lunch session on the final day began two minutes late. When tea-time was reached, the umpires took up position for one more over. The two Australian batsmen started walking off – they were trying to save the match. The umpires said nothing. One over was lost.

There are a hundred similar things that happen during a game – players wasting time during an over, between overs, calling for drinks at any time they feel like, captains talking to bowlers again and again about field settings, and on and on and on.

The teams are required by the playing terms and conditions to bowl 90 overs a day. That works out to 4 minutes for an over – one hell of a lot of time. A fast bowler should have no problem getting through six balls in that time.

Yet no team bowls 90 overs in a day. Play always goes on for the extra half-hour that is allowed if needed but even after 6½ hours, the number of overs bowled is always short of 90.

The paying public have their own lives to lead. They are expected to spend an extra 30 minutes at the game – and that means 2½ hours for the duration of a Test – and yet not get the full value they have paid for.

And the folk who run the game are surprised that the public are losing interet in Test cricket!

The administrators of the game – the International Cricket Conference – are more interested in coming up with gimmicks to retain public interest in the game. They are a bunch who have little interest in the game apart from the money – and it’s a lot of money – that they gain by being involved.

Now that the ICC is headquartered in that dodgiest of places, Dubai, it means that income is tax-free.

The West Indies, the top team in the game during the 1980s and 1990s, has fallen away and become a joke but the ICC has never thought about funding some kind of programme to ensure that the islands that make up the West Indies can run some kind of decent development plan to keep training cricketers.

As a result, many series are played between grossly mismatched teams and the public are expected to turn up and watch. The public come to see good performances but how can players who are turning up for games of all kinds – five-day, 50-over and 20-over – shine every time?

How can players who are not trained properly play the game at the level expected? Mediocrity rules – but there are TV commentators aplenty who hype up even this sad spectacle.

And the public are still expected to turn up, knowing fully well that overworked players will put in half-hearted performances simply because they have been playing too many games.

Even the ICC’s latest gimmick, the introduction of referrals to a TV umpire, so that a team can question two decisions per innings in a Test match, has been such a badly botched exercise that most of the players are already pissed off.

One umpire, Mark Benson, could not take the pressure of the players questioning his decisions and promptly left the ongoing second Test after one day of officiating.

Test cricket has no future and with the ICC in charge it is sure to die off in the next five years.

Is Haddin fit to be Australia’s Test keeper?

FOR any wicketkeeper to take over from the multi-talented Adam Gilchrist is a difficult task. When the replacement is a man who quickly sets an Australian record for byes conceded in a Test, it becomes all the more difficult to escape scrutiny.

Brad Haddin is playing his 21st Test for Australia right now and has already conceded the grand total of 265 byes. That’s a very high number for a keeper at any level of the game. When it comes to Test cricket, it is bad.

By the time Haddin had played 15 Tests he had conceded 179 byes; at that stage Gilchrist had conceded just 77. Gilchrist’s predecessor, Ian Healy, had 84 at that stage of his career.

Haddin hasn’t reached anything like Gilchrist’s level of proficiency with the bat either; his 1217 runs have come at an average of 39.25 with two hundreds. He has claimed 77 victims, one of them stumped.

Gilchrist turned many games Australia’s way with his batting. His strike rate was 81 runs per 100 balls in Test cricket. Haddin isn’t even close on this front.

Last year in a Test against India at Nagpur, during a series that Australia lost 0-2, Haddin conceded 39 byes to create his own record. At one stage, he was so frustrated that he threw a glove at the ball when it deflected off Sachin Tendulkar’s body. Result: Australia was penalised five runs.

But it is not only in these respects that Haddin comes off looking bad. Gilchrist had the reputation of someone who played the game in a fair manner and was one of just two players during his time – the other was Brian Lara – who walked when he felt he was out. Nobody walks in the modern game.

Haddin was caught out putting his hands in front of the stumps during a one-day international against New Zealand; the ball hit his hands and then went on to the stumps. Neil Broome was adjuged bowled and after video replays made Haddin’s actions evident, New Zealand skipper Daniel Vettori did everything but call Haddin a cheat.

And Haddin has a reputation for being quite a noisy character at the crease. He often can be heard sledging the bowlers and at other times gets quite chatty when a batsman is settling down and looking like he will be around for a while.

When Haddin was injured during the Ashes in England this year, Graham Manou took over. He was then injured and Tim Paine did service for Australia. Both showed much better ability behind the stumps.

Given that Haddin has the blessings of the selectors, he will continue to be the number one keeper unless his performances come under more scrutiny. The Australian media is not overly prone to examine the performance of any player when the country is winning. When the losses mount, then the folk who write for a living get vicious.

Haddin, thus, will survive without having to do a great deal. The fact that he is from New South Wales, which has always been the dominant power in Australian cricket, will no doubt help.

