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Pietersenís form will decide Englandís fate

Harsha Bhogle

Posted: Nov 09, 2012 at 0929 hrs IST
      

: A character at the height of his powers and a legend winding down his career will be the people to watch out for over the next six weeks. Kevin Pietersen and Sachin Tendulkar have more in common as batsmen than is immediately apparent but it is the manner in which they have chosen to live life that they tread different paths.

Tendulkar admitted recently that he doesn't have a lot of cricket left in him. We knew that and so do his ardent fans; they speak as if they are in denial but even they know. But for him to admit it just draws it closer. Watching Tendulkar has been the one constant in our lives over the last twenty three years.

Much has changed. Nations have been created, the world economy has gone boom and bust and boom and bust again, music has evolved, young people drawn to him when he started might have children who are now married.....he has been a wonderful habit, spreading cheer when gloom is the market leader.

And we don't know how much longer we will see that walk down the ground, the push through cover, the flick through square leg, the straight drive, the quirky problem with sightscreens, the boyish smile, the occasional legbreak....we don't know. It could be this series, it could be another, it could be longer.

But suddenly Tendulkar the cricketer feels finite. And so I am going to go to the next four tests and just enjoy watching him bat. I hope he is nimble on his feet and chooses to play shots rather than drop anchor, though who's to say he isn't the best judge of his own cricket! But his best batting in recent years has been when he has sought to dominate, whether it was the tussle with Dale Steyn in South Africa or against the Australians at Melbourne and at Sydney.

Tendulkarís fire still bright

But you can tell the fire burns bright, as it always has. He batted against Railways with food poisoning and the Mumbai coach says he faced 300 balls in an hour in the nets. The second is quite something. In a match situation you get at best 90 balls an hour of which you might face 50. It will always be quicker in the nets because every bowler is at the top of his mark but to play 5 balls a minute for 60 minutes means he is onto something. He won't want to go quietly, that's not him. It will be fun. And if after four tests he has made enough, the next four will be fun too. The thespian will be delivering his lines and you won't know which will be the last. Isn't that enough to grab your attention?

Meanwhile a slightly younger man with a much stormier existence will also seek to dominate this series. I was in an airport lounge recently, grabbing a quick breakfast when the highlights of Pietersen's 149 against South Africa came on. The idli stayed in my spoon for two minutes. It was breathtaking batting and it reminded me of two Tendulkar hundreds; one at Edgbaston when he was but 23 and another three years later at Melbourne. Remember there are at least ten inches separating the two, the stride therefore is different and the bounce affects them differently. But in both instances the batsmen were looking to attack, cutting and pulling, not afraid to go down the ground or to hit in the air. It was gladiatorial. If you wanted an innings from this year to showcase cricket it would be this from Pietersen; and maybe Michael Clarke's in South Africa.

But India will be very different for Pietersen. He cannot camp on the backfoot and get on top of the bounce, he will have to crouch, he might have to advance towards the ball rather than watch it come quiveringly towards him. The ball will snake its way around and those darn left arm spinners will be swarming around him. I've never understood that; a batsman so astonishingly gifted, so brutal, and yet so transfixed by little fellows who toss a ball up to him left handed.

It will not be like Pietersen to grind out a hundred against them; a gongura chutney might more likely find its way onto a delicate pasta. He will attack, he will seek to dominate and it is the thrill of that contest that could well define how England go in this series.

On the last four occasions they have toured India only once, back in 1993 when Graeme Hick was playing, has a player scored more than 300 runs in a series. If Pietersen can be the player to have erased that sorry number, we will have seen some thrilling cricket.

There will be other stars, and they will demand our attention too, but I can already feel the thrill of the little giant and the massive dueller walking out with bat in hand.

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