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Australia vs ROW: The Lara-Sachin Epic

By Raul - 31 August '03
September 19 2003

It was the Rest of the World playing Australia. I remember it like it happened yesterday - the First Test, and as it happened, the only Test - at Brisbane. PROLOGUE

“It was the Rest of the World playing Australia. I remember it like it facting happened yesterday - the First Test, and as it happened, the only Test - at Brisbane. Rest of the World, sent in to bat by Steve Waugh, was tottering at 6 for 2, with both Michael Vaughan and Gary Kirsten gone! Vaughan snicked a McGrath outswinger to Gilchrist and Gary was bounced out by a fiery Lee,” mused the older man. The bespectacled younger man sitting next to him said, “Yeah, I remember, too. Brian Lara came in at no.3, followed next over by Sachin at no.4, right? What a pairing, maan!”

The older man seems irritated by the interruption, but continues reminiscing, “Dravid and Chanders are padded up in the pavilion. And it's McGrath and Brett Lee at full steam, revved up by their early success. Gillespie and Warne are prowling in the sidelines, awaiting their skipper’s call. Waugh has three slips and two gullies in place. McGrath is beginning a new over to Sachin...”

EPISODE ONE


McGrath decides he needs to sledge Sachin to wind him up a little. He begins by bowling a short one outside off, and spits on his follow-through: "So...you broke these days, I hear? Asking the government to pay duty on your sports car?"

Sachin glares back at him under his helmet, takes fresh guard six inches outside leg stump from umpire Hariharan. As Pidge turns back to his bowling run, Sachin squeaks, "Bowl at my stumps, Glen... Try and get me clean bowled." Next ball, Pidge tries to york Sachin, who straight drives him with minimal effort to the sight screen. Lara, a big fan and student of Sachin's batting is expecting this and jumps in perfect timing to avoid the ball whizzing between him and the stumps. Pidge glares at Sachin, who looks towards square leg, shrugs, adjusts his abdominal guard and takes stance.

The next ball is an outswinger. Sachin watches it very closely into Gilly's gloves. "Hit that if you can, you little so-and-so...," chirps Pidge. Lara comes a couple of steps down the pitch, taps the pitch with his bat while looking closely at Sachin from under his maroon helmet. He catches the Bombay Blaster's eye, winks and goes back.

The next one is a little short from McGrath but has steepling bounce and is just outside off. Sachin steps back and across and powerfully uppercuts it over third man for six. The crowd, which has had plenty of action so far, now goes completely berserk. Lara comes down the pitch, beaming broadly, and pats Sachin on the shoulder. Sachin shrugs, says a couple of words to Lara while pointing to mid-on and then resumes batting. He deliberately lofts the next ball, good length, over Lee's head at mid-on and the ball races for another boundary.

EPISODE TWO


McGrath gets one to lift from just short of a length on middle and leg. Sachin, with his outside-the-leg stance, is just about able to get up on tippy-toe and play it down. However, his bat speed and the weight of his bat help the ball go past the bowler and the batsmen cross for a single. Waugh decides to attack Lara for the last ball. Anticlimactically, Lara nudges a good length ball on off to square and gets off the mark. You know it's a good day for a spectator when Lara turns the first ball he gets that square from an off stump line.

Waugh and Lee are deep in conversation as are the two batting princes in the middle. Sachin seems to be belaboring a point while the Prince of Trinidad, long white sleeves flapping as he squints into the sun, seems to be barely paying attention. But as Sachin stops talking, Lara turns to him and smiles broadly. Brian Charles Lara is enjoying this, while Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar seems all business, very serious. Then Lara turns towards his crease, all grace and quick steps as he adjusts his helmet strap. He checks his guard with umpire Taufel and then looks around to survey the field. Four slips, two gullies, cover point, mid-off and the lone man on the leg side at a funny position between mid-on and mid-wicket. Tugga has been studying tapes with Buchanan and has noted the Trinidadian's penchant for pulling in the air. He may have asked his hit man Lee to try and bounce Lara out. The suspicions are confirmed when Tugga asks the man at cover point to come further in, to silly mid-off. The man at mid-off, Justin Langer, is now moved to forward short leg. Just as Lee reaches the top of his run- up, Sachin decides to slow things down a bit. He takes a couple of steps down the pitch and says something to Lara. Lara nods in response and takes stance. The packed crowd at the Woolloongabba starts a slow hand-clap as Lee starts running in. Predictably, he begins with a wide one outside off, not too fast, around 90.

Gillespie at mid-on runs up to his colleague and says something in his ears and goes back to his position. Ponting at point claps loudly and urges everyone, "C'mon, boys. One more." Lee comes in again and bowls a 97 mph thunderbolt. Unfortunately, it's a tad too full. Lara, already into his high back lift and the typical feinting movement backwards, flows into a booming cover-drive like a ballet dancer. There is no one there, and someone from the flag-waving, cheering crowd, picks the ball up and throws it towards Damien Martyn, who polishes the ball and walks up to Lee to offer some encouragement. Tony Greig is undergoing orgasmic convulsions in the commentary box: "It's gone, it's outta heeeeeeeeere!!!! Lara has blasted this one to the cover fence!! Oh, my goodness!! I think Lee has lost the plot somewhat here. I don't think Waugh would be a very happy man right now (close-up of Tugga is now on the giant display screen, courtesy Channel Nine, looking his inscrutable Buddha-self with his head cupped in one hand at second slip). Greig continues his ejaculation: "20 runs have come off the last eight balls and the two greatest masters of the art of batting have come to the party here at the GABBA."

Lee steams back in, looking a little aggrieved, and bounces Lara. The ball is way too high and Lara calmly watches it fly over his head to Gilly. The next ball is also short and very quick. Lara swivel-pulls on one leg to the mid-wicket boundary, his bat speed camouflaging the superb control over the shot as it speeds all along the carpet to the mid-wicket boundary.

Now Lee is in trouble and he knows he has to come up with something better. So he does, with a searing, scorching delivery at 97.9 mph that kicks off from just short of good length and Lara who is committed to the front foot can only jump up and contort his upper body and drop his hands to miss the ball. The ball swishes his shirt sleeve and all the Aussies go up as one for an appeal. But this time, Taufel only smiles benignly in reply.

EPISODE THREE


Lee finishes the over with a splendid inswinging yorker, which Lara keeps out of his stumps. Lee fields on his follow through and tell Lara, “Hit that one, mate…” Lara looks disdainfully at Lee and turns to walk towards the middle where Sachin awaits him. Tugga, Punter, Gilly, Martyn and Lehmann are talking to McGrath. Looks like they have a plan for the Bombay Blaster. A deep third man is set, as is a deep square cover. Greig asks Boycott, “So Geoffrey, what do you think is Waugh planning to do? Does he want to trap Tendalkar into upper cutting into the waiting hands of Martyn at third man?” Boycott replies in his Yorkshire accent, “Well, if Sachin uppercuts with a man placed there for that shot, he’s dafter than me mum. I think it’s a bluff. Watch out, it will be a yorker. McGrath should be bowling fuller, especially in these early stages, just a little bit fuller, you know? A couple of inches… That could pose some more questions.”

McGrath goes on top of his bowling mark. Three slips, deep third man, gully, deep square cover, mid-off, mid-on and a square leg, slightly finer than usual. McGrath comes in, bowls one on perfect length, just outside off. It cuts away sharply after pitching. Sachin goes for a booming cover drive, misses completely. The Australian slip cordon jumps up in unison and exclaims in frustration, while the crowd gasps. They gasp again as they watch the action replay on the giant screen. The next one from McGrath is on an awkward length and climbs on Sachin. He sways outside the line at the last minute, with the ball passing within inches of the brand new french beard he’d started to cultivate. Tugga and the others clap in appreciation. McGrath goes up to Sachin, “What’d that smell like, mate?”

McGrath bowls a good length ball next up and Sachin punches it defensively down the track. McGrath picks up and walks back to his bowling mark. Tugga decides to bring in the deep square cover to a second, widish gully now. McGrath bowls a straight one on length, well outside off, Sachin flashes at it, misses and punches the air in disgust with his left hand. Lara comes down the track and says something to Tendulkar. The next ball, McGrath strays on to Sachin’s pads and he neatly works it away with minimum effort to the mid-on boundary for four. “Woonderful shot from Sashin,” comments Boycott. “McGrath beat him, but I think these two have the right idea. If it is there in the slot, it has to go.”

