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Second Course

Now be honest. Did you get out of bed early to watch the predicted Sehwag/ Tendulkar show? The only detail to escape my "prediction" was that Sehwag missed "yet another" double hundred by 35 runs. Happily I was not sleeping and tuned in to most of their wonderful batting. Their partnership turned out to be the bedrock of the team's huge winning score and a confirmation of India's number one position in the World Test Rankings.
Mind you I was hugging myself when Laxman and Dhoni repeated the earlier performances with hundreds of their own. I found myself comparing the essential but different keys to excellence of the four batsmen. Sehwag has the finest "pick-up" of the bat with the toe pointing vertically upwards and the front of the blade facing to cover I.e. up and open ( as opposed for instance to South African Pietersen's down and shut method). Tendulkar has the best rythm with his feet moving smoothly into place ball after ball. Laxman has the best top hand control of the four making a most elegant and effective last turn of the leading shoulder towards the line of the ball. Dhoni is hardly in the same class as the other three but for quite a stocky individual, he is very light and quick on his feet. Bowling to these differing methods on a largely friendly pitch would have tested the finest bowlers of any generation and even the world number one Steyn had his work cut out to make any impression.
The South Africans decided to simply bat for time, rather than to bring in the runs equation. They might well have lost the match anyway but the likes of DeVilliers and Duminy would surely have done better to adopt their usual attacking styles. Not everyone is capable of such inplacable defence as Mr Amla. Who, incidentally. on two occasions took early singles to leave a newly arrived partner to face the rest of the over before they were in the least bit settled. Hence the demise of both Duminy and Steyn. These were not the smartest of moves in the middle of an otherwise remarkable rearguard action. To make two hundreds in a match and still wind up on the losing side is not something that happens to many.
I must put in a good word for the umpiring of Messrs Davis and Gould. I really envy the modern players in having such supremely confident and capable arbiters. Any idea that the role of umpiring is being diminished by technology should be put aside. These guys today are almost superhumanly good at their jobs. And it is the combination of "hawkeye" and the hawk eyes of these umpires which may well, perhaps sooner than later, force batsmen to change their method against quality spin bowling. There were four or five "spot on" lbw decisions in the second innings with Steyn and DeVilliers particularly, at full forward stretch. Amla decided to get his bat out in front of his pads which worked for him. Another way would be to move down the wicket more to get to the pitch of the ball. The best I ever saw in that sphere was Neil Harvey who often enough got far enough down to get the ball on the full i.e. before it even pitched. We shall soon see whether there are any budding Neil Harveys in the offing if one or two of them make it a commitment in their game and start to succeed.
I was being encouraged to take a different tack this week with something a bit more personal and nostalgic but that can wait. There was so much to enjoy in this recent Test match back at Eden Gardens, Kolkata at last after a lengthy politically motivated absence. that I put any reminiscences on the back burner, Perhaps I can get it together next week - to include a barely known but striking poem about Test cricket at Lord's. Tune in again if you happen to like that sort of thing.

First Course

Hello everybody - or, hopefully, at least someone. Now that my BLOG site (a Xmas present from my lovely daughter) is up and running, I thought I had better get down to business and type a few cricketing words. The trouble is that England cricketers have dissappeared round the world taking a month's holiday after suffering that crushing defeat in the last Test in South Africa. I may come back to that disaster in due course but I am keen not to start off this new form of communication with anything downbeat or negative. At least, not about cricket.

Going to the doctor at my age is never going to be a particularly positive experience. After the initial pleasantries and listing all the pills that need to be prescribed, there comes the inevitable "let's just check you over" moment. Off with the clothes, onto the examination slab and the worry about whether this is the visit when a "prostate" check is on the cards. Starting with the stethoscope and the deep breaths, things soon move on to a bit of tummy prodding and the usual question "everything OK downstairs?", bowels etc and the immediate trigger response "yes, everything fine thank you" regardless of the fact that I had some sharp pains near the appendix area that very morning and a day when I seemed to be needing a pee every five minutes. I would need to be half dead to admit that there was anything wrong "down there". I would be more likely to be honest if the question was "everything OK upstairs?" Because admitting to "senior moments" of forgetfulness, walking into the bedroom in the middle of the day and then wondering why the hell you are there - is not so bad. I know the answer to that one - i.e. nothing to be done about it - just your age old chap. Which brings me by a rather roundabout route to the positive pleasure of watching two young men in their prime doing something that they do supremely well.

What is it about Sachin Tendulkar making his umpteenth hundred or Varinder Sewag making just another double hundred that sets them apart from the mere mortals that populate the rest of the top places in world batting rankings?. The first thing that stands out a mile is their composure. Their faces are relaxed with just a hint of intensity around the eyes. Then there is the stillness while they wait in the split seconds before the bowler releases the ball. Then there is the footwork, just small movements making sure of their balance. Compare all that with the host of "preparations" made by so many lesser players - the early pick up, the head bobbing up and down, the knees flexing, the feet shuffling, the face contorting in internal conflict and frankly, often enough, in self doubt.

None of this is part of the usual batting instruction manual. Neither the " stillness/calmness" equation nor the flipside of excessive angst and pre-movement. So we should simply sit back and enjoy watching two master craftsmen while they are still at the top of their game. because, sadly, there must come a time soon when they hang up their boots. Retirement is seldom a planned process in cricket. Not least because, however great the player, he is still at the whim of selectors. For instance it must have come as a bit of a shock to the superb trojan of the fast bowling fraternity, Ntini, to be given the chop when he still claimed the heights of a top ten place in the world bowling rankings.

The Indian team will have to suffer in the same way as the Australians when they lost Warne, Macgrath, Gilchrist, Hayden and Langer - all at the same time. There is always a hope - inevitably a vain one - that new players of similar standard will appear to fill their shoes. Not with these two they won't. So tune in, make yourself comfortable in front of the box and enjoy them while you can. ENDS