It may be unjust to frame just one moment in this Test. For England, Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen’s innings were riches beyond measure that may have already decided the outcome of the contest.
Cheteshwar Pujara’s 135 will be written in Wankhede’s annals as one of the finest knocks played here. We’ll remember the bulldog spirit of Pragyan Ojha, who got a five-for when India didn’t look like buying a wicket. Monty Panesar towered over the rest, virtually clinching the deal for England with his afternoon spell (5/61) on Sunday.
We may pause at another brief, but poignant, moment on Day Three. Sachin Tendulkar was late on a straight one off Panesar and was declared leg-before. As he receded from our gaze, it started to sink in that this surely was the last time he was seen in Test flannels at his beloved home ground. A fan was seen waving a green chart that aptly captured the mood of what seemed their giant’s abrupt last act. It read: ‘Whether you score an hundred or not, you’ll always be a superman for us.’
For a while, they saw Tendulkar drawing on his experience and pulling his entire technical weight to counter Panesar. He survived a stumping appeal before striking Panesar for a crisp straight drive. Against India’s new left-arm nemesis, he delayed committing to his strokes, much like he did while facing Shane Warne in his pomp. The ball was rearing up like a cobra, the turn creating a geometry of its own — isn’t that what MS Dhoni wanted? Too much perhaps for a ‘superman’ in winter.
But on a day when India are 117 for seven, ahead by just 31, Tendulkar’s last page can wait. It was foreseeable what the Indians were getting into as Virender Sehwag’s edges were falling in no-man’s spaces. Four years ago, his colleagues were in a waterlog in Sri Lanka, facing Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan. Sehwag, it was, who showed that the two could be tamed.
If he could look so ungainly here, did the rest have a whit of a chance? After Sehwag’s departure — caught at slip off Panesar — Graeme Swann finally snapped Pujara early, at short-leg. India were now battling Panesar, Swann and their own devils.
Even Virat Kohli turned a full-toss into a wicket opportunity, lobbing a simple catch to mid-off. Soon Yuvraj Singh stepped out to Panesar without conviction only to activate the short-leg again. And these were certainly not the conditions where an MS Dhoni counter-attack could have been fancied.
In the meantime, Gambhir (53 batting), under pressure before this Test, had flung himself to the task. Fluent against spin, he wasn’t given the leeway to step out but the opener batted doggedly. When R Ashwin, the only other batting hero in India’s first-innings, blasted Swann over mid-on, there were visions of the home team getting some total to bowl at. But the off-spinner left the innings in tatters by skying a catch, making it a match haul of 10 wickets for Panesar.
Before crumpling up with the bat, India had clawed their way into the Test. As Cook (122) and Pietersen (186) were chugging along in the first session, the pair inseparable as twins, there was still a sense of inevitability that one wicket, whenever it comes, could open the floodgates. Every over was charged with anticipation after Ashwin ended Cook’s epic.
A crash of wickets followed although Pietersen was involved in two substantial partnerships with Samit Patel and Matthew Prior. England lost their last five wickets for 56 runs after Pietersen’s exit. In retrospect, the Cook-KP marathon stand, which comprised three-fourths of England’s runs, hurt India big time.