It was a party at Lord's -- and their majesties Sachin Tendulkar and Aravinda D'Silva obliged their subjects, with a display of scintillant batting that made you wish, rather wistfully, that you could see them bat in tandem more often.
It was always going to be a showdown between the bowling strength of the MCC XI, against the awesome firepower of the Rest of the World batting lineup. And as it turned out, that is precisely what the full house got, in the Diana Memorial one dayer at Lord's.
Michael Atherton won the toss on a wicket with life and bounce fro the fast bowlers, and turn for the spinners, and opted to bat first. Very obvious decision -- when you have a strike force comprising Javagal Srinath, Glenn McGrath, Allan Donald and Anil Kumble, you do tend to fancy your chances at defending a total, so you would rather take first strike and bat without pressure on you.
When the ROW innings came -- and cricket suddenly reached another plane altogether. Both Glenn McGrath and Srinath were coming back after injury layoffs. Neither of them really stretched for top pace, preferring to slip the leash only on the odd ball, bowling at a fraction under the flat-out mark and yet, on a helpful wicket, tormenting batsmen of the calibre of Jayasuriya, Anwar and Tendulkar.
The interesting contest was between Srinath and Jayasuriya, for starters. And this one, the Indian quick bowler, looking none the worse for his recent injury, won hands down. Jayasuriya, tied down by some very accurate bowling, finally tried to break loose with his favourite flicks over midwicket, middled one, repeated on the next, was comprehensively beaten for pace and trapped plumb in front of middle and off.
At the other end, there was an equally fascinating contest -- Glenn McGrath, having missed the Australian tour of India, was going up against Sachin Tendulkar. And in the first spell, if I were a boxing judge, I would give the bout, on split points, to the Australian bowler. Tendulkar, as is usual with him these days, seemed to be feeling out the conditions before launching himself, and during that period of caution, both McGrath and Srinath produced some supreme examples of the art of seam and swing bowling at pace, Srinath surprisingly troubling Tendulkar more than McGrath did.
Anwar looked sedate, coming in at one drop, and never really looked the part of the dominant opener he can be especially on sub-continental tracks. Donald, bowling off a shortened run -- a ploy, I suspect, to give his suspect heel as little work as possible -- but still generating quality pace for all that, took him out with a lifting delivery that cramped the batsman for room on a front foot shot.
That extra bounce and movement was in fact the feature of the first 15, 16 overs of the Rest innings, as three supreme exponents of fast bowling produced a lovely exhibition.
And then the batsmen took over -- Sachin Tendulkar and Aravinda D'Silva, easily two of the greatest of modern masters, on song and in determined mode, putting together an exhibition of batting that, in recent memory, was peerless.
What was most intriguing for me was the way they complemented each other. You would expect that from two players who play together all the time, which is not the case here. Yet when one was in any kind of trouble, the other stepped into the breach, both batsmen rotating the workload perfectly. An instance in point was Anil Kumble -- the minute he came on, his tormentor in chief, Aravinda, took charge, blasting the Indian leggie with a profusion of immaculate sweeps.
Off went Kumble, and promptly, Sachin upped the ante, first ensuring that McMillan, the fifth bowler, never settled into a rhythm, and then, when Atherton sought to cover the breach in his bowling attack caused by the assaults on Kumble and McMillan by bringing on Aamir Sohail, Tendulkar launched a savage assault on the Pakistan part-time bowler and potential captain that took the game out of MCC's hands.
The game which, once the Aravinda-Sachin pairing let out the clutch, was as one sided as it was possible to get. Vide this rate of progression: 14/1 in 5; 47/1 in 10; 67/2 in 15; 83/2 in 20; 172/2 in 30; 208/2 in 35; 236/3 in 40.
Tendulkar compensated for his slow start with a spectacular assault after he crossed his first 50, Aravinda eased into top gear after shrugging off a slightly uncertain start, and between the two of them, they raised batting to another plane.
There's a lot in common between those two. Both started off as berserker batsmen who knew only the fast-faster-still faster mode of batsmanship. Of late, both have matured, learning to mix aggression with due caution, to pace themselves over time, to bat out the overs and take full toll where earlier, they tended to throw it away after having the bowlers on the mat.
More interestingly, both are classically correct batsmen, playing authentic cricket shots and yet making the task of run getting at top pace look easy.
Both fell to sheer ennui, towards the latter part of the innings, but by then the issue was never in doubt, and Rest romped home with over six overs adn the same number of wickets to spare.
Tendulkar appears of late to decide what he is going to do before he starts an innings. Today, the decision was, make a century -- so he went out and made just that. Vide his response to a question, during the presentation ceremony. "I desperately wanted to get a 100 here at Lord's, I've played a couple of Tests but never made it to the century so I wanted one this time, it is a good feeling to make a hundred on this ground."
Simple. What he wants, he gets. Including yet another man of the match award.