The brittle master
You ask any modern Indian cricketer or even foreign players in the Mumbai Indians team, they all point to one constant piece of advice given by Sachin Tendulkar: Under pressure you have more time than you think you have. Delay the charge. Today, Tendulkar tried to make a laboratory experiment of it. It was a high-risk approach that was simply enthralling to watch. When is he going to go for it? Surely, he has left it for too late? Tendulkar had squeezed himself and Sanath Jayasuriya in the middle-order as Mumbai had been choking whenever the duo failed at the top.
The plan didn't start off well with Mumbai wobbling at 23 for 3 when Tendulkar entered in the sixth over. If the top three had added more runs, then it would have been understandable but they seemed caught in no man's land. Tendulkar and Jayasuriya however, stuck to the plan. No shot in rage, nothing flashy, just keep batting and delay the assault. It threatened to cause an implosion. Shane Warne tried his best to shake them off their focus, throwing little temptations their way. The mini-battle between Warne, Tendulkar and Jayasuriya was rivetting. It wasn't action packed but the gameplans of each of the masters were fascinating to watch. On the one hand you had the sages - Tendulkar and Jayasuriya - and on the other, Warne, the wizard.
Warne flighted the leg breaks to Tendulkar who at best looked for singles. Ditto for Jayasuriya. Warne brought the men from the deep and increased the trajectory but there was no change in the batsmen's mindset. Warne knew one wicket could turn the game in his way. But he wouldn't have been too displeased with the run rate either. Johan Botha too bowled two tight overs. The pressure was mounting and the two batsmen would have to really need to turn it on consistently for a period of time. The risk might have been too much. And this approach couldn't be a blueprint for a successful chase for other batsmen. It needed the calibre of Tendulkar and Jayasuriya to pull it off. Would they?
At the end of ten overs, Mumbai required 92 from 60 balls. At the strategic timeout the two batsmen remained on the pitch. Jayasuriya stretched himself on the ground while Tendulkar stood. Both were involved in a chat with Shaun Pollock and Praveen Amre. Upon resumption, Jayasuriya tried to slog-sweep Warne but fell. Tendulkar had to do it now. The mind couldn't but go back to their previous encounters. Tendulkar charging Warne has to be the sight of the 90s for many Indians and one image has frozen into the mind's eye - Sharjah. The Tendulkar charge. And Warne waving his hand in front of his face almost in disbelief. Would it happen again?
Two balls after Jayasuriya fell, Tendulkar jumped out at the flighted legbreak to lift it over inside-out over extra cover. Warne ripped another one even higher but with more work on the ball. Tendulkar came out but ended up miscuing the lofted hit but it fell safely. Tendulkar cranked up the heat. He dispatched Yusuf Pathan over long-on and hit three consecutive fours to the straight boundary off Ravindra Jadeja and the equation came down to 48 from 30. The man seemed to have pulled off his incredibly risky plan.
But Warne wasn't done yet. He squeezed one past Tendulkar's attempted sweep to claim his man. Game over? Abhishek Nayar didn't think so and played a fine whirlwind innings till he had a Tendulkar moment of his own. With just six runs needed from nine balls, he dug out a yorker to the leg side and ran, unaware that the ball was with the wicketkeeper. Just like Tendulkar in the 1996 World Cup against Sri Lanka with Romesh Kaluwitharana, the keeper, stumping him. India collapsed then, Mumbai choked now. The Tendulkar shadow refuses to leave Mumbai.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo