The MRF list: Sachin, Lara, Waugh and…

Third ODI, Ahmedabad- Match Report

The stage was set. The floodlights shone down on one young player, standing tall amidst the Blue ruins- hustling, prodding, riding his luck, caressing, inching closer with elegance- with his MRF bat and talent to end a generation. Any spectator could have been forgiven for wondering if this was a pleasant flashback to the 90s- a Mumbai player carving out his own star in the dark sky of immortality. 
Rohit Sharma had picked his team earlier this summer- the inexplicably led West Indian side- and has continued to pick himself in the ODI team with performances that beg the question: Why isn’t this boy in the Test side? Yuvraj Singh certainly knows how to answer that question, though, and will do well to advise this prodigiously-talented right-handed MRF-bat-wielding scoring machine for the rest of his own limited career. 
The Heartbreak Kid
On Monday night, at the stadium that saw India historically dump Australia out of World Cup 2011, Rohit was once again guiding his team- who seem to have made a habit of (half-purposely) getting into hopelessly hopeless situations just so that they can sit back and watch their favorite batsman bail them out with glorious elegance- to yet another improbable victory against his favorite opposition: A West-Indian team led by a man who refuses to embrace form, luck and destiny, a man who refuses to let his own team savour the hard-earned rewards of their nagging accurate persistence. But, almost inevitably, inspite of Sammy’s best efforts to once again reduce his team to adjectives like luckless, competitive and spirited, Team India did something that was long time coming- they lost against a team that wanted to win very desperately, but didn’t know how to. A direct hit, ironically, by Sammy- to end India’s hopes by running out Rohit Sharma- kind of made up for his unbelievably bad fielding performance uptil then. Two spills earlier on- one of Ashwin and the second of Sharma- quickly made Sammy the most hated man in the Caribbean- inspite of his brutally violent slog-overs effort in the first innings. Calls were being made to make him a non-playing Captain, like Davis Cup teams do. His inexplicable decision to take off new ‘mystery spinner’ Narine (in an impressive debut) and Rampaul after reducing India to 105-6 seemed to reek of his inability to learn from previous mistakes. Rohit Sharma was still at the crease, and in came Test Centurion Ashwin. They combined together to relegate the hapless West Indian side to their destined end, until Narine must have- in all likelihood- grabbed the ball from a meek Sammy and took matters into his own hands. Ashwin’s wicket was crucial, and Roach’s Yorker to Vinay Kumar sealed every false alarm. An inspiring last-ditch effort by Umesh Yadav and Mithun (who was obviously reveling in the just-in news about him being selected for the Australian tour)- a couple of big hits and a few edgy boundaries- almost made up for their uninspired bowling to the West Indian tail earlier on. Varun Aaron must have felt cheated, missing out on all the fun. The Motera crowd must have wondered what they’ve done to deserve such great ODI cricketing action this year, and began nursing hopes of a miraculous victory that would keep alive India’s 12-match home-streak. 
We didn’t lose, but how could we win?
Nothing was to stop Rampaul, though, who might never be allowed back into India again- after breaking more than a billion hearts with one delivery at Mumbai- and backing it up with some superb seam-bowling to wreck India’s hopes at Ahmedabad. The series is still alive, thankfully, after all that- and India now take a 2-1 lead to Indore- a game with added importance. 
What must worry the West Indians, though, is the fact that their best batsman Darren Bravo is injured. And the fact that Sachin Tendulkar is contemplating a return to the ailing top order. No better time than now, we say. 
Sehwag, Gambhir and Raina combined to score a grand total of two runs, and continued to provide all-new meaning to the phrase ‘senior statesmen’. By law, though, no team should be allowed to even come close to a win if their top order self-destructs time and again with such great consistency. With Parthiv blowing yet another start and Kohli more intent on admonishing his ‘bad fortune’, even the superhuman effort by Rohit Sharma- who didn’t even seem to care about approaching his own century for the second time in two matches- dragged India to within 16 runs of an absolutely undeserving win. The same could have been said about many Indian teams in the 90s, where a young Sachin single-handedly won them a few against all odds (thereby creating his own legend- which works for Rohit too)- but atleast that Mumbaikar had a few middle-order batsmen to keep his company when he hit those winning runs. Even though Rohit seems to enjoy batting with tail-enders and seems to be a reincarnation of Michael Bevan in recent ODIs, there is only so much he can do. All alone. The fact that he continues to do so, while making purists hallucinate with grace and timing that might even have Roger Federer sit up and watch, is good for the future of Indian cricket.
Sometimes, even these Indian batting collapses seem planned by the management- just to let the guy prove that he is no flash in the pan. He is the real deal, even if his team isn’t anymore. 
Onto the series-defining game at Indore- a venue that will see the international return of Irfan Pathan after 3 cold, long, dark years.

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