Arjuna Ranatunga on how the Indians have options in excess October 26, 2005

Tendulkar is still the very best in the business

Arjuna Ranatunga
The return of Sachin Tendulkar reconfirmed what I have always believed to be the difference between greats and merely good cricketers

Sachin Tendulkar made Muttiah Muralitharan, for once, appear mortal © Getty Images
The return of Sachin Tendulkar reconfirmed what I have always believed to be the difference between greats and merely good cricketers. A good cricketer would take time to find his bearing after a long lay-off while a great one would slip into his cast as if he had never ventured out of it. On the basis of what I saw in the first cricket one-dayer in Nagpur, Tendulkar is still the very best in the business.

Tendulkar's riposte to speculation on his future has been nothing less than stunning. He lashed out on the offside, executed those pick up strokes which had all but disappeared from his repertoire and made Muttiah Muralitharan, for once, appear mortal. His all-out aggression, the sprint between the wickets left even his younger colleagues breathless.

It would be difficult not to get some similarly lyrical about a youngster who did not allow the legendary figure at the other end to completely overshadow him. More than Tendulkar, I would like to think it was Irfan Pathan who took the game away from the Sri Lanka.

It was frustrating to see an orthodox leg-spinner bowl his stuff to a left-hander who had specifically been sent to go hell after the leather. You speak to acknowledged left-handers such as Brian Lara and Sourav Ganguly and they would admit their preference to see a leggie dish up his stuff. Pathan took an instant liking to such an offering and the momentum had irrevocably shifted away from the visitors.

In my view, Sri Lankans have not played this bad for a long time. There was hardly any stand-out feature, be it in batting, bowling or fielding. You don't come to a party after eight years and be cavalier about it. Reverses such as this can ring in your ears for long. In the next two weeks, we will come to know the character of Atapattu's men.

The old bogey of being poor travelers would raise its head again. In recent times, we have truly believed in the intrinsic value of this side which is not subject to the conditions they are playing. They have risen to number two in world rankings on merit and better things looked in store. Now the old doubts will resurface again.

I wonder if playing against West Indies or Bangladesh injected a false sense of belief in this side. They could also have been fooled by the new look Indian team whose mentor had been out in the cold for six months and doubts were freely in the air if his best was not already behind him.

Rahul Dravid provided a stirring finish to the innings but it must be said he could not have found a better platform. One of the noticeable aspects about his batting is the way he shifts gears. He nearly always is dependent on ones and two at the start of his innings and nearly always provides a great flourish in the end.

It shows how well Dravid knows his game and how confident he is with his methods. He climaxed his innings with nearly every shot in the book - lofted strokes over the infield, ferocious pulls and square drives backing away towards the leg-stump. One sweep off Chaminda Vaas from the middle stump defied belief.

His captaincy too conveyed a man who had come well prepared to the middle. He brought on his spinners at the precise moment and his field placements were thoughtful. It also appeared to me that the team backed him to the hilt. He made a great statement of intent and India seem ready to leap into the arms of the future.

I just hope the momentum has not shifted away from the Sri Lankans at right angles. They would need to put their indifference aside and think deep and hard about the matches ahead. I sincerely feel the openers need to be tinkered with since it has been an ordinary association between the two of late. I would love to be proved wrong but Sri Lanka can ill afford to start on the wrong foot and then play catch-up game for the remainder of the series.

Recovery for them has to be made on all counts and the support bowling staff to Vaas and Murali need to show their fangs quickly. Fervez Mahroof and Dilhara Fernando need to pull their weight and push the Indians on the back-foot.

Before the game started, there was more than a mild query about the quality of the Indian middle order. There would still be some now but largely on a positive note as the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Jayaprakash Yadav and Venugopal Rao hardly got to bat enough in the centre. When Ganguly and Mohammad Kaif return, there would be options in excess.

It is a good situation to be in for the firm of Dravid and Greg Chappell.