Passages of Play

Can you describe the best passage of play in T20 cricket? Well, if the answer is, Yuvraj Singh hitting the ball out of the park then, I am tempted to say that the knowledge of an average cricketing fan is on descent

In ODI’s there does exist a sub-script to the happenings. More often than not the passage of play involves the protagonists trying to get their say in a game of one-upmanship

It’s in the Test cricket that there will be the best passages of play. In T20 and ODI formats of the game, the batsman can take solace from the fact that the bowler is gonna bowl only 4 and 10 overs respectively. In Test cricket thats not the case. There is no escape route. Thus we get to see either the batsman getting worked over or the bowler being shred to pieces

It’s only in the Tests that even a draw can dish up exciting fare. ( Drawn test in 2005 Ashes) stands out as a glowing example for how uplifting a draw can be. The Kolkata Test between India and South Africa was an epic in the sense that, South Africa took it down to the final session and India were pressing for a win so that they don’t end up losing the series

Normally in these kind of situations it’s the bowler who takes the team to the victory post. Ask Ricky Ponting how he missed a bowler of calibre during the Cardiff Test in 2009 and you would know what a thinking bowler can do for his captain

Utopian pictures of a match-winning bowler are imagined thus. Collar turned up, running into the wind, muscles contracting and relaxing according to the whims and fancies of the bowler

As much as it delights me to watch a batsman unfurl all the strokes in the book, it is a scenic pleasure when the bowler is outthinking the batsman and troubling him

Be it a fast bowler or a spinner, the basic rule of the game is to take the wicket of the batsman. There is no absolutely no use of troubling a batsman over the length of the spell and then not being able to take his wicket. In such cases, it’s a battle won by the batsman. A few bowlers in the middle of a superb spell respond by taking the batsman out at the other end, if they find one batsman immovable

A few duels remain etched in the mind. Some of them are as follows

1) Flintoff V Kallis at Edgbaston 2008

Though South Africa won the match and won the series to win for the first time since their return to the international fold, this was the passage of play where players, crowd, media and commentators held their collective breath. In a matter of 10 balls, Flintoff and Kallis defined thrill. By the time Flintoff came back into the attack, Kallis looked to be running away with the match. Flintoff started to rev it up from ball one as he pitched one full beating Kallis’ outside edge. He cleverly mixed bouncers with the full balls as he had Kallis in trouble. If not for Aleem Dar’s decision he could have had Kallis in that over itself as he trapped him right in front with a Yorker on the off stump that hit the toe of the batsman. Far from being discouraged, Flintoff gave it his all in the next over. He bowled a full ball that beat Kallis for both swing and pace. The very next ball he bowled Kallis with a Yorker. The gladiatorial stance of Flintoff makes it a dismissal to be remembered

2) Atherton V Donald at Trentbridge, 1998

This was one of those instances where the bowler did everything but get the umpire to raise the index finger. He even dismissed the batsman only to see the umpire reluctant to give Atherton out. An Excerpt from the article written by Martin Williamson is as follows

England started confidently, reaching 40 before Mark Butcher was caught behind by Mark Boucher in the 18th over. “I felt we were entering a decisive phase,” Donald said. Hansie Cronje, his captain, agreed and brought him back into the attack. “What followed,” Donald recalled, “was the best duel I’ve ever had with a batsman over a prolonged period.”

Donald’s first over was a loosener – “not slow but not quick by his standards,” according to Atherton – but after one ball of his second over, he switched to round the wicket, a sure sign that he was warmed up.

In Donald’s third over he produced a brute of a ball aimed straight at Atherton’s throat . “Instinctively, I tried to protect myself with my bat and the ball cannoned into my right hand and ballooned up to Boucher,” he recalled. Donald continued his follow-through, arms raised in triumph, while Atherton stood his ground. “I dared not look up,” he said. “But when I did umpire Steve Dunne remained unmoved.”

Donald said he didn’t read too much into Atherton’s reluctance to depart, putting it down to disappointment. “We both knew he’d gloved it.” But as the reality set in, Donald’s disbelief turned to anger. His recollection is that he told Atherton; “You better be f****** ready for what’s coming because there’ll be nothing in your half.” Atherton recalled a more succinct message: “You f****** cheat.” The two glared at each other, with Atherton determined not to be the first to break eye contact – “Keep staring,” he told himself, “he’s got to turn away next.”

What followed was utterly engrossing, as Donald put every ounce of his energy into flattening the batsman. To add insult to injury, Atherton inside-edged the next ball past his leg stump for four. Donald’s only response was to continue the verbal barrage against the batsman, in English rather than Afrikaans. “I wanted him to understand what I was saying to him.”

Thereafter Donald did everything but take a wicket, peppering both Atherton and Nasser Hussain with vicious bouncers, striking Atherton a painful blow in the chest. Most of the South Africans added to the tension with audible asides of their own. “I’d never felt such adrenalin,” Donald admitted. “Both of us gave our all,” Atherton wrote, “laying ourselves bare, with nothing in reserve.”

That was it as  Boucher dropped a catch of Naseer Hussain and something went missing from the resolve of Allan Donald. For Atherton this was sweeter as it came after an undefeated 185 at Wanderers

Co-incidentally this was the debut match of Andrew Flintoff

3) Sachin Tendulkar V Dale Steyn, Cape Town 2011

Starting from the first ball on the third day, Steyn started to challenge the evergreen Sachin Tendulkar’s patience outside the off stump. He even drew him forward to get an outside edge back to the keeper. The problem again being that the umpire seemed reluctant to make the decision. Refusing to budge, Steyn unleashed a short ball barrage and vitriol at Sachin Tendulkar. Nothing seemed to disturb the man as he saw off the spell and scored a century. This performance of Steyn is staggering as he repeatedly drew Tendulkar onto the front foot and beat him with movement. Credit then to Tendulkar that he withstood the barrage and delivered the goods

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