India won the fourth match of the ODI series against Pakistan at Gwalior and sealed the ongoing series against Pakistan 3-1 with one match still to go.
The chief architect of this win was Sachin Tendulkar, who hit a masterful 97 — out for the 6th time in the last 21 innings in the 90s. Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and M. S. Dhoni too played sensibly to get India home. This was yet another match in which India didn’t really appear to lose control of the game at any point in time. Much like India’s previous wins by India in this series at Guwahati and at Kanpur, India appeared to be in the drivers’ seat right through the match; if the teams’ hands were not on the wheel itself, the closeness of hand to wheel was reasonably conspicuous.
Every time Pakistan threatened to take the game away from India, either a wicket would fall (when Pakistan batted) or a series of big shots (when India batted) would bring the game back into Indias’ control. In that sense it was a bit of an Australian-performance by India! For example, just when Shoaib Mallik and Younis Khan were threatening to take the game away from India, Zaheer Khan clean bowled Mallik to redress the equation. When Shahid Afridi bowled a few tight overs to cramp Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, suddenly from nowhere, Sehwag belted out a huge six to unconstrain the batsmen. The next over from Afridi saw Tendulkar launch into three sublime 4s!
Tendulkar batted quite wonderfully. Many a commentary talks of the “Tendulkar of old”. This is an unfortunate and, in my view, somewhat senseless trend to compare Tendulkar-of-today with the Tendulkar-of-old or the Bradman-of-old. There seems to be this native and implicit (sometimes frustratingly explicit) expectation that suddenly Tendulkar will start to play like the 1998-vintage Tendulkar. In my view, however, the 1998-Tendulkar was what it was… the 1998-Tendulkar. I am convinced that we will not see the “Tendulkar of old” that L. Sivaramakrishnan and Arun Lal continue to talk about in their game-commentary. It enables me to fully enjoy, appreciate, cherish and value the “Tendulkar of today”. And yesterday’s exhibition was close to perfection by Tendulkar. On a pitch where most batsmen struggled, Tendulkar wrote his own script. He played with nonchalance and confidence — Dileep Premachandran, in his CricInfo article, talks of Tendulkar playing with “confidence of old”, which is perhaps the right way to describe his batting last night.
At one point in time the TV commentary team — another topic for another day — talked about a window of opportunity for Pakistan and possible panic in the Indian dressing room when Sehwag and Tendulkar got out within a few overs of each other. M. S. Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh were doing battle in the middle. But then Robin Uthappa — India’s new finish-man — and Irfan Pathan were still there in the pavillion! There seemed to be plenty of gas left in this vehicle. In any case, Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh played with calm comfort to steer India home again, as they did in Guwahati!
I do strongly believe that India must use the dead-rubber game at Jaipur on Sunday to plan for the months ahead. I believe it would be appropriate for the team to rest Sourav Ganguly for that game. The lack of a 5th bowler could have hurt India if it were playing a stronger team last night. The time is right, in my view to blood Praveen Kumar. Moreover, with a view to the long season coming up for Team India, Zaheer Khan — who, incidentally, bowled with great control in last nights’ game — could be rested too.
I’d like to see India play the following team (in batting order) for that game on Sunday:
Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, M. S. Dhoni, Robin Uthappa, Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Sree Santh, R. P. Singh