Before the concept of the rank turner invaded this series, this was just how England envisaged their bowling plans going in typical Indian conditions, on a good day. Tight spin-bowling one end, reverse swing the other, a combination Monty Panesar and James Anderson produced on Wednesday with a panache few other —visiting bowlers have managed in recent times, sharing five of the seven Indian wickets to fall.
The plan reached its apogee in the period immediately after lunch, following a morning session in which England were fortunate to have taken two wickets, Virender Sehwag's run out the kind you might see on the village green. India have made more than 600 in their first innings in their past three Tests here, so to see two England bowlers lording it over their opponents, who ended their day on 273 for seven, was rare indeed.
Tendulkar had just come in to join Gautam Gambhir, who had reached an untroubled fifty, though the former's recent travails with the bat meant he was determined not to contribute to his own downfall as he had done in Mumbai, where his shot selection on a spinning pitch had been naive. Risk was not in his repertoire here, and as Gambhir was not exactly on fast forward a degree of stasis set in.
Panesar loves a batsman who blocks for he can whirr away unchecked and he pinned Tendulkar to the crease, plugging away with the occasional variation in pace to see who would crack first. At the other end Steve Finn, preferred here to Stuart Broad, then Anderson suddenly discovered that the 30-overs-old ball was reverse-swinging, with Anderson especially impressive in controlling its menacing curves.
Shielding the ball, so the batsman could not see the shine and anticipate which may it would swing, Anderson pulled Tendulkar this way then that with his late movement. Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff were adept at reverse swing but Anderson's three spells in the afternoon here were arguably the finest display of it by an England bowler since the 2005 Ashes series when sugary saliva from -sucking mints was used to get the ball into the right condition.
Sweat and natural wear and tear were used here and, deserving though Anderson's excellence was, it was Panesar who got the breakthrough when he had Gambhir caught at slip slashing at one too close to his body for the shot, an edge that flew fast to Jonathan Trott who cushioned the reaction catch with his midriff.
Having gone past Tendulkar's bat almost at will Anderson then got Virat Kohli to edge one low to Graeme Swann at second slip. India were 136 for four at this stage and in some trouble given they had won the toss and decided to bat for the third match in succession, the pitch being good enough to do so following groundsman Probir Mukherjee's decision to ignore MS Dhoni's request for a —turning pitch that would take the toss out of the equation.
Then came the decision that Alastair Cook may rue for some time unless England go on to win this Test. With Tendulkar still battling hard and Yuvraj Singh, a left-hander, fresh to the crease, he replaced Panesar with Swann. It looked a premeditated idea from a team meeting as nobody could be under any other impression that Panesar had done anything but an excellent job with his bowling.
The move was aggressive so perhaps it should be applauded, and Cook could point to the fact that other umpires might well have given Yuvraj out lbw to Anderson on nought and to Swann when he was on one. Those close misses apart, it quickly came to look like a mistake when 50 runs were added in 11 overs, Yuvraj's ability to hit boundaries taking the pressure off Tendulkar, who began to treat Swann as he used to do all off-spinners. Just as their partnership reached 79, and the decision threatened to become a howler, Yuvraj obliged with the softest of dismissals, punching a back-foot drive off Swann straight to short extra cover.
The other downside to the decision was that Tendulkar had also begun to show semblances of the batsman he was a decade ago. He has needed his team's patience this past year, as he manages his exit strategy from international cricket, but Wednesday his team needed all his famous dedication and the Little Master delivered with his highest score for 12 innings.
What was different from his pre-vious innings in this series is that he was prepared to graft even if it meant exaggerating his defensive strokes. His caution was not without skill, his careful playing for his off-stump against Anderson meaning he was able to keep out the inswinger, the one that generally swings later and bigger, while enabling him to miss or leave the outswinger. He was nervous too, which was rather fetching in a 39 year-old with 193 Tests and 34,000 international runs to his name, the latter milestone reached yesterday when he had made two.
Two fours off Finn after tea, the first to bring up his fifty, the second, an on-drive that had all the purists -cooing, looked ominous but England, once more though Panesar and Anderson quieted the potential uprising, Anderson eventually getting his man and just rewards for his excellence when he moved one away enough to take the outside edge. Matt Prior's tumbling catch looked safe enough until the keeper revealed the ball had actually stuck in the crook of his elbow as he rolled over.
Anderson then rounded off a satisfying day for England by bowling Ravichandran Ashwin with the -second new ball, this time the extra zip off the pitch caused by the hardness doing the damage rather than any fancy swing.
It had all looked very different four hours earlier, when India were 90 for two at lunch. Only Panesar had looked threatening, his persistence forcing Cheteshwar Pujara to play back instead of forward, an error that saw him bowled as the spinner pushed one through a bit quicker. Panesar did reveal a new celebration, Pujara's wicket being followed by a jig and some whistling, the only thing unchanged being the pure joy a wicket seems to bring him.