Shamik Das

Monday, December 15, 2008

Best finish ever

Yuv done it: Yuvraj Singh hugs Sachin Tendulkar after the Little Master hit Graeme Swann for four to bring up his century and win the match

Madras, first Test, fifth day: India 387/4 (Gambhir 66, Tendulkar 103*, Yuvraj 85*) & 241 beat England 316 & 311
by six wickets

SACHIN TENDULKAR dedicated India's historic win today to the people of Bombay, describing the record-breaking triumph as a "special victory".

The six-wicket win sparked scenes of wild jubilation amongst the 50,000 fans at the MA Chidambaram stadium in Chennai as well as across the whole of India - none more so than in Tendulkar's home city of Mumbai, where hundreds of people died in the terror attacks of last month.

Those outrages had put the Test series in doubt, but come England did to resume their tour and play their part in one of the most Incredible Tests in history, laced with feats of individual brilliance, records galore and topped off by one of the most emotional finishes ever.

"This is a very, very important 100, right up among the top ones," said Tendulkar after hitting the winning runs and bringing up his century with the last shot of the game. "This hundred will give a certain amount of happiness to people but what happened in Mumbai, it's very hard to recover from that.

"Cricket is a lesser thing compared to what has happened. Whatever we can contribute, we've been able to do that. We're right with the people who have lost their dear ones."

It was a sentiment shared by England captain Kevin Pietersen, for whose team the mental toll was just as great. "To start a Test match two weeks after the tragedy in Mumbai, it's a fair show on both sets of players," said Pietersen.

"There are lots of positives to take into our dressing room: the effort everyone's shown, jumping on a plane to come back here - no excuses - and coming in here and putting in a fantastic performance against India."

"It's a very, very bitter pill to swallow," added Pietersen. "After day one, if you'd said to us we would be defending 250 on the final day, we'd have taken that. Our boys are hurting but we'll come back strong."

Master of Madras: Sachin collects a momento of his magnificent feat    Steady as she goes: After Virender Sehwag's breathtaking innings the night before, Sachin and Yuvraj are content to bring down the target in singles

The game had it all: a century in each innings (Andrew Strauss), the fourth highest successful fourth innings run chase, one of the fastest fifties ever scored (Virender Sehwag), the best ever debut over in Test history (Graeme Swann) and a match-winning century from arguably the greatest player ever to have picked up a bat.

This was an innings once and for all to silence all the doubters, those "ignoramuses" as Sunny Gavaskar had described them, all those who believed Sachin lacked bottle, lacked the character for a fight, to lead from the front and finish off a match, working for each run on a tricky last day pitch.

Praise also must go to Virender Sehwag, without whose thunderous assault on England's bowling the previous evening none of this would have been possible, and Yuvraj Singh, who came to the crease with 163 runs still needed and only MS Dhoni and the tail to follow.

His was an innings of great maturity, discarding the one-day form which had brought him two centuries earlier in the tour and playing a real Test innings, showing great patience and a cool head, ignoring the barbs and picking off the runs with ease.

Then, as the winning post came within sight, he even eschewed the chance of another century and forsook the glory of the winning hit, blocking balls to the crowd's delight - never in all my years of watching cricket have I ever heard such deafening applause for a straight bat - and leaving the Little Master to hit the winning runs.

And hit them he did, paddle-sweeping Swann round the corner to bring up his 41st Test century, win the match and complete, by some distance, the highest successful fourth innings chase in Asia and the fourth highest anywhere, punching the air in delight as he was lifted up by Yuvraj with the cheers of the crowd ringing in his ears.

Seldom can the mood of a whole nation have been transformed so quickly by so few, illustrating most vividly the tremendous power of sport, to heal wounds, raise morale and showcase the very best of the human spirit, and in so doing fully justifying the decision to play.

It may have finished India 1-0 England but the real score was Cricketers 1-0 Terrorists.

Cricinfo: Complete first Test Scorecard from Madras
October 2008: Sachin breaks Test run-scoring record


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