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Tendulkar keeps his date with