But it is a big comedown from Gilchrist. And that becomes more and more evident with each Test that passes by.

West Indies ruled because they worked hard

TEST cricket from 1980 to 1995 was ruled by one team – the West Indies. During that period, the team never lost a Test series, they either won or drew, no matter where.

There was no points system in place during those years to rank Test teams. Such a system often enables a team to retain the status of top Test team even though it has lost numerous series here and there. During those years, you had to avoid being beaten to stay on top – and for 15 years the West Indies did just that.

One of the great fast bowlers of that period, Joel “Big Bird” Garner, (so named because he stands six feet and eight inches in his socks) was interviewed on TV in Australia yesterday, where the West Indies are now playing a three-Test series and making a pretty big mess of it as well.

Garner, who hails from Barbados, is the manager.

It was interesting to listen to him even if some of the questions posed by Mark Nicholas of Channel Nine were somewhat banal. Thankfully, Ian Chappell was also present for a major part of the interview and he rarely puts his foot in his mouth or utters an unnecessary word.

During the interview there was some footage shown of the famed West Indies fast bowlers of that period getting Australians caught or bowled. There were other clips of bowlers like Curtley Ambrose hitting batsmen on parts of the body and leaving them bent over in pain.

What was most interesting was Garner’s answer to an obvious question – why were the West Indies so good during that period and why had they fallen away so much?

Many people are under the impression that the West Indies just happened to produce a huge number of very good cricketers during that period, players who performed consistently due to their talent.

(After Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose, the West Indies have not produced a quality fast bowler. There have been several who have flattered, only to deceive.)

While Garner admitted that they did have talented players aplenty, he had one reason for the success they enjoyed – hard work and thinking about the game.

Much of the credit was given to Andy Roberts, the first great fast bowler of the 20 years from 1974, a period when there were more great pacemen in the game than at any time in the history of the game.

The names of the pacemen from different countries who left their mark (and on batsmen’s bodies too) are familiar – Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Geoff Lawson, Merv Hughes, Craig McDermott, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshall, Wayne Daniels, Courtney Walsh, Curtley Ambrose, Patrick Patterson, Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Richard Hadlee, Bob Willis, Allan Donald and Fanie de Villiers.

Garner said a junior fast bowler would room with a senior paceman on tour and during Tests – and pick up valuable hints about attacking the opposition.

And whenever the pace quartet was about to come up against a particular batsman, they would pick a man from their own team who was as close as possible to that man and bowl to him in the bats.

For instance, when they wanted to devise a strategy to attack Allan Border, they had numerous sessions in the nets with Larry Gomes. And when they were thinking about the best way to tackle an attacking right-hander, they would ask the great Viv Richards to have a turn against them in the nets.

Many people think of Richards as arrogant but he never put his own interests above those of the team. He was simply proud to be part of that team.

And the West Indies of the modern era? They were lazy, said Garner. They did not train and they did not enjoy the game half as much as the teams of the 1980s and 1990s did.

Garner is in his third year as the president of the Barbados Cricket Association, and trying to upgrade the status of the game on the island. Part of his initiative involves the setting up of a museum so that youngsters can be made aware of exactly how much a tiny island like Barbados has contributed to world cricket.

Any initiative which helps to produce a better class of cricketer for the Caribbean team would be more than welcome. The last time the West Indies were competitive against Australia was when they drew a series 2-2 in the Caribbean in 1999, solely due to the efforts of one Brian Charles Lara.

When sports bodies dictate the agenda…

RUGBY matches telecast in New Zealand on Sky TV are made highly watchable by the two commentators – Grant Nisbett and Murray Mexted. Nisbett follows the game and Mexted, a former All Black, adds some spicy comment.

But that is all in the past. Mexted has been shown the door by Sky simply because he criticised the New Zealand rugby union authorities for their decision to cut four teams from the provincial Air New Zealand cup tournament next year.

Mexted was apparently told by Sky that the NZRU was a commercial partner and should not be criticised.

This isn’t the first time that Sky has shown such sensitivity; earlier this year when the Indian cricket team toured New Zealand, its officials took exception to the fact that Craig McMillan, who is associated with the Indian Cricket League, an unauthorised rival to the Indian board’s Indian Premier League, was a commentator for the one-day series.

McMillan was pulled from the team after the complaint during the fourth one-day tie. He was also supposed to be a commentator for the second Test at Napier, alongside former Indian player Ravi Shastri.

Shastri is said to be the one who raised the red flag about McMillan.

The Indian cricket board is king when it comes to cricket, be it the shorter variety or Test match cricket. The Indian team is a drawcard anywhere in the world given the huge number of Indians who are interested in what is to a large extent a boring game.

This trend has been present for some time – sports bodies trying to control media coverage. In Australia, the Australian Football League (Australian rules football) has tried to dictate terms to the the media.