Last ball of the over, Sachin has a big hoick at a shorter length slower delivery. The ball balloons high up and Lee at mid-on makes a brilliant run followed by a body-twisting, athletic dive but the ball eludes his finger tips. Sachin looks down at the pitch in self-annoyance as he completes the single and watches Lee fail to pouch the chance. End of the over. Rest of the World, 28-2.

Suddenly, Tugga pulls a master-stroke, or so it seems. Lee, who has been bowling from the Vulture Street End, is being replaced. He throws the ball to Shane Warne who will now bowl from the Vulture Street End.

EPISODE FOUR


Shane Warne, with his brand new coiffeur blowing in the slight breeze, is slowly spinning the ball and catching it with one hand, while discussing his field with Tugga. Two slips, a silly point, a forward short-leg and a leg-gully form the close–in field. There’s a man patrolling the third man boundary, a long off, square leg and deep mid wicket. “Warnie may try a couple of flippers or maybe even a slip a googly in here, what do you think, Geoffrey?” “I think Steve Waugh is trying to change ends, that’s all. And add a bit of excitement and uncertainty in the batmen’s minds. Also, I think he’d be interested to see how the slower pace of Warne might affect the stroke play of these two geniooses out there, you know? Timing-wise. A smart move by a thinkin’ cap’n, I would say.”

Warne starts off with a regulation leg-spinner to Sachin who defends towards Punter at silly point. “Well bowled, Warnie,” shouts Gilly. Sachin sweeps at the next one, but fails to time it. He however gets hold of the next one, dancing down the pitch and lofting it high and handsome over the sight screen. Greig screams into his microphone, “That has gone past the taxis that stand at the corner of Duke and Linton Streets, I tell you!!! Maybe one or two cabbies might have to take issue with the master blaster Sashin Tendalkar, I say!! Six o’ the best for the man who is taking the attack to the Aussies now, after their initial success. Shane Warne, deposited over long on, for a huge, huge six! Tendulkar now moves to 26, with two sixes and 2 fours… and a near-life on 20 when Lee failed to hold a tough chance.” Sachin plays out the rest of the over quietly. At 34-2 in 14 overs, an exciting first hour of play is done and drinks are called on the field.

EPISODE FIVE


After drinks (just as Boycott had correctly predicted), Waugh throws the ball to Brett Lee, who now bowls from the Stanley Street End.

What followed was the perhaps the fastest spell Lee ever bowled in his career. The cherry was whizzing past noses and helmet frames seemingly at his will. Brett Lee was making the old cherry talk and it was talking business with a very mean accent. At the other end, Glen McGrath was replaced by an inspired and fired up Jason ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie who also threw everything into a tremendous assault on the batting gladiators who seemed intent on setting the Tasman Sea alight with their sparkling stroke play.

Only twelve overs were completed in the second hour, but they were twelve of the best Dizzy and Lee could conjure up. Rippers, jaffers, snorters, rib-ticklers, and one (perhaps miscalculated) beamer. Near misses and fierce hooks, balls brushing shirt sleeves; sharply lifting outswingers and spanking square cuts and drives; reverse swinging yorkers and blazing straight and on-drives—all were testament to one of the epic battles between bat and ball, with no quarter asked and none given. Fierce pride, razor-sharp intensity and breathtaking talent provided a glow of magic to the proceedings for the Brisbane crowd.

At one point, a rising delivery from Lee somehow clambered through the frame of Sachin’s helmet and bloodied his upper lip. Interestingly, that delivery seemed to make Tendulkar even more determined to weather this storm and take the Rest of the World to an impregnable position.

Lara edged a late-swinging one from Gillespie but it fell just short of Matty Hayden who made a valiant attempt to make a catch of it. Sachin had a very loud shout for LBW off a fuller length Lee thunderbolt turned down by umpire Taufel. On replays, it appeared to be missing leg. At lunch, the battered pair of geniuses were still at the crease, with the scoreboard reading 92-2, the two having stitched together an 86-run unbroken partnership. Sachin was on 43 and Lara on 40. Australia had gained a couple of early breakthroughs, but the two batting gurus had wrested the early advantage the Rest of the World’s way through bold stroke play and sheer bloody-mindedness. This was a tougher version of both batsmen on display. Tugga went in to get his salad, a thoughtful man in deep reflection.

EPISODE SIX


After lunch, Waugh attacked with Warnie at one end and McGrath at the other. Pidge produced a very tight, testing second spell, with neither Sachin nor Lara looking their fluent selves from the morning session. It was one over from Warne that changed things. Warne was getting appreciable drift, making the ball bend in its loop away from the left-handed Trinidadian, before pitching wide outside his off-stump and turning sharply in. This is when Warne was at his best: the drift, the loop, the variation in length and sharp, consistent turn. Warne pitched one wide outside off, just short of length and dipping. Lara ballet-danced towards the pitch of the ball and with his left leg dramatically in the air after pushing off for his shot, he nonchalantly lofted it over deep mid-wicket Jason Gillespie’s head for a big six. The timing was so extraordinary and the bat speed so rapid, that most spectators, some of who were in the throes of “Foster’s haze”, didn’t even realize Lara had played anything more than a defensive push. Sachin applauded at the other end. Lara was now on a steady and occasionally spectacular 72. Sachin, quieted down considerably after lunch and the hit on his lip, was on 59. The Rest of the World was on 149-2.

The next ball, a flipper, was pulled to the mid-wicket boundary for four, just to the right of a diving Martyn at mid-wicket. Warne again flighted the ball. This time it was hit straighter, right over the sight screen, for a six. Next ball, outside off, didn’t turn. Lara watched it into Gilly’s gloves. Last ball, again a flipper. Lara decides to get creative – he moves inside the line and square drives it for four. The crowd now awakens from their lunch-and-liquid diet-inspired stupor and get caught up in the Lara show.

Once Lara got in his stride, Sachin began rotating the strike brilliantly, occasionally producing a stroke of such delicate touch that Boycott invented the phrase “Oozing to the boundary”. Like the oh-so-very-late cut that he played off Warnie’s leg-spinner or the tuck off his hips, feet in the air – reminiscent of a Gavaskar in cruise mode against the Windies pace battery – for a single behind square off McGrath.

Steve Waugh decided to bring himself on for an over in which he was hit for two boundaries and a three by Lara, who now raced into the nineties. It had been a typically fluent Lara knock, all touch and timing to begin with and then unleashing the beast. It was then that it happened.

EPISODE SEVEN


Lara was blazing away, seemingly inexorably, to a century. He was 93 not out, and bowling to him was Jason Gillespie in the second over of a fresh spell. The first ball, slightly fuller in length in an attempt to find some reverse swing, was creamed to the cover boundary, all grace and accentuated follow through, with Lara on one knee and bat held up above the shoulder for the cameras. Jason followed it up with two glorious deliveries, both of which Lara negotiated with aplomb. Lara’s in the zone, feeling it.

Next ball, Dizzy throws it outside off-stump—a back-of-the-hand slower one. Lara late cuts and the square third man ran around to collect. Sachin, ever the earnest partner, is rapidly moving past Lara, who is ball-watching, on his second run and calling Lara through for the third run that would compile a well-crafted century. But Lara doesn’t hear Sachin amidst the crowd noise and is settling for the striker’s end, when he looks up and notices Sachin half-way down the track. He sends him back, grimaces and then starts up the track himself. The throw from Martyn thuds into Gilly’s gloves who promptly breaks the stumps and begins to celebrate. Lara turns around, takes off his helmet and starts walking back to the pavilion. The crowd is stunned into some silence and a slow clap starts.

Steve Waugh runs up to the square leg umpire and gesticulates towards the middle of the pitch. The square leg umpire, Hariharan, calls out and halts Lara. He consults with Simon Taufel and eventually beckons to Sachin. Sachin dejectedly looks at the umpires and walks off. Sachin run out (Martyn/Gilchrist) 74. ROW 197-3. “Yeah, get the li’l fella off, Tugga…,” the comments from the outfield slowly filtered up to Lara’s ears. Lara realized Steve Waugh was playing another mind-game. He would now throw the ball to Glen, and try and bait me… Trying to play on the Lara-Sachin rivalry. Well, I’ll be…

EPISODE EIGHT


The next few overs were a fiery confrontation between the bowlers and Lara. Lara, on 99, was not concerned about the single. Instead, he seemed more intent on proving a point to the Aussies. The circumstances revolving around Sachin’s departure had made him very, very upset; he put it out of his mind with a great effort just before every ball. Gillespie sensed it as soon as Rahul Dravid walked out to join Brian and the Trinidadian hardly spoke to The Wall before he took guard and got off the mark with a push past cover off the first ball. Gillespie now changed his field for Lara. He conceded the single, while keeping the boundaries covered. He banged in one short and Lara jumped around his crease, seemingly indecisive in his approach. McGrath was brought on at the other end and he, too, began peppering the upset Lara with sharp lifting ones aimed at his ribcage/chin area.

A couple of overs passed, with Lara bent on staying there, seemingly to avenge his brave partner’s unfortunately premature demise. Then, Gillespie banged one more in short. Lara decided this one was in the slot, even thought there was Lehmann at deep square leg and Warne at deep mid wicket. He pulled viciously over deep square for a six and reached a well-deserved century. He pulled off his helmet and gestured towards the dressing room where Sachin was standing to applaud, still with his pads on since he hadn’t gone into his dressing room after getting out, wanting to see Brian get to his hundred. Lara bowed to the dressing room after acknowledging the crowd. Gilly said from behind the stumps, “Well played, mate. Good one.”

The next half hour or so before tea and the session after that was pure mayhem. Lara unleashed a dazzling array of cover drives, on drives, cuts, pulls and hooks of such savage power that rarely did the Australian fielders have a chance to affect their inevitable destinations to the boundary line. By the end of the day, Lara had posted a double hundred in grand style, with consecutive fours off Warne. Rahul Dravid had perished to a beauty from Warne just after tea for 27, with the ROW at a healthy 295-4, but Lara received the dogged support of his fellow-West Indian, Shivnaraine Chanderpaul. Shiv was hanging around for a quietly compiled 32, while Lara was undefeated on 208. The Rest of the World, having had a nightmare start to the day, had finished the first day on a healthy 347-4. The two doyens on the art of batting had not only provided a day to savor, but one of them had inspired the other to the kind of heights he always seemed capable of, but never brought off completely convincingly.

EPILOGUE

”…And that’s the story of how Sachin Tendulkar inspired the Prince of Trinidad to hit a brilliant 291 in that one-off Brisbane match. Do you remember?” asked the Black Prince of the peripatetic journalist from Mumbai. He poured himself another shot from the bottle of El Dorado rum, as a faint breeze made the palm trees in the background sway and bring up the sea-salt smell up to the bar. “Wow!! That’s a cool one, man. Didn’t realize that’s what made Lara go berserk after tea. Still, the ROW team came close to losing that one, right?” Raul asked.

“What’s the matter with your facting memory? The umpires messed it up, my bwoy. ROW shoulda won by a mile… after that kinda knock from Lara and the great bowling from Shane Bond.”

“Er…, aren’t you forgetting Gilly’s hundred here, Princey?” Raul asked as he poured himself some rum. The Black Prince, leaning back against the wall with his head turned up towards the ceiling, was smiling beatifically with his eyes closed. If at all he had heard Raul's comment, he gave no sign. Presently he opened his eyes, started to pour himself another one, stopped with his hands dramatically paused in mid-air. He slowly turned around towards Raul. “Have you heard that one about Shivanaraine’s 200-ball triple century against South Africa?” Raul looks at his watch and at the amount of rum left in his glass. Outside a Berbician steel band is playing a familiar tune. It’s hot and sticky out there. And Princey would hook him up good by evening, he’d promised. So he took a swallow of El Dorado, sank further back into his seat and said, “No, Princey, my man. But I’d sure as hell like to hear it.”

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