April 25, 2007

Mahela, intelligence and ingenuity

ESPNcricinfo staff
Why Mahela's hundred in the semi-final is one of the cleverest in the history of the World Cup

Have you ever played book cricket? I don’t know if young people play it these days but when I was growing up in Calcutta in the 1970s, it was all we used to play in school between classes. In case you don’t know the rules, this is how it goes. The game demands that you open a book at random and look at the page number of the left-hand side page that has fallen open. (Why the left-hand side page? I don’t know. Well, why not?) The last digit of the page number (‘4’ if it is 224, ‘2’ if it is 82 and so on) gives you the number of runs you score. You go on doing this (and adding to your total) until a page falls open in which the last digit is 0 (say, 60; or whatever). Then you’re out. You could play in teams of four or six or one against the other.

You could also, if you were on your own – as I frequently was at home – play it by yourself. I’d organize a fully-fledged game between two Test-playing nations and bat for both teams. Book cricket offers immense scope for cheating. If the page falls open at, say 40, just leave it there a second, look away, the pages will riffle and, in a second, would have turned to 44. Result: the batsman who ought to have been out would have added four to his score. In this devious and not entirely original manner, I managed to make my favourite batsmen score many more centuries than they ever did in their careers.

Now the point of this long-winded story is that not even the most ardent Mahela Jayawardene fans, were he to be as big a cheater at book cricket as I used to be, would have dared give him the kind of innings in his make-believe game as Jayawardene played yesterday. There was about it something of the boys’ own adventure story, of perfect timing (not just in the shots he played during the innings but also in the moment when the innings arrived), of drama, suspense, joy, seeking and finding and fulfillment.

It must be one of the cleverest, most intelligent innings in the history of the World Cup. There have been greater innings, like Tendulkar’s against Pakistan at Centurion four years ago. There have been innings with more swashbuckle and imperiousness, like Viv Richards’ 138 in the 1979 final. There have been grittier ones, like Steve Waugh’s 120 in the 1999. And there have been more brutal ones, like Matthew Hayden’s 66-ball hundred against South Africa in this tournament.

But for sheer ingenuity and cleverness, in the wind-up to it – as much through the tournament as during the innings itself – Mahela’s innings was peerless. He had scored 41 runs in four innings against India just before the World Cup. He failed against both India and South Africa in this championship. Then came 82 against the West Indies and 56 against England.

Yesterday, he had at one stage 6 from 30-odd balls. He had 22 from his first 50. And he ended with 115 not out from 109. It wasn’t so much that his strike-rate went above a hundred in the end. It was the manner in which it did, with the twirls and the steers and the immaculate way in which he threaded the field, the imperturbable, sublime intelligence of it all.

Sitting on our living-room sofas, we fans talk so much about how innings should be paced, about the value of batting right through and having wickets in hand for the final charge. Mahela’s innings should make us all shut the hell up and just watch: if this sort of thing is so rare at that level of sport, imagine how difficult it must be.

Given the way in which Mahela’s campaign – from before the World Cup and during it – has unfolded, yesterday’s big-game big innings was a fitting culmination.

Now why on earth did I say something as silly as that?

Soumya Bhattacharya is the editor of Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He is the author of two volumes of cricketing memoirs - You Must Like Cricket? and All That You Can't Leave Behind - and a novel, If I Could Tell You

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on May 16, 2007, 13:59 GMT

    Srilanka should be proud of having such a fantastic player.What a marvellous game he played against in Newzealand!What a great stoke to lead towards the finals!Congratulations for the brilliant effort!

  • testli5504537 on May 9, 2007, 17:28 GMT

    We played book cricket also in the West Indies in the 80's but it was slightly different with us we would call out left 12 open the book at random count 12 lines down the "left" page and how so wever much letters made up the first word on that line meant the number of runs you scored. However if the first letter began with B or C or H or R meant you were bowled or caught or hitwicket or run out etc.

    It was fun and yes we did have Richards scoring centuries and even one time Michael Holding managed a century. It was fun!!!!

