Peter Roebuck’s account of this battle —–
THIS was a day to remember, a day upon which Brett Lee made a startling first appearance for his country and Sachin Tendulkar stood alone at the crease defying formidable odds, and with courage and skill keeping his wicket intact.
It was a glorious confrontation between old and new, mighty and promising, an expression of the great gifts of the game, the brilliance of batsmanship, the excitement of pace and the powers needed to reach the gods. Meanwhile, a superb leg-spinner bowled with artistry and cunning as he pursued his own landmark. It wasn’t a day to stay in bed. There haven’t been many better.
Lee was a revelation. Thrown the ball as samosa-time approached and showing not the slightest inhibition, Lee began by bursting through Sadagopan Ramesh’s loosely constructed defence with his fourth ball, whereupon the orange-topped paceman celebrated with undisguised joy. Probably he did not know that the previous Australian to strike with his fourth delivery was Fred Freer, later to make his name as a footballer with Carlton.
Recalled for a second spring-heeled spell from the pavilion end as the wind shifted around, Lee struck again as India’s first drop fiddled at a ball too fast to permit an opportunity to think again. It was a fine start by a young man prepared to be himself in this most intimidating arena. Already Lee had shown his spirit by losing his wicket as fast bowlers ought, swiping at something subtle and lifting it into the clouds. Immediately the crowd took him to its heart.
Seeing the wicket broken, the crowd roared. Lee is the sort of bowler popular in the public seats. He excites people with the incisiveness of his approach, with a vitality inevitably missing from more seasoned practitioners who’ve seen a thing or two and nowadays rely upon attrition and craft. Lee is not an innocent he comes from Wollongong way but he has the enthusiasm of youth. Also, his style is simple. He’s been blessed with pace, a most precious gift and not to be wasted upon timid souls.
Lee struck again a couple of paragraphs later, removing Ajit Agarkar with another searing inswinger that crashed through the batsman’s defence in a manner that brooked no argument. Nor was that all.
Lee was smoking and promptly greeted Javagal Srinath with a flyer that the lugubrious paceman could not subdue. Immediately Anil Kumble was struck on the helmet by another lifting delivery from a man whose run-up was long and smooth and whose action seems natural and not affected by any kink.
As it turned out, Kumble had no intention of surrendering his wicket lightly.
Meanwhile, Tendulkar stood firm like St Paul’s Cathedral in the blitz. Any fool can score runs against tame bowling. Anyone can impress in easy circumstances. Like a true champion, Tendulkar rises in the tightest corners. He, too, had to keep an eye on Lee’s yorkers and took evasive action as the speedster flung down a bumper. It was a tremendous struggle between them, as the master craftsman fought tooth and nail while the gregarious youngster streamed in.
Tendulkar alone could resist the force of this fierce assault. He seemed to be playing in a different match from anyone else except Sourav Ganguly. Unaffected by the wickets tumbling around him, and realising the need to push the score along, Tendulkar moved from caution to aggression as he launched a breathtaking attack upon the bowling. Eight long years ago he appeared in this land as a teenager with superb skills and enough spirit to fuel an entire team. Now he has reappeared as a man bearing responsibility and carrying it lightly, for he does not allow any situation to be his master. When Tendulkar reached his hundred the entire crowd rose in acclamation. His dismissal brought the crowd to its feet a second time.
It had been the perfect day. The visiting champion had scored a century, and a new fast bowler had arrived upon the scene.
This article was first published by Fairfax Media on December 28, 1999