Cricket: Strauss pushes India to the limit
SO near yet so far for England. So tantalisingly near, so excruciatingly far. In the most compelling of contests, a perfect advertisement for 50-over cricket in general and this World Cup in particular, they tied with India yesterday.
If it seemed a vaguely unsatisfactory conclusion after 99.5 scintillating overs in which each side scored 338, it was also quite proper. It meant that neither Andrew Strauss nor Sachin Tendulkar had to finish on the losing side after each scored wonderful centuries.
It is saying something that Strauss' brilliantly controlled 158 matched the great Tendulkar's characteristically breathtaking 120 for virtuosity. Strauss' innings was the highest for England in the World Cup, the highest of his six ODI hundreds and came from only 145 balls.
For Tendulkar it was pretty much business as usual. He played with consummate grace, had a look early on and accelerated when he felt the need, hitting five sixes. They were both a pure joy to watch.
The match was one of peaks and troughs for both sides. India, 236-3 when Tendulkar was out, will have rued losing their last seven wickets for 33 runs as their innings stalled in the final five overs. It was in that spell, when the game might have been put out of reach, that England demonstrated that they meant business after all in this competition, that they were not all gas and gaiters.
Tim Bresnan, bowling straight and with confident variety, took four wickets in 10 balls, three of them in four to finish with 5-48.
But in turn, England -- who are Ireland's next opponents on Wednesday -- will have had their own regrets. They seemed to be making light work of chasing down their target, but from 281-2 with the batting powerplay at hand they suddenly lost four wickets in eight balls, undone by some lethal swing from Zaheer Khan.
Both Strauss and Ian Bell, who shared 170 runs for the third wicket, had gone. The game now seemed up. England have talked often of self-belief, of confidence, of never knowing when they are beaten, and sometimes it seems blah and blah again. Not now. Through the efforts of Graeme Swann, Bresnan and Ajmal Shahzad they got desperately close.
All hit timely sixes, Shahzad off the first ball he faced. England, needing 29 from the final two overs with Zaheer's spell thankfully finished, arrived at the last ball requiring two. Swann drilled his drive firmly enough but within mid-off's compass and England were restricted to a single.
Strauss, relieved and elated at once, said: "In the end you have got to celebrate the fact that it was an unbelievable game of cricket. Both sides will be partly happy, partly sad. It was a pretty tough task to chase down that sort of total, but we got ourselves into a position after 42 overs when we just needed to have a good powerplay and we were there.
"But these powerplays can affect you both ways and unfortunately it affected us in a negative way. In the end, we did pretty well to scramble a tie out of it."
Strauss might have felt denied but his was an innings of exemplary fortitude, playing shots down the ground that would once have been beyond him, and retaining his merciless cutting and pulling.
"Given the importance of the game, it was obviously crucial that one of our players got a big score today," he said. "It would have been great to have been not out at the end and to have seen the boys home, but it is something you can be very proud of."
And so it was. (© Independent News Service)