It was a given — a match featuring Sachin Tendulkar, Shane Warne, Brian Lara, and Murali — modern cricketing legends who remain inspirational for millions around the world was always going to be a crowd hit and take fans on an emotion journey down cricket’s memory lane.
That this match was staged to celebrate the bicentenary of ‘Lord’s’ – the eternal home of cricket – made the occasion that much more special.
The seeds for the iconic Lord’s cricket ground was planted by the entrepreneurial Thomas Lord who purchased the site — which was a duck pond — in 1814. Cricket’s popularity was booming and a suitable land for a ground was required that would bring the people in. That land would go down in history to become the home of Marylebone Cricket Club and cricket.
MCC was founded in 1787 as an exclusive private club, with cricket at the time being mainly a sport for the elite. Today, the MCC is the custodian of the game’s laws and ensuring the ‘spirit of cricket’ is upheld.
Interestingly, whilst Lord’s can today boast one of the world’s best drainage facilities and the ground is maintained in immaculate conditions, it wasn’t until 1864 that the ground acquired its first lawn-mower and groundsman. Prior to that, it was a flock of sheep that did the honours!
The MCC, a club steeped with so much cricketing history, chose Tendulkar, a modern genius and the cynosure of millions of adoring fans, to lead the MCC XI in the bicentenary match against his old adversary Warne – chosen to skipper the Rest of the World XI.
Tendulkar, Lara, Dravid and Vettori on one side. Warne, Murali, Gilchrist and Sehwag in the order. For the cricketing romantic, the match itself wasn’t so much about the battles that were hyped by marketing in the lead up to the match as the opportunity to see cricket’s legends take the field together one last time.
As fate would have it, Shane Warne could not take the field or bowl in a tragic case of being the victim to a Brett Lee beamer. Whilst there was no malice — Lee has a history of losing control of the ball — it meant the capacity crowd missed out on seeing the ‘Shiekh of Spin’ produce his wizardry with the ball.
Tendulkar, batting for the first time after his retirement in November last year, didn’t look as though he had been away from the game for long. He looked solid early, before bringing out several shots from his halcyon days: the perfectly balanced back-foot cover drive and the crisp drive through covers finding the gap with such precision it would have been admired by a surgeon. But the most majestic shot was always going to be the straight drive that he unfurled off Peter Siddle executed with perfect balance and high elbow. The shot that defined Tendulkar during his career.
For 45 minutes, Tendulkar wound back the clock in a clinical display with seven boundaries to provide the fans a wonderful cameo. He even managed to come down the track and blast a Murali delivery through covers. However, as with Tendulkar in his pomp on occasion, he brought upon his own downfall trying to cheekily cut a ball and inside edged back on to his stumps. His old nemesis Murali had the last laugh and that famous grin of his was on full display.
The crowd rose to their feet as Tendulkar walked back to the pavilion only to remain standing as the ‘Prince’ – Brian Charles Lara walked out to bat. Lara was the oldest member on the day, but few would think he was actually 45. He took his time before bringing out two shots that reminded many of the 90s when the Price was at his prime; the savage cut and the classy full blooded drive through covers with his exaggerated back-lift.
Rahul Dravid may have been dismissed for a first ball duck by the innocuous Paul Collingwood, but earlier in the day reminded everyone why he was the leading catcher in tests diving to his left to pouch a great catch off Lee to Collingwood in slips.
In a game of anti-climaxes, the top performers were reserved for those still active in the game. Saeed Ajmal, often an underrated spinner showed on the grand stage just how effective he is by foxing Gilchrist, Pietersen, Iqbal and Afridi. The Rest of the World were reduced to 5/68 before Tendulkar fearing an early finish, graciously decided to bring on Aaron Finch to bowl.
Yuvraj Singh looked imperious in his innings of 132 off 134 balls with six majestic hits over the ropes for Rest of the World and showed just why he deserved to be back in Indian colours. For the MCC, it was the Aaron Finch show as he stroked an action packed unbeaten 181 off 145 balls with 23 fours to guide Tendulkar’s side to a 7 wicket win against the Rest of the World.
All in all, it was a match that went beyond the numbers or even the result. It was a match that served to remind us of an era when these legends walked out onto the cricketing field and produced brilliance with regularity. In this match, we saw flashes of brilliance that did enough to take us down cricket’s memory lane and brought the inner nostalgic in us.
To the MCC members donning their bright red and yellow blazers, ties and trousers, this match was a reminder that Thomas Lord’s initial pursuit to bring people together is still very much alive. Cricket has today spread its wings from its eternal home at Lord’s to become a sport passionately followed by millions all around the world.
And are these stars likely to take the field again? Tendulkar summed it up beautifully: ‘Mike Atherton has told me to keep my options open for more opportunities like this (to play in exhibition matches). I might!’
The writer is the Founder of Infinity Cricket, which organises Melbourne’s largest ‘open’ T20 cricket events, now also launching in Brisbane. He is passionate about cricket and its development. If interested in participating in Infinity Cricket email: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/infinitycricket) & Twitter (www.twitter.com/infinitycricket).
Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Newspaper in Melbourne)