The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tendulkar showed heís still the best in business

The return of Sachin Tendulkar reconfirmed what I have always believed to be the difference between great and merely good cricketers. A good cricketer would take time to find his bearing after a long lay-off while a great one would slip into his cast as if he had never ventured out of it. On the basis of what I saw in the first one-dayer in Nagpur, Sachin is still the very best in the business.

Sachinís riposte to speculation on his future has been nothing less than stunning. He lashed out on the offside, executed those pick up strokes which had all but disappeared from his repertoire and made Muttiah Muralidharan appear mortal. His all-out aggression, the sprint between the wicket left even his younger colleagues breathless.

However, more than Sachin, I think it was Irfan Pathan who took the game away from the Sri Lankans. Some poor tactics by the visitors also helped him.

It was frustrating to see an orthodox leg-spinner bowl his stuff to a left-hander who had specifically been sent to go hell after the leather. You speak to acknowledged left-handers such as Brian Lara and Sourav Ganguly and they would admit their preference to see a leggie dish up his stuff. Pathan took an instant liking to such an offering and the momentum irrevocably shifted away from the visitors.

In my view, Sri Lankans have not played this bad for a long time. There was hardly any stand-out feature, be it in batting, bowling or fielding. You donít come to a party after eight years and be cavalier about it. Reverses such as this can ring in your ears for long. In next two weeks, we will come to know the character of Atapattuís men.

The old bogey of being poor travellers would raise its head again. In recent times, we have truly believed in the intrinsic value of this side which is not subject to the conditions in which they are playing.

They have risen to number two in world rankings on merit and better things looked in store. Now the old doubts will resurface again.

I wonder if playing against the West Indies or Bangladesh injected a false sense of belief in this side. They could also have been fooled by the new look Indian team whose mentor had been out in cold for six months and doubts were freely in the air if his best was not already behind him.

Dravid showed how well he knows his game

Rahul Dravid provided a stirring finish to the innings but it must be said he could not have found a better platform. One of the noticeable aspects about his batting is the way he shifts gears. He nearly always is dependent on ones and twos at the start of his innings and nearly always provides a great flourish in the end.

It shows how well Dravid knows his game and how confident he is with his methods. He climaxed his innings with nearly every shot in the book ' lofted strokes over the infield, ferocious pulls and square drives backing away towards the leg-stump.

One sweep off Vaas from the middle stump defied belief.

His captaincy too conveyed a man who had come well prepared to the middle. He brought on his spinners at the precise moment and his field placements were thoughtful. It also appeared to me that the team backed him to the hilt. He made a great statement of intent and India seem ready to leap into the arms of future.

I just hope the momentum has not shifted away from the Sri Lankans at right angles. They would need to put their indifference aside and think deep and hard about the matches ahead.

I sincerely feel the openers need to be tinkered with since it has been an ordinary association between the two of late. I would love to be proved wrong but Sri Lanka can ill afford to start on the wrong foot and then play a catch-up game for the remainder of the series.

Recovery for them has to be made on all counts and the support bowling staff to Chaminda Vaas and Murali need to show their fangs quickly. Fervez Mahroof and Dilhara Fernando need to pull their weight and push Indians on the backfoot.

Before the game started, there was more than a mild query about the quality of the Indian middle-order. There would still be some now but largely on positive note as the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Jai Prakash Yadav, Y. Venugopal Rao hardly got to bat enough in the centre. When Ganguly and Mohammad Kaif return, there would be options in excess.

It is a good situation to be in for the firm of Dravid and Chappell.

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