The AFL has its own official website and supplies official pictures of the players to the media; these pictures cannot be used by online media.

Other sports do try to extract the maximum commercial gain from an event by selling rights to an official media organ – and the sad thing is that the media goes along with this.

Which means that actions like that of Sky TV are partly to be blamed for the sports bodies acting like prima donnas. When principle is thrown overboard, the public tend to get the short end of the stick.

Tendulkar: the little genius

THERE have been occasions recently when one has often felt that it was time for Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar to think about retirement. The man has been hesitant at the crease, often slow to react and caught off-guard by balls that he would have smashed to the boundary ten times out of ten a year or two ago.

But then he just blows you away with an innings which puts him on par with the late Don Bradman, Sir Gary Sobers, Sir Vivian Richards, and the diminutive Brian Lara. It is a privilege to be able to watch one of these innings unfold, a chance to study a man who, despite having every reason to be puffed up and proud, is still very much a self-effacing character.

He played such an innings in Hyderabad a few days ago, an innings that almost took India to an incredible victory. He made half of his opponents’ total, in a manner that looked effortless and made the observer realise that, after 20 years of playing at the top level, he still has a few years of good cricket left in him.

The odds were very much against the Indians making anything like a good showing when, in the face of chasing down 351 for a win, they lost two wickets before 100 was on the board, and a further two by the time the score reached 162.

This meant that Tendulkar, who opened the innings, had just one specialist batsman left to play alongside him, and 189 runs more to get if the match was to be won. By the time the fourth wicket fell, he was six runs away from a hundred and had already indicated that he was at the top of his game.

Australia was aware that if he went, a win and a 3-2 lead in the seven-match series, was there for the taking.

The match was all Tendulkar It speaks volumes for his mastery, as his innings came after Shaun Marsh, son of the illustrious Geoff, had made his maiden hundred, and Shane Watson had contributed a well-made 93. That the man of the match award came to Tendulkar says a lot.

Tendulkar hasn’t been in the best of form in this series, and the one time when it looked like he was regaining a bit of touch, in the fourth game, he was the victim of an umpiring error. He made 32 in the third game without really looking anything like his best.

But Hyderabad was a different story. He watched as the flamboyant Virender Sehwag sprayed the ball all around the ground in a quickfire knock of 30 that kept the scoring rate high – India needed a trace over 7 an over to win after Australia made 350 – and kept his end up, taking no chances.

The bad balls were treated as they deserved but Tendulkar played as though he was planning to settle down at one end for the night. It almost turned out that way. It took until the seventh over for a masterly touch, when he played a classy pull shot and a flick off Doug Bollinger, both to the boundary.

He had to cope with the distraction of reaching 17,000 runs in one-day cricket early on in his innings and as there was a full house, there was quite a din when he achieved that mark.

But his concentration never flagged. It was in the 20th over that he began to look ominous when he went back and across to hit Watson over the mid-wicket boundary. There was control, class and domination writ large in that one stroke. At that point, anyone who has seen him play a long innings would have realised that he would be at the crease for a while.

In the same over, he drove home the message by hitting Watson to the cover boundary, dancing down the track and placing the ball very neatly just out of reach of a diving extra-cover fieldsman.

He treated Nathan Hauritz with contempt in the next over, hitting two sixes off successive balls. One went over long-off, the other over long-on. Hauritz saw the second one coming and dropped it short but Tendulkar adjusted in a trice and did not even bother to run.

After his captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, left at 162, Tendulkar found an ally in young Suresh Raina, who played with panache. The pair went through the same routine time and time again – they played a couple of overs without taking a risk, and then got the run-rate back to a manageable level with some calculated big-hitting.

The big hits were never made in desperation; they were cricketing shots every time. Despite the big total, it was Australia that looked the worried team.

Raina was dropped twice but Tendulkar only offered one half-chance when he had crossed 130. It looked very much like India would get home with the little master there at the end.

But, sadly, it was not to be. Not that Australia deserved to lose; it was just that with a player like Tendulkar in such majestic form, he deserved to be on the winning side.

In the 48th over, he fell to debutant Clint McKay. A slower ball caused his demise as he failed to clear short fine-leg with an up-and-under. Hauritz took the catch and the game was over.

India had 19 runs to get off 17 balls but as usual the tailenders flattered to deceive and fell in quick succession to hand Australia victory by three runs.

The night belonged to one man, Tendulkar. He played down his contribution by characterising his 141-ball 175 as “one of my best. I was striking the ball very well…”

Then he went on to talk about the game and the rest of the team. Like Lara, he often plays great innings and ends up on the losing side. He hasn’t won as many games off his own blade as Lara did but the only word that fits for a knock like this is genius. There is no current player in the game who is his equal.


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