India's dangerous customers

Yuvraj Singh bludgeons through the off side BCCI

Numbers don't matter so much in other sports like football or rugby: there aren't so many of them. But in cricket, stats are the very game itself, and the clues from which you can deduce how a match went. For example, if Jonathan Trott scores 25 at a strike rate of 20.01 you know he was throwing the bat in a reckless pursuit of quick runs. If Chris Gayle scores 250 at a strike rate of 450.01, well that was just another Test match.

So on the day that the Goliath of cricket statistics, the man dragging around more statistical monuments than a statistical monument seller on his way to the statistical monument festival, announced his retirement, it was fitting that India won a T20 in which runs flowed like water.

For a long time, though, the outcome was uncertain. Australia were bashing along biffingly. Finch was the star. His style is brutal, but with a hint of genteel restraint, like a bull in a china shop wearing a bow tie. In his rampaging 89, he managed several rough-edged moments of beauty, most notably the cuffed four that passed equidistant between two fielders, appreciated by cricket fans and geometry teachers alike.

Powered by Finch, the Aussies were barrelling along like a runaway gypsy caravan down the side of Mount Everest, and even though bits kept falling off, they weren't slowing down at all. India's better bowlers were marmalised, so Virat Kohli and his slow legcutters were given an outing. It did not go well. There may be a time and a place for part-time slow legcutters, but this was not it. And his slow, wide, leg-side half-volleys didn't prosper either.

With the target a more-significant-than-usual 202, India's chase was wobbling a little at 100 for 4, with the rejuvenated Yuvraj still in single figures, when Dhoni came in.

"He's a dangerous customer," opined the commentator.

Anyone who has worked in retail will know what he means: the kind of customer who pays for his packet of crisps with a 50 bank note that feels suspiciously rubbery, or who pretends to be a health inspector and asks about the expiry dates on those elderly dairy products at the back of the fridge, or worst of all, the kind of customer who comes in late in the day, gets out an enormous chunk of willow and smashes up the tinned-beans display.

"At his best, Yuvraj combines the wristy impudence of Laxman with the brute force of a swinging wrecking ball"

But today, Dhoni was second fiddle to another titan of thwackery. At his best, Yuvraj combines the wristy impudence of Laxman with the brute force of a swinging wrecking ball. As he found his range (about ten feet over the boundary rope) Australia began to wilt like a collection of recently cut flowers next to a radiator.

Along the way, he was almost caught by Watson, who used the modern juggle, hop and skip technique. In my day, fielding instruction was limited to a painstaking demonstration of the long barrier method, a sort of sports yoga, taught with reverence and awe, in pursuit of the then revelatory teaching that a fielder was there to prevent runs, not just to stand around.

Nowadays, fielding is a branch of gymnastics. But the problem with the juggle, hop and skip is that it has three parts, like the triple jump, and all three must be executed correctly if a chap is not to fall flat on his face. Watson juggled nicely, he hopped back over the boundary with aplomb, but he boobed on the skip, his bootlaces catching in the stitching of the advertising whatsit, and the whole thing was for naught. He could have achieved the same effect if he'd employed my trademark almost-but-not-quite-reaching-it technique.

On the final lap, India cruised up to Australia' s comparative score like a sports car pulling alongside a rickshaw. But still the last over arrived with the outside chance of a close finish. Seven to win off six, and in the booth, Shane Warne turned to his Jedi mind tricks.

"A wicket or a dot ball," ordered Master Warne. Watson slipped in a short one, and Yuvraj could only squeeze out a single. "A wicket or a dot ball," muttered Shane Kenobi. Dhoni duly swung and missed. Now six were needed off four. But at this point, over-confident in his powers, Warne went over to the dark side. "Knock him over!" he implored Watson. Dhoni lashed a four through the covers, and the game was all but done. One ball later, fireworks and smoke filled the sky, to mark not just the retirement of the 1989 model of Indian super-batsman, but the successful and long-awaited launch of Yuvraj version 3.0