  • testli5504537 on April 28, 2007, 23:43 GMT

    So SOWMYA, Hope you watched the match. Hope you watched the brilliant exclusive knock of Gilly. Credit to SL too, because they worked very hard till the end, not like INDIA surrendering. Go INDIA, Learn to GILLY and SANATH, How to play in pressure situations. All your anti aussie campaign comes to tame end. thats reality, thats just the way it is, things will never be the same. LONG LIVE AUSSIE and THEIR LEGACY

  • testli5504537 on April 28, 2007, 5:07 GMT

    Excellent article Soumya! It is as sweet as your name.

    I think Australia has been playing all their games in top gear so far irrespective of their opposition, a fact reflected in their results. They have been in climax for far too long and we all know what follows that.

    Sri Lanka in comparison, have applied different 'gears' to different situations and haven't really tried to overdo things. I believe Sri Lanka haven't applied their top gear in this tournament yet - not even in the Semis. Now we all know that we do not require special reasons to play well against Australia and in a World Cup Final they will be awesome.

    So, our foreplay will end & we will reach new highs today.

    The world will see the MIGHT of LIONS as they go on yet another marsupial hunt!

    Sri Lanka will end the Australian domination in the World Cup cricket.

    I think Jayasuriya & Murali will be our heros in this match.

  • testli5504537 on April 28, 2007, 1:13 GMT

    It is quite obvious that India are hopelss when they play outside the country.

  • testli5504537 on April 27, 2007, 18:58 GMT

    Indian fan by birth. But that knock of Mahela made me an instant SL fan. Dravid needs to do some learning from Mahela, as i recall Dravid was in exact situation againg SL in this tournament. I think the whole world is hoping SL beats aussies, even the australians, as the team has no sportsmanship left in them.

  • testli5504537 on April 27, 2007, 16:19 GMT

    Too much and too soon. Wait for the final to take place and his innings will gain or loose perspective as things unfold. I think we all give too much attention as to how his innings was paced etc..but having played quite a lot of cricket myself "when your on song(form) and at the crease things just happen.." no batsman or even a bowler plans his complete stay at the crease...bcos it could all go wrong in a moment..and probably of it all happening again is rare whether its tendulkar or any other player.

  • testli5504537 on April 27, 2007, 16:09 GMT

    Srilanka should be very proud of their achievement regardless of how the final encounter with the Aussies turns out. While I always believed that NZ had a chance to break the Semi-Final jinx this time around, as admitted by their own captain , the team is made of bits and pieces players who can perfrom very well on their day. However, looking at the SL team one gets a different feeling. They may not have a world class alrounder like the Australians do but they have a world class spinner ,one of the best wicket-keeper batsmen, an astute and a performing captain, a genuine fast bowler with a confounding action and more importantly they are a team that has been performing fairly consistently and seem to enjoy the game. I am sure they will challenge the Australians this Saturday. However, after seeing the SA vs Aus Semi , I think my prediction on who is gonna win or how close the match is gonna be is only as good as anyone's wild guess. I wish the Saturday's match is a treat for the viewers going down to the wire. I personally root for Lankans but I wont like it if the finals turns out to be an one-sided affair for the SL team - I know it sounds very odd for most of you...But as we all know, anything can happen in a span of 1 hour in this funny game called 1 Day Cricket.

  • testli5504537 on April 27, 2007, 15:42 GMT

    Soumya, Firstly about your writing on book cricket, It took me to my own childhood in Pakistan when I used to do the same play whole test match series betwwwn test team (most of the times Pakistan vs India who else) and then copy and maintain stats. Same age same hobbies, our childhood before age the computer games and play stations.

    Coming to Mahels's innings in the semi finals, The only thing I can compare the sublime timing is with Arvinda Deslava's innings in the 1996 world cup semi-final and final. If Mahela does what Arvinda did in 1996, he is gonna be my favourite batsman for some time to come.

  • testli5504537 on April 27, 2007, 15:28 GMT

    Manjula,Vanny Get Real

    Hayden -Jayairiya -Hayden (average /strike rate/form) gilcherst-taranga -Gilcherst Sangakara-Ponting -ponting (average, strike rate) Mahale -Clark -even Dilshan-Symonds-Symonds (I cannot believe anyone say even on this for batting!) Arnold-Watson-Watson Vass-MacGrath- MacGrath (any way you look at) Malinga-Tait- even Mahroof-Bracken-Bracken Murali-Hogg-Murali

    So get real on form and capability it is Australia but in one day cricket anything can happen on a single day.

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