Mohali, March 31: Indian run-machine Sachin Tendulkar might have copped the Man-of-the-Match award for an ostensibly creditable top-score of 85 against Pakistan in the semi-final of the World Cup 2011 on Saturday. But the magnitude of that achievement belies the fact that it was bumpy ride for most of the Little Master's innings. Indeed, his knock was a mixed bag of flashes of brilliance and instances of sheer mediocrity.
No doubt, Sachin must have been consumed by the jitters that accompany the enormity of such an occasion... and it showed not once, but on as many as six occasions as it seemed that with each missed opportunity the man was simply destined to reach his 100th international ton. But even his enormous luck had to run out, eventually, when he was snapped up by Pakistan skipper Shahid Afridi at short cover, 15 short of the milestone.
So what were these strange occurances that punctuated his strange innings? As his former opening partner and present panelist Navjot Singh Sidhu pointed out, the slide in Tendulkar's confidence at the crease was triggered when he first faced slow-left-armer Saeed Ajmal in the 11th over.
Tendulkar was not able to pick Ajmal's deliveries, getting bamboozled into the first shock - an lbw appeal where the ball for all money appeared to be in line with the stumps. But on review, a doze of cosmic intervention ensured that the ball was projected to be missing the leg-stump by a hair's breadth.
The later in the over, he was nearly stumped off the same bowler whe he was beaten outside the off stump and barely scrambled his toe back behind the crease before the bails were whipped off by keeper Kamran Akmal. A judicious mind would contend that these two occurrences were in fact not in fact "lives" for Tendulkar as they had been legally contested and won.
But what followed, was nothing short of glowing, glistening, obscene good fortune. In the 14th over with Sachin on 27, he pulled Afridi firmly towards midwicket where Misbah's butter-fingers saw the ball slip through his hands. Six overs later, Sachin's would-be nemesis Afridi, was deprived of his wicket yet again when Younis Khan clanged a sitter at short cover.
Afridi must have thought he was in the middle of a conspiracy to save Tendulkar when in the 30th over, keeper Kamran dropped an edge from Sachin off the Pakistan captain's bowling yet again. And the agonising drama for the visitors was complete when 5 overs later, Tendulkar pulled Mohammad Hafeez to see a familiar sight - the ball popping out of a fielder's hands. This time, the culprit was Umar Akmal at wide midwicket.
One hopes that Tendulkar has run his luck and now has nothing but genuine, unadulterated talent to fall back on when he takes guard at his home ground, Wankhede Stadium, on April 2nd for the much-anticipated summit clash of the World Cup 2011. The 40,000 strong crowd as well as hundreds of millions of other fans across the country will also be hoping so.