SPORT

India loses to Max Blacks

India's `Master Blaster' Sachin Tendulkar smashes Max Black's Jacob Oram to the fence during his whirlwind knock of 72 in the first innings of their match at the Jade Stadium in Christchurch on Wednesday. — Photo: N. Balaji

India's `Master Blaster' Sachin Tendulkar smashes Max Black's Jacob Oram to the fence during his whirlwind knock of 72 in the first innings of their match at the Jade Stadium in Christchurch on Wednesday. — Photo: N. Balaji  

Christchurch Dec. 4. Wednesday brought about a rather dramatic transformation in the Christchurch weather, with sunshine giving way to dense clouds and icy winds, and predictably the woollens were out. Welcome to the New Zealand summer!

There was no dearth of fireworks in the middle though at the Jade Stadium, where the Indians and the Max Blacks faced off in two 10-over `scorchers' rolled into one.

With the Christmas spirit catching on, there were several Santas around, catchy pop and rock music filled the air, there were strains of Indian drum beats too, and with a goodly crowd watching the proceedings, a carnival atmosphere prevailed at this sporting venue.

And there was much cheer for the home spectators when the Indians, chasing 109 in 10 overs for a victory, lost their way from 63 for two to finish 21 short at 87 for six, on a pitch that was on the slower side.

However, it was a game where `Master Blaster' Sachin Tendulkar was in cracking form, smashing 72 off just 27 deliveries in the Indian `first innings', striking twelve 4s and a 6, that included the shot of the match — a rasping cover-drive off Shane Bond.

Returning from a hamstring injury, Tendulkar also picked up five wickets in his four overs — this included dismissing dangerman Chris Cairns cheaply twice — in the contest to earn the National Bank `Man of the Match' award.

From a Kiwi point of view, Brendon McCullum's display must have been heartening, and his 30-ball 60 (3x4, 5x6) in the second innings, a knock where he pulled and swung with panache, was a valuable effort. McCullum, also won the `little battle' with the other 'keeper Chris Nevin, both of whom opened and donned the big gloves, in the match.

Winning the toss, Cairns elected to bat, and the Max Blacks, powered by a typically aggressive 42 (23b, 6x4, 1x6) from opener Nathan Astle and a `not unusually' cheeky 34 from No. 3 Craig McMillan (18b, 2x4, 2x6), gathered 123 for five in 10 overs.

The Indians, thanks to Tendulkar's blitzkrieg and a handy 13-ball 25 by Shiv Sundar Das, grabbed a 10-run lead. Then, Max Blacks, well served by McCullum's effort, set India a target of 109.

The dismissals of Tendulkar (5) and Sehwag (23), both were taken at mid-wicket by Scott Styris off pacemen Jacob Oram and newcomer Tama Canning, lifted the spirit of the Max Blacks, who turned on the heat towards the end, bowling with discipline and fielding brilliantly, with seamer Andre Adams, operating stump to stump, picking up three wickets.

While Tendulkar's performance dispelled any doubts over his fitness, there was worrying news for India, when paceman Zaheer Khan, coming back from a knee injury, hurt his right knee, towards the later stages of the game, while fielding. He will miss India's three-day game against the Central Districts, beginning at Napier on Friday.

``We don't want to risk him. It's a bit unfortunate, but we are hoping for the best,'' said Indian coach John Wright after the match. Ironically, Zaheer was just getting into his rhythm, conceding just 10 runs for a wicket in two overs, when the Max Blacks batted again.

Despite the reverse, V.V.S. Laxman, Indian XI's stand-in skipper, appeared pleased with the team's performance. "It is a new concept to us, and we are not used to this type of cricket. It was a challenge, and we put up a good fight. They are a good side. Sachin's innings was amazing, and I thought Tinu (Yohannan) bowled well.''

In fact, Wright too had a word of praise for Yohannan, who was the most economical Indian bowler on a night when there was a torrent of runs, conceding 20 runs in his four overs, apart from scalping two Max Blacks. Yohannan bowled straight, and at a brisk pace.

The format may be loaded against the bowlers, yet they too had their moments, with the genuinely quick Shane Bond, Adams and medium pacer Paul Hitchcock, putting the skids on the Indians.

Max Blacks skipper and star all-rounder Chris Cairns had a forgettable outing though, contributing little with the willow, and not bringing himself on to bowl. If the Kiwi selectors were looking for some positive signals from this injury-plagued cricketer, they would have gone back disappointed.

Super Max cricket has its own rules. Strokes in the Super Max Zones, that are straight down the ground, count for double, a boundary here fetches a batsman eight runs, and a sixer 12. A no-ball doesn't get the team runs, however, the batsman receives a free-hit off the next delivery — he cannot be dismissed off this ball.

A bowler is not allowed to send down more than four overs spread over the two innings, and then there is a specialist fielder sprinting around. It's silly, but it's also entertaining.

It must surely rank as one of the great ironies that Super Max cricket with its rather bizarre format, is the brainchild of one of New Zealand's greatest batsmen, someone cast in the classical mould and possessing the purest of techniques — Martin Crowe. Yet, the rules demand accuracy in bowling, while the batsmen are encouraged to hit straight; there is no room for a fielder in the Max Zone and the returns are double.

Indeed, it was a night when Tendulkar and Astle among the others, produced `Max Sixes.' The batsmen might have called the shots, yet it was the Kiwi medium pacers who eventually carried the `night.'

The scores: Max Blacks 123 for five in 10 overs (Nathan Astle 42, Craig McMillan 34) & 118 for seven in 10 overs (Brendon McCullum 60, Tendulkar three for 40) bt India XI 133 for five in 10 overs (Sachin Tendulkar 72, Shiv Sundar Das 25) & 87 for six in 10 overs (Das 28, Andre Adams three for 15). Man of the Match: Tendulkar.

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