I am going to continue from where I had left off in the last piece and complete my trilogy (of sorts) on the 2001 series.
In the final Test at Chennai, India got off to a solid start in response to Australia's first innings score of 391. With the score at 211 for 2, Sachin Tendulkar came out to face Glenn McGrath, who was working up appreciable reverse swing with a slightly older ball, and marked his usual leg stump guard. McGrath had just accounted for SS Das with the first ball of the third day, a sharp incoming delivery. Sensing the context of the match, Tendulkar started off cautiously and played out the McGrath spell.
By the time he came back for his next spell, Tendulkar had just about started opening up and played a majestic cover drive off McGrath. Strangely, McGrath was taken out of the attack after a mini, four-over spell immediately after lunch, in which he took the wicket of Ganguly. Once Tendulkar opened up, he was in scintillating touch. There was a glorious square drive off Jason Gillespie, a conventional sweep for six off Colin Miller and many varieties of paddle sweeps (some of them should be called reverse straight drives) against Shane Warne and Miller.
With the series hanging in the balance and Tendulkar, along with Rahul Dravid, dragging the match away from the grasp of Australia, McGrath was brought back into the attack. After having little success with his probing line, McGrath attempted a string of bouncers against Tendulkar, and when he refused to take the bait, McGrath engaged in a bit of a verbal duel, chiding Tendulkar to take him on and go for the hook shot.
This is the mighty Tendulkar, already being hailed as next only to the Don. He is being provoked by the guy who had him worked out in just the previous match. He is in sublime form here, and was already batting on 72. He could have got out and it wouldn't be considered a failure. He could have taken on the most potent bouncer in the game and stamped his legend.
The id was suppressed, and the super-ego prevailed.
As Tendulkar had said before, a contest is not always won by belting a bowler out of the attack. Playing out a probing spell to set you up for a big innings is perhaps a bigger success.
He played out the McGrath spell, put on a show against the rest, and reached his hundred with a six over long-on off Miller. Individually against McGrath, he played 42 balls across three spells, with two majestic cover drives, a couple and two singles. Overall, he scored 126 and set up the match and the series for India.
But the subplot didn't quite end there. When stripped of the larger context, and with no series at stake, Tendulkar was at a greater liberty to take on McGrath in Bangalore in the first ODI that followed the Test series.
McGrath, with his unique short strides that aided his exaggerated carry, runs into bowl the first ball of the seventh over, pitches it on just short of a length angling in from outside off. Tendulkar, who had been off to a quiet start till then, picks the length up so early that it is as if he had been waiting for that particular delivery, as if he had a mental map of the length he will take McGrath on, shuffles across a tad and, with nearly no weight transfer, launches it over midwicket for six. Brutal.
Was it great anticipation or gifted vision?
This particular shot may be a great exhibition of Tendulkar's batting prowess, but that's not all. It's also a fine testimony to his mental strength and gambler's instinct. On a bigger stage, with a crucial Test series on the line, Tendulkar resisted the urge to establish his supremacy in the individual battle. He knew his odds against the meanest bouncer in the game, and understood the cost of a mistake in that context. Yet, he didn't let the incident completely perish from his mind. He was biding his time until the odds turned in his favour and, when they did, he stamped his class.
As if that wasn't statement enough, Tendulkar followed it up with a beautiful on-the-rise cover drive off a slightly fuller ball. And when McGrath bowled an even fuller delivery, Tendulkar unfurled the most pristine cover drive off the front foot, which left McGrath trying to mime the shot on his way back.
The mini-duel started with a chide to play the pull shot, and ended with a mime of a cover drive.
When he's not watching / talking / tweeting / reading cricket, Mahesh Sethuraman works in a bank in India to pay his bills. He tweets @cornerd