When an Indian crowd celebrates the fall of an Indian wicket, you know where the tale is headed. Gautam Gambhir made exit after a sound 55 and India were now two down.
Cruelly put, Gambhir’s dismissal only created a heightened sense of anticipation at the Wankhede Stadium. For the 20,000-odd spectators, the match had now become incidental, a mere convenience to hold together a Sachin Tendulkar plot. That’s what the anticipation of a Tendulkar milestone — in this case his hundredth 100 — usually does.
So then, he arrived amidst an impossible din, shadow-practicing a defensive push. The highest run-getter in Tests joined the second-highest run-getter, Rahul Dravid. This was the third day of the Test and the most awaited session.
Slowly the ring of fields squeezed tighter. Darren Samuels called on a short-leg, two slips and a gully. Ravi Rampaul bounded in, alive to the moment. Get Tendulkar and kill the Test. Tendulkar’s first-ball single calmed the scene. By sundown, he had moved to an unbeaten 67, just 33 runs away from the moment, should it come on the fourth day. India meanwhile are 281 for three, with batsmen on either side continuing to have a field day in the Test.
It may serve Tendulkar well that he needs more than 30 runs, and not merely 10, to get there. The anxiety is much higher when you’re agonisingly close to a significant feat but have to return the next day.
We may recall that Virender Sehwag needed merely 16 runs to complete his triple century against Sri Lanka in the 2009 Brabourne Test. He was undefeated on 284 on Day Two, but somehow fluency deserted him when he took fresh guard the next day. Sehwag was unusually conservative and added just nine to his overnight score before Muttiah Muralitharan snared him for 293.
Not that the hysteria around him seemed to move Tendulkar. He kept the strokes coming and restrained himself just a bit whenever the West Indies quicks hit a tight line. The standout shot was a slashed six over point off Fidel Edwards — reminiscent of the hit in Centurion 2003 against Shoaib Akhtar.
It’s interesting that he decided to abandon the pull that got him out in Delhi and Kolkata. Aware that the stroke against spinners has been his chief failing in the series, Sammy placed Marlon Samuel very close at square-leg. Not until he was 57 did he take a chance with the horizontal bat. He enjoyed a slice of luck, too (at 58), when wicketkeeper Carlton Baugh spilled a certain caught-behind chance.
In fact, the West Indies could’ve had a far more productive day. VVS Laxman, unbeaten on 32, top-edged Darren Sammy but Kirk Edwards just lost the ball in the air. Early in the Indian innings, Baugh (again) had dropped Gautam Gambhir off Fidel Edwards.
Apart from a couple of blips, the Indian batsmen were never quite pushed. Dravid (82), who shared a century stand with Tendulkar, looked set for a certain hundred until a Samuels delivery brushed his off-stump.
Virender Sehwag too was his belligerent self, forcing Darren Sammy to have a backward point and deep-cover early in the Indian innings despite having 580 on board. But for the third time in this series, Sammy went through Sehwag’s defence. It could be said that the West Indies captain was sharper than his frontline quicks. Not that India will mind.