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Siddhartha Vaidyanathan at Bristol
August 24, 2007
So narrow are the roads winding up to the County Ground that those in cars had to wait in a serpentine queue before they could get in. So limited were the bar facilities inside that spectators needed to patiently wait for their first beer. So inadequate were the washroom arrangements that it demanded immense character to bide one's time.
On a day for queues it wouldn't have come as a surprise if hundreds of batsmen across the English counties, along with thousands more in the leagues, padded up and stood in a queue to have a bat on this pitch. What we witnessed today was a thriving batting dictatorship. The skies were clear, the sun was out, the temporary stands had encroached into the field, the boundary ropes reduced the playing area further, the outfield was fast and the pitch was flat. Thankfully they haven't outlawed the beguiling art of legspin yet.
Harmless jabs that would have resulted in no more than two at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, raced away for four. With the crowd so close to the action, there was no doubt an element of theatre but it was mostly absurd. Here were great performers, armed with powerful bats, backed up by awesome records, up against a minimal challenge. Piling on the runs here doesn't take away their class but demands less.
There was plenty to shout about: Sachin Tendulkar's sparkle, filled with pre-meditated bat-twirls, Rahul Dravid's efficiency, so clinical that a cracking 63-ball 92 ran the risk of going unnoticed, Ian Bell's urgency, burrowing through a large total, and Dimitri Mascarenhas's late lambast, swiping sixes as if he was popping peanuts. The crowd cheered till their throats were hoarse. Such fun.
Someday this despotic batting regime will fall. Until then we'll celebrate the oppressed heroes. Andrew Flintoff managed his first five-for in one-dayers, James Anderson reined the batsmen in early on, Munaf Patel turned in a scorching couple of overs, Piyush Chawla, the baby of the pack, bounded in like a wizard and Ramesh Powar didn't hesitate to toss it up under pressure. These were the soldiers who braved the gun-fire with the odds stacked against them. And, if we believe the cliché about crowds coming in to see batsmen, almost nobody's noticing.
Monty Panesar's exclusion cost England. His replacement Chris Tremlett had a shocker, his length acting as fodder for aggressive batsmen. Flintoff continued to hit the dangerous length - that McGrath-like length that he manages with pace - and out-thought Sourav Ganguly in the Lancashire battle. Sadly neither took his shirt off.
India went the other way, picking two spinners. The ground was small, the pitch was good for batting but they backed their strengths. It worked. Chawla bounded in cheerfully, like a jumpy Duracell-bunny, but unveiled some magic that's impossible to programme. He's taken up a most difficult art, one that requires the mind of a gambler, one where you need to constantly attack. He's barely out of school, yet he's standing up to this oppressive batting regime. Kevin Pietersen, just like Herschelle Gibbs a few months ago, couldn't believe he missed a legbreak that didn't turn. Paul Collingwood was made to look foolish against a masterful googly. It must be inspiring to see such a little one run rings around the opposition.
Mascerenhas's blaze of glory was always going to be a bit too late. Staring at a run-rate in excess of 10 an over, which later soared to 15 and 16, he swished his bat with abandon, entertaining the 16,000 who'd packed into the ground. The pitch was so hard that even Stuart Broad pulled off some big ones at the end.
Chawla was the bowling hero but Powar, the most economical, shouldn't be forgotten. He lured Flintoff's downfall with a dolly, tempting him to take an almighty swipe straight down square leg's throat. So important was that wicket that Dinesh Karthik chose the moment to dare the previously unthinkable feat of lifting Powar and, incredibly, managing to do it. It's time for the rest of the batsmen to follow suit: salute the bowlers, for the Atlas-like burdens they carry.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of CricinfoFeeds: Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
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