ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features
India v England, World Cup 2011, Group B, Bangalore
Strauss and Tendulkar weave a tapestry to savour
Right there in the middle of a frenzied stadium, for about five hours, there were these two geezers doing needlepoint
Sharda Ugra in Bangalore
February 27, 2011
India v England, the World Cup, Bangalore, was supposed to be Razzmatazz Central. Chinnaswamy was heaving, sometimes spontaneously, often annoyingly orchestrated by a giant screen trying to get an Indian cricket crowd to follow instructions. There was schmaltzy muzak between overs, a "shout meter" and regular sightings of business tycoons, Bollywood stars and many Unidentified Importants. It was showtime and it awaited the showboaters of both teams to seize centre stage.
But right there in the middle of all this, for about five hours, there were these two geezers doing needlepoint.
To mention Sachin Tendulkar and Andrew Strauss in the same sentence as fabric and embroidery is to invite lawsuits, so it must be swiftly said that they were not involved in stitching of any sort in Bangalore. Other than their team's innings, each of their centuries being the single strongest thread that held it together, not for its entire length and width, but almost.
They did so with two ODI centuries that showed off the tones of the 50-over game making its cheerful Twenty20 cousin appear a little monotone. There were no bravado shots, no unnecessary risk-taking, just two batsmen who sized up where they were, what they were up against and then went about everything with precision. Every warp could he handled because Strauss and Tendulkar stayed true to the fundamental weft of their batting. Both centuries contained an evolved intelligence of design. Their embroidery didn't contain flourish. Its beauty lay in its simplicity and its intention.
To use a posh word, it was just too darn classy.
First to Strauss, because he batted second. Always under the cosh, in a match where defeat would have set about the shivers, in a stadium rooting against him, in conditions regarded as alien, against a bowling attack cobbled together to do just this sort of job in these kind of game. At the innings break, Strauss said he had told his team, "Lads, that's an unbelievably flat wicket, we can chase this".
It is one thing to concede 292 against Netherlands and chase, and quite another to do so against India at home. The chase was done, Strauss said, in exactly the same way as they had against Netherlands, milking singles (he scored 80 runs in ones and twos), "and taking on the odd boundary in the middle. It's the sort of chase that gives you a lot of confidence as a batting unit that you can chase down anything."
Take away Strauss's 158 and the nine other Englishmen who batted on Sunday night, scored 180 between them. Take away his partner Ian Bell's 69 and that calculation becomes even worse. Strauss considers his highest ODI score, from only his sixth century, his best-ever innings in the format. He had thrown everything into it - mind, body and soul - and did not allow it to be anything else. On Saturday afternoon, he had said that England were far better players of spin than they used to be and his partnership with Bell was the proof.
Strauss scored 107 runs off the 98 balls he faced from the Indian spinners, reading length and leaping onto his back foot against them with confidence. He reverse-swept Pathan on one occasion and stepped out and struck Yuvraj Singh over long-on, the six carrying both distance and impact. Bell scored 49 in 51 off the four Indian slow bowlers, Strauss saying that his innings had been just the hand England required. "You need to be scoring freely from both ends when you are chasing that many and he (Bell) did that from ball one.".
A few hours before all that, Tendulkar had just been Tendulkar, racking up his 47th ODI century and extending his World Cup tally to five in six tournaments. Those numbers may sound monotonous but they bring with it a level of consistency Tendulkar has acquired in the ODI game, as if he has found himself a tool to help him do so. It's a bit like Adam Gilchrist and his 2007 squash ball, except for Tendulkar the piece of equipment, he uses, is his mind. In Bangalore, he struck the first boundary in the ninth over and his first six came in the 18th, yet his tempo never waned. He had Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh to keep pace with him and they gave India the chance to reach a total which, ideally, should have set them up to win the match.
What both Tendulkar and Strauss managed was to be themselves in a situation that could have muddled the minds of the less assured and taken apart the structure of the less skilled. Tendulkar was the calculative aggressor, batting amidst a wave of sound from tens of thousands of throats carrying him along. Strauss was modern classicist, in his own skin in the short game, thoughtful, methodical, his assurance, turning the noise into a tense hush.
After the game, Geoffrey Boycott said the match had showed up every reason why 50-over cricket needed to be loved: "It helps craftsmen play."
Tendulkar and Strauss today were craftsmen of the highest calibre who used the time they had at the crease to show their team-mates, and the crowd watching, how an ODI innings was meant to be planned, paced and constructed. After the craftsmen were gone, the purpose of both teams' turned to pudding. India got knotted up at the end of its innings and England came close to unravelling in a heap.
After the efforts of two centurions whom old Rome would have been proud to call their own, it was only fair that everything tied up neatly.
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