Sachin Tendulkar stood along, utterly alone among the ruins. The top-order crumbled around him and at 14 for 3, the Indians, stalking England Lions, were ambushed and wounded. The wicket, on which the young England tailenders were batting like masters only minutes ago, suddenly began to look lively, laden with perils.
Then Tendulkar came up with a stunning masterclass, an innings of his impetuosity of old, and normalcy was restored. Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni too stepped up and India avoided humiliation against a third-string, fledgling attack.
Later, speaking to the press, Tendulkar said he had decided to attack and it worked, and that even for a man of his stature, the knock was very important going into the first Test. Excerpts:
How much did you enjoy this innings?
After the break from the first match, it was extremely important for me to go out there and spend some time in the middle. And I got some quality practice and am quite happy about it.
A good start for you on this tour?
Till yesterday, I was a little apprehensive. I wanted to spend some time in the middle, in match situation. We’ve had reasonable net practice, and I wanted to be in match situation. So I’m feeling quite relieved that I managed to play over 200 balls.
Your thoughts on their bowling.
They bowled really well and we lost a couple of wickets early. And then there was another wicket and we were three down with more or less nothing on the board. I thought if I could go in and play my normal, attacking game and counterattack, it might help, and it did.
How important is it for even a batsman of your experience to get a big score before an important series?
It was important because after Ireland, we did not play any cricket for almost a couple of weeks, and that puts you in a different frame of mind. It was important that I got back to reality, with the Test match just four-five days away. I was timing the ball quite well. I had a couple of big sessions at Hove in practice, and that really helped.
Is top order’s failure a concern?
It hasn’t been great, but we’ve got players who’ve scored runs everywhere in the world, so there’s nothing to worry about. I think it’s only a matter of spending some time in the middle, the runs will come.
You were the Man of the Series in Ireland. How important was that in the context of this tour?
Scoring some runs in Ireland really helped because the conditions were adverse and the wickets were helpful for the bowlers and the South African attack is quite good. Getting some runs was good for my confidence.
What do you think of the young leg-spinner, Adil Rashid?
I think he’s good, but the conditions are difficult here, especially for a legspinner to grip the ball. He needs time, needs to bowl to good players who can play big shots off spin bowling.
You did not give him a chance to settle down.
Well, he was playing against me, not with me!
When you attacked him, we were reminded how you hit Abdul Qadir and Mushtaq Ahmed out of the attack 18 years ago. Have you any recollections of that?
Well, recollections are vaguely there, it’s not… Obviously, a lot of things have happened after that. But oddly enough, the other day I caught up with Mushtaq and we were talking about the same thing… Yes, fond memories.
Was the aggression in this innings a statement before the Tests?
I was not out there to make a statement, I just wanted to get some practice, and while doing that, I shifted gears in batting. Right from the start, I was striking the ball well, so I thought I might as well stay in the top gear and play some shots.
Will Steve Harmison’s absence due to injury help India?
There’s no doubt he’s a world-class bowler, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t score against him.
You were aggressive in the first few years of your career, then seemed to slow down a bit. Again, you’ve been playing aggressive. How do you see it yourself?
After having been around for a reasonable time now, I know when to accelerate and when to hold back and be patient. I read the situation, and it’s a lot to do with how my body is moving, how I’m thinking. I can’t go out and attack everyday and later say that that’s natural game. Sometimes you’ve got to hold back a bit.
The team seems to depend a bit too much on you…
I’d like to make it clear that it’s a team game, and so the whole team’s effort is important. I’m part of a team. Everyone’s preparations are good.
Any worries over Wasim Jaffer?
All players try to give their best. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, but I’m sure when it’s important, the players will perform. Everyone is making an effort, everyone has been working hard. The openers have scored runs and we have the confidence in them. I’m sure they’ll click.