Your Humble Blogger will attempt to express why this week’s Test Match between England and India is one of the most impressive, theatrical and moving sports events I’ve ever followed. Which presumably means that now is an excellent time to skip to the next thing on your aggregator, which may feature pictures of cats with amusing captions. Check back later; it’s always possible that I’ll get to Music Monday before the end of the day. No, seriously, it’s possible.
In the meantime—y’all, being the high-information Gentle Readers that you are, and the humane and compassionate and above all gentle Gentle Readers that you are, probably did not think about the vicious attacks in Mumbai in terms of sport. Individual loss, yes, international geopolitics, perhaps, longterm effects on the cause of environmental stewardship, wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe some of you have found something nice to say about the Lebovitchers; Your Humble Blogger got as far as I wish people wouldn’t kill them and the web site is actually well-put-together before I went back to shaking my fist and shouting about the big menorah. I hope you had better luck; I am normally an easy-going fellow, but the Chabad get so far up my nose they can shukl in my sinus cavities. But we were speaking of cricket.
You see, England’s national team was in India, having begun to perpetrate a series of one-day matches in preparation for two Test Matches.
Perhaps I’d better start with some terms. There are three (main) forms of cricket: the new, quick and novice-friendly Twenty20 matches, which can be played in an evening; the One Day International (ODI) rules, which take all of a day, from morning to dusk; and the Test Match, which takes five days from morning until dusk, which consists of two innings for each side. Let’s see. An over is, for purposes of this note for non-cricket lovers, a set of six instances of the bowler throwing the ball and the batter trying to hit it (or not); an innings is when one team’s entire batting side has its turn to bat. Since there are eleven players on a side, and players bat in pairs, an innings lasts until ten men are out (or something else happens which ends the innings, which I won’t bother with at this point. In an ODI, if ten men get out before the 50 overs, their innings is done. The point is to score runs, and runs come in large numbers, or so it seems to those of us used to baseball or other low-scoring games.
The mark of a batter being really successful is to score 100 runs; truly remarkable scores of twice or even three times that are possible, but a baseball fan might think of a century (as it’s called) being like going three-for-five at the plate with a home run and a double. It’s an excellent day, and when you talk about the match later, you will talk about the player that got a century.
Is all this at all clear? Your Humble Blogger does not himself know very much about cricket; I follow it in print over the internet, and enjoy it tremendously, but I’m not sure I’m even getting it all right, much less making it clear to y’all. I’m not planning to write up an over-by-over description of the Test; I’m only trying to get some terms out in front so that I won’t have to break up the story by having to define them in the middle.
Anyway, the England side is in India, and—I should probably mention that their last International Test Match was with South Africa, and they were destroyed so embarrassingly thouroughly that the captain of the team not only handed over the Captaincy but resigned from the team. The hope of a few years ago that England would become the dominant team, or even one of three or four nearly-equal powerhouses, seemed to be diminishing to a hope that they would bounce back to be a legitimate competitor of Australia, the West Indies and the other great sides. India, on the other hand, had recently demolished Australia, and was in the enviable position of combining on their team the declining years of legendary players with the newly-seasoned confidence of young stars. On the other hand, the introduction of competitive commercial twenty20 cricket in India (the the India Premier League) has threatened to drain Test Cricket of talent, not only in India itself but throughout the cricketing world. That’s the situation when England’s side arrives in India for its tour.
The ODI matches were excruciating. Just pathetic. There were five of them, and the best you could say for England is that in two of them, they had a position of some strength before collapsing ignominiously. The other three were just sad. It’s not that anyone had particularly high hopes for England going to India, but it would have been nice to pick up one of the five, or at least perform at a level that would give hope to England’s supporters that they were in for a chance in the Tests. Frankly, at that point, if you asked me whether it would be better if they just canceled the rest of the tour and went home and painted the garage (or garridge), I would have given it some serious thought.
And then maniacs tried to invade Mumbai, for no apparent reason.
And the England squad went home.
And then there were meetings and whatnot, and it was decided that the Tests could continue, although the second one, which was going to be in Mumbai, would be played elsewhere. England’s players met to decide whether to accept the invitation to return, and after the captain made it clear that it would be a consensus decision, that they would not return with a partial squad or force unwilling players to go, they did come to a consensus to go. Presumably the Indian squad had a similar decision to make; although the early reports that the gunmen were searching for and singling out Britons and Americans seems to have been false, if terrorist madmen were to take it into their heads to cause the uproar that would certainly follow an attack on India’s beloved cricketers, one would imagine them doing so at a Test against the English side. And leaving aside security concerns (which can’t really be expected to be rational anyway), the Indian side are likelier to know people who are connected to the Mumbai attacks, while of course most of both sides have played with lots of players from all over South Asia, and the Mumbai attacks seem to be (possibly) a big push down the slide toward subcontinent-wide chaos.
What I’m saying is, I don’t think anybody would really have blamed either side for insisting on rescheduling the Test for next winter, or for simply cancelling it. Nor, I think, were expectations really high for the quality of the cricket; much of the talk beforehand was about the difficulty of preparing for a match under the incredible conditions.
Digression: On the other hand, England has essentially refused to go to Zimbabwe. International cricket was having a very hard time deciding whether to expel Zimbabwe, but the players were pretty sure they weren’t going to play. Good for them, says YHB. Although I usually prefer increasing sport and culture contact rather than isolating rogue nations, I don’t think anybody should go to Zimbabwe, possibly ever again. End Digression.
So. The first day, England bats, and kicks Indian ass. The opening stand knocks in 118, and Andrew Strauss gets 123. Then there’s a kind of minor disaster in the middle of the order (OK, a major disaster, when Ian Bell is out for 17 and the captain, Kevin Pietersen for 4), but Mr. Prior settles in for 53 not out, and when the inning is over, England is sitting on a very tidy 316.
When India starts their innings, on the second day, England is bowling very well, particularly Graeme Swann, who in his International Test debut gets two wickets in his first over, including getting the great-but-struggling Rahul Dravid out lbw for only three. On the third day, Mssrs Dhoni and Singh held a nice partnership but India was all out for 241 shortly after lunch, leaving England a lead of, I can do this, 75. A very good lead to have, but England has shown themselves perfectly capable of blowing through their inning for a tiny total to add to it. Still. Nice to have a lead.
And then Mr. Strauss hits another century mostly in a stand with Paul Collingwood who hit 108 himself (over 6 hours of batting), making up for Mssrs. Bell (7) and Pietersen (1) and propelling England to an innings total of 311 before they declared, leaving India chasing a preposterous 387 and facing a devastating loss. Even if they managed to score a tremendous total, surely they couldn’t get through all that before dusk on the fifth day, could they?
Except... in the afternoon of the fourth day, Virender Sehwag (the Nawab of Najafgarh) hit 83 in about twenty seconds of batting, and the fifth and final day dawned with India needing 256, with their opening batsman, Gautam Gambhir, paired with Rahul Dravid. And then! Mr. Dravid is caught out for four! And coming to bat is the Little Master, Sachin Tendulkar, Mumbai’s favorite son. And Mr. Tendulkar is not going to sit down today, ladies and gentlemen. He has forty Test centuries under his belt, and one way or another, he is going to keep batting until the either the game is over or the sun goes down.
V.V.S. Laxman goes down for 26 just after lunch, and Yuvraj Singh steps up with 163 to win. England’s bowlers (particularly Monty Panesar) and fielders are not looking dominant, and the runs are piling up. At the tea break, Mr. Tendulkar has 65 and Mr. Yuvraj 45, and they are looking immovable. They’re in no hurry, taking singles and blocking and generally looking like mountains. The runs keep piling. After 90 overs, India has 348. After 95 overs, 368. And in the 99th over, with 383 runs, Mr. Tendulkar is sitting on 99 runs. He’s been batting for five hours, remember.
I’m trying to think of an American sports celebrity to compare Mr. Tendulkar to. I’m not coming up with one. He’s scored more runs than anyone in Test Cricket, and more runs than anyone in ODI, either. He’s had more half-centuries than anyone in Test Cricket, and more centuries. He’s a superstar, the best batsman in the world in a cricket-mad country. He’s the captain of the new Mumbai Twenty20 team, and his willingness to join the league (and make buckets of money) is part of what made the whole IPL feasible. He’s like, oh, imagine if Barry Bonds been born in Pittsburgh, had stayed with the Pirates or returned to them, not been widely considered an asshole and a cheater, and still broken both the single-season and career home run records. And then, imagine that people cared as much about baseball as they do about basketball and football combined. That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about.
And it’s his hometown that was attacked, and it was his force (according to the Guarniad, anyway) that pushed for the resumption of cricket this week, and, of course, it was his boundary for four that gave him his 41st Test hundred, and gave India the fourth-biggest fourth-innings comeback in Test history, and some good news, anyway, for his hometown.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,