A noisy and animated crowd at Minute Maid Park in Houston cheered every moment when the camera zoomed in on Sachin Tendulkar during the All Star Cricket match. Other than a few positive batting moments for the Blasters, it was an all around disappointment for Tendulkar’s team who suffered a second successive loss. Previously, Sachin’s Blasters had lost to Warne’s Warriors in New York.
Under a covered dome, Tendulkar’s Blasters won the toss and decided to field in this Twenty20 match that utilized a drop in pitch. This pitch was prepped on to the baseball center field on Monday allowing just over two days for it to settle for these cricket stalwarts.
While the crowd in Citi Field in New York was much larger, the decibel count of the crowd in Houston did not lack too far behind. On a well lit night under bright lights, on the day of Diwali, Shoaib Akhtar and Glenn McGrath started the proceedings for Blasters against Yorkshireman Michael Vaughan and Aussie Matthew Hayden. Vaughan was trapped by his fellow countryman Graeme Swann after a well made 30 runs. Hayden entertained the crowd with sixes off McGrath before McGrath bowled him. Kumar Sangakkara, man of the match, top scored with 70 off 30 balls and provided 28,000 Houstonians a lot to cheer.
Nolan Ryan, an ace Pitcher from Houston Astros, has his name affixed on a train that would make a brief run inside the Minute Maid Park every time a six would be scored. This is a baseball tradition for the Houston Astros that was adapted for the sixes that were scored.
There were several interesting moments and situations that the fans would remember for a long time. One of those was Mahela Jayawardene keeping wickets while his star Sri Lankan partner was playing free flowing strokes lambasting opponents.
Usman Rafiq, a substitute US cricketer, had his moment to shine but dropped a tough chance. But, it provided him with a unique opportunity to be on the field with cricket’s legends.
The response by Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag appeared to be quite sedate by Twenty20 standards. A silken off drive all along the ground by Tendulkar off the ace left arm bowler
Wasim Akram reminded the frenzied crowd of the master class. Wickets fell in quick succession and there was no true partnership that had the potential to reach the mammoth total of 262 set by Warriors. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion of an abject surrender until Shaun Pollock, scoring a quick fire 55 off 21 deliveries, showed some heroics with some magnificent sixes. But, it was a little too late. Shaun Pollock and Kumar Sangakkara provided the fireworks to the fans on this Diwali day in what turned out to be purely an entertainment value for the sport.
Not surprisingly, Sourav Ganguly, who retired from cricket several years ago, seemed a mere shadow of his prime years struggling to score and mistiming his shots. Brian Lara and Tendulkar at the crease – what a sight that was at 43-2. This dynamic duo, has amassed 27,874 runs in test cricket, batted together for the third wicket partnership albeit briefly.
This match was thoroughly one-sided with Warne’s Warriors completely over powering Tendulkar’s Blasters. The third and final match will be played in Los Angeles on 14 November.
Five All Stars addressed the media that gathered in Houston in preparation for the second of three Twenty20 cricket matches on US soil. While the cricket All Stars may have retired, they have all worked diligently on their fitness.
Wasim Akram, the legendary Pakistan bowler, spoke his mind. “Cricket All Stars are here to stay particularly after the response we got from New York. I am playing the game after 11 years. It is like a big family travelling together. I am enjoying every bit of it.”
Akram, who bowled 40813 international deliveries in Tests and ODIs and claimed 916 wickets, added that playing cricket again was fun. While he has been enjoying thoroughly, he observed, “It is a lot more fun to play with each other rather than against each other.”
Both “Rawalpindi Express” Shoaib Akhtar and “Sultan of swing” Akram were very pleased with the response from the crowd in New York. Akhtar was particularly pleased with his personal performance while unleashing bouncers in this friendly yet competitive match.
When asked about drawing analogy between cricket and baseball, star Sri Lankan batsman Mahela Jayawardena, who retired recently with a magnificent aggregate of 11814 runs from 149 Tests with 34 centuries, quipped, “Hitting a six in cricket is easier than a home run in baseball”. He noted, “There are lot of similarities between cricket and baseball.” The ever-eloquent and recently-retired Kumar Sangakkara, whose last Test appearance was against India at Colombo in August, was quick to remark about the hitting prowess of players like Chris Gayle or Mahendra Singh Dhoni or David Warner who would have annihilated many a pitcher in baseball given their ball-hitting skills.
A children’s clinic to be supervised by veteran stars has been planned at the Minute Maid Park in Houston to spend quality time and give youngsters tips in cricket. Jayawardena was very supportive of promoting the sport among the youth of USA and even wished that the National US team would one day be more competitive in the short format.
Stylish right-hander from India, VVS Laxman spoke about India’s chances in the upcoming Twenty20 World Cup in India 2016. He did share some concerns about the fast bowling unit of India which has been plagued with some injuries in the recent past. Laxman, known for his elegance at the crease and match-winning abilities, was especially praiseworthy of Virat Kohi’s captaincy and his batting.
“T20 is entertainment, Test cricket is quality” were the wise words from Akram. While acknowledging that domestic cricket in his country has been struggling, it is the innate ability of an individual cricketer that would allow him to decide how he performs in his career regardless of the format of cricket.
The drop in pitch is already in place at the Minute Maid Park in Houston and the All Stars seem to be all pumped up for yet another match with their peers. It is going to be a fond trip down memory lane for many in the galleries who would have watched these men perform in their prime. Old is gold and the saying stays true in this case too.