|Sachin Tendulkar with his awards in Vadodara on Wednesday. (PTI)
Vadodara: On a day the Tatas made a huge statement globally, Team India took steps towards being recognised as contenders with steel for cricket’s showpiece event, the World Cup, which begins in six weeks.
That, of course, is the big picture.
On a smaller scale, Wednesday probably saw the last Sachin Tendulkar-Brian Lara ‘showdown’ in India and it’s the former who emerged a runaway winner.
Besides the MoM award for his unbeaten 100 off a mere 76 deliveries (10x4, 1x6), Sachin took the MoS presentation for totalling 191 and three wickets in the four-match Pepsi Cup.
It was, as Sir Viv Richards would put it, a terrific day in office.
The last ODI was an absolute disaster for the West Indies, though. “We’re unpredictable... We either win easily or lose easily,” had been captain Lara’s admission on match-eve.
At the IPCL Cricket Stadium, his team added another chapter to the “we lose easily” saga. The scars of the 1-4 thrashing in the West Indies eight months ago won’t disappear but, for now, the Rahul Dravids can toast a confidence-lifting 160-run win.
It’s significant that conditions in the West Indies, hosts of the World Cup, aren’t going to be much different.
[According to Board secretary Niranjan Shah, the squad will be picked in Mumbai on February 12.]
Sachin, who reached his 41st ODI century on the last ball of the innings, did have let-offs (85 and 91), but his breathtaking innings came as a sledgehammer blow for the Doubting Thomases.
“I’d been getting decent scores, but wasn’t able to convert into big ones... To win the series, somebody had to put his hand up... I’ve always played the way I think is right... I’ve been playing long enough to know what’s right and what’s wrong,” he asserted while receiving the awards.
The last comment drew shouts of “hear, hear” from bubbly teammates. Later, briefly interacting with The Telegraph, Sachin revealed the awards were “dedicated” to his family.
Having taken the series 3-1, Dravid could afford to look different and actually smile. The first point he made, at a Q&A session with the Media, was that neither he nor the team had been worried about Sachin’s form.
He quipped: “Maybe now everyone else can stop worrying about him... We could have some peace around... But, then, there won’t be anything to discuss! Maybe we could find something... Sachin showed why he’s such a great player... Today, he played one of his best innings... Certainly about the best I’ve seen...”
Sachin was the cynosure, but there were very useful contributions from everyone else too: Openers Sourav Ganguly (68) and Robin Uthappa (28 off 17 deliveries), Dravid (78) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni who exploded in, well, trademark fashion — 40 not out in 20 balls (1x4, 3x6).
It was a turbo-charged display and while he didn’t admit it, Lara must have cursed himself for not batting first on what looked a belter even before Sourav and Uthappa got into the act.
“We’ve got to put this (defeat) behind us... We were competitive in the first two matches and won the third... We knew it would be difficult to beat India at home... Today, we didn’t bowl in the right areas... We started poorly and got outplayed,” Lara remarked.
Delighted with such a powerful performance in a must-win situation, Dravid said: “It’s a good way to end a series... We were under a bit of pressure and there are going to be more must-win matches, in the World Cup... The guys were splendid... The way we won is a tribute to them...”
He didn’t offer anything definite on Irfan Pathan, who made a comeback on home turf, but praised Yuvraj Singh for a truly outstanding catch (off Pathan) which dismissed Dwayne Smith. He also had positive words about the left-hander’s bowling.
Dravid, who’d gone off with cramps early in the West Indies innings, maintained he’d “recovered” and there was “no reason” to worry.
The next (last before the World Cup) series, against Sri Lanka, begins in Calcutta on February 8. Barring Sourav and the Mumbai players, the rest have a few days off. Coach Greg Chappell, for one, intends spending some days in Goa.
The next vacation, even if it’s short, won’t come in a hurry.