Lord's awaits masters' final flourish
The Lord's showdown has already been termed by many, including Paul Collingwood, as "the big final" but it also promises to be the big final English hurrah for three of India's finest batsmen. They have special memories of this country, all three have had an impact on this series and here, in the deciding match, they have the chance to leave a lasting imprint.
Few Indian trinities have combined as effectively as Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. The figures offer some idea: They share 1021 ODI caps, which dwarfs the total number of ODIs played by England (476). Their run aggregate (37,061) surpasses the population of Monaco and the total number of hundreds (75) is just 12 less than what 30 English centurions have managed in 36 years.
To appreciate the art of their batting, though, go beyond numbers. Strip them of their proud records and you still have Tendulkar walk across his stumps and paddle-sweep a medium-pacer or Dravid casually whistle one over midwicket or Ganguly back away and drill one through the covers. To observe each manufacture shots, to notice the improvisations and to see them do so series after series, year after year, is to watch their effectiveness in full flow.
All three were part of the nerve-wracking Lord's final five years earlier, when India hunted down a record 326 for victory. Dravid and Tendulkar didn't do much that day but Ganguly's blazing 43-ball 60 set the tone for the electric chase.
Those were the days when Ganguly captained, Tendulkar batted at No.4 and Dravid kept wicket. Dravid has given up the gloves, reinvented himself as an all-weather one-day batsman and shifted to the hot seat. The most destructive one-day duo, architect of 20 century opening stands, have been reunited at the top. Tendulkar has shed his attritional approach in Tests and batted with joyous freedom in the one-dayers and Ganguly continues to pose a serious threat.
India's fortunes through this series have fluctuated on the back of their performances. All three wins were built on century stands between Tendulkar and Ganguly while Dravid's half-centuries have emphasised his quality as an ideal finisher.
English audiences have been witness to some of their best one-day performances. Few have forgotten Tendulkar's emotionally-charged World Cup century at Bristol in 1999 on returning from his father's funeral, and there's also a fond recollection of his sparkling 105 on a gloomy July day at Chester-le-Street three years later. On Saturday he also has the chance to wipe out a rare blemish in his career: The lack of an international century at Lord's. His highest ODI score here is 14 and his current form points to that record being rewritten, dramatically so.
Dravid was to enjoy a memorable '99 World Cup as well, rattling off two consecutive hundreds though missing out each time on the Man-of-the-Match award. There have been ten other half-centuries, usually in the role of an expert finisher, and a similar effort wouldn't be out of place on Saturday.
"We have played some good one-day cricket here," Dravid said on the eve of the game, referring to India's four wins out of five games at Lord's. "We'll have some special memories of that. We'll look at those memories and get some confidence."
Ganguly, averaging a touch under 40, has had his share of glory. Whether it was hoisting Sri Lanka's spinners for six after thunderous six at Taunton or baring his chest on the Lord's balcony after the series triumph in 2002, his statements have been loud and unambiguous. Three half-centuries in six games have set things up nicely. Lord's, the venue where he made his fairytale comeback into international cricket, awaits the final flourish.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo