Thursday, September 06, 2007

A shirt that remained

Between Mohammad Kaif at the Lords’ 2002 and Robin Uthappa at the Oval 2007 there can be only one winner – the forgotten fielding man from UP. It was the one of the most perfectly controlled one day innings I have seen from a non-opener beside Miandad ’86, and certainly the best such by an Indian under pressure.

Nearly nothing was left to chance by Kaif that day. He took the right options – the ones with maximum percentages, that is - at the right time and batted for a very long period with just the tail supporting his fight. An edged four through slip cordon was the solitary lucky stroke in his 87 not out. And he did it in an ODI tournament final, the last one that India won. No wonder memories refuse to fade even after passage of half a decade.

Robin’s innings today, though, must be the only one from an Indian batsman in the intervening period that has fully deserved to be compared to that Kaif classic in drama, importance or surprise value. If you look at Robin’s 47 not out dispassionately, it is equivalent of only the 2nd half of Kaif’s innings - but that itself should be good enough by a country mile for the second spot.

As I think a little more of the contexts in the respective cases, I find some more justification in deriving a comparable degree of wondrous joy from the batting of Robin Uthappa today. Kaif was coming to settle into a role – the 7th batsman - by the time the 2002 match happened. Uthappa, on the other hand, was woken out of a three month pleasure trip at the fag end of it and asked to bat at an unknown position in Oval 2007 – number seven. Come fall of fifth wicket, he had to step in the ground on a pair of untried feet with the obviously simple task of notching up over 8½ runs per over for the last 10 overs to keep his team in the hunt for the trophy.

He certainly got generous help from fate for his clever attempt to disturb any bowlers going for yorker length. But those two shots off the admirable young Broad in the last over adequately displayed Uthappa’s mastery over the bowler’s mind and over his own craft.

It is special enough to see two young men (Broad and Uthappa) from opposing sides show nerves of steel in the tightest of finishes they have surely been part of in their fledgling careers. I’d say that alone deserves a standing ovation. There, therefore, must be an even more special way of appreciating if the young man from your side comes up trumps in such a battle of wits. Pardon me for being unimaginative but at this point I seriously cannot think of anything other than another shirt coming off another Indian skipper at another London balcony on another sunny afternoon.

And there was another mad rush by Indian players to the day’s hero when the match ended. A five-year-older and defi-knee-tely slower Yuvraj still managed to reach and hug Robin first……says an uncomfortable lot about the direction our fielding is moving towards.

No wonder Dravid these days has far more goose pimples going into post match conferences of matches he won than he has in the ones he lost. Reason: India have dropped more catches in the three matches they eventually won than in their losses. Do we hear the Indian skipper mumble "We were being generous in victory"?


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