If this wicket had a voice, its first word would be: Runs. For the home team, a fitting homage to the turf (and particularly to the Eden Gardens curator) should have been a huge first innings score. But the Wankhede Test had given enough evidence to the Englishmen that a sense of stagnation had crept into India’s batting.
The visitors kept chipping away whenever a stand threatened to flourish. And in having India down at 273/7, England are still in possession of the power they have had over the hosts since the Mumbai Test. For MS Dhoni’s men, seven wickets on a supposed featherbed came as a cheap bargain.
Someone, meanwhile, should pass Wednesday night with an overwhelming sense of relief. Sachin Tendulkar scored a 76 which, during his spring, would have been mourned as 24 runs lost. But given that India’s line-up is riddled with fallibility, they should take whatever Tendulkar, in the last lap of his career, has to offer.
So did Tendulkar finally have a plan for Monty Panesar? If the cover drive ceased to exist in Sydney (2004), here he abstained from playing on the on-side, his biggest undoing since the home series against New Zealand. Only when Panesar dropped it a fraction short, did Tendulkar move across to direct it square. For a greater part of his innings, he was content presenting a broad blade to India’s tormentor at the Wankhede.
On a surface largely on the slower side, Panesar varied his pace against Tendulkar, largely attacking the stumps before shifting his line outside the off stump to induce an edge. The morning session had now entered the zone of the fantastic. Panesar was feeding on Tendulkar’s patience and the master, unhurried as ever, was willing to bide this time. Panesar even got one to rear up and beat Tendulkar’s prodding bat.
Tendulkar had to clear a torrid examination of pace too. Steve Finn beat him with lift and movement as did James Anderson.
Anderson, hiding the ball like Wasim Akram would, induced an edge but it eluded slip.
Tendulkar wasn’t embarrassed to look ungainly, a facet of his that we have seen for some years now. Against the quicks, he hopped on the back-foot and traded the drives for the steers past slip. He was most prolific against Graeme Swann, paddle-sweeping him whenever he sensed a chance for runs.
A livelier Tendulkar emerged in the second session. Finn was nudged to the square-leg fence and punched off the back-foot. In between, he unfurled a rasping off-drive against Panesar to raise visions of something special.
While India were being soothed by Tendulkar’s nurturing presence, the innings lacked an extra gear. Yuvraj Singh provided it briefly, pasting Swann for a huge six. The 79-run stand almost deflated England until Yuvraj ladled a simple catch to short cover.
By skill or stealth, the Englishmen were putting the brakes. With capital control, Anderson snared Virat Kohli and Tendulkar, the master with an away-swing that grazed his bat.
They were given a New Year bonanza too. Of all the dismissals in the book, England claimed Virender Sehwag through a run-out. And then Panesar knocked Cheteshwar Pujara’s sticks aslant with an armer to impose his own bhangra over Rabindra sangeet. It was Gautam Gambhir (60) who rebuilt the hut and looked poised to make his start count. But he perished trying to cut a Panesar delivery that was too close to his body. Gambhir aptly summed up India’s day, “We just lost two wickets too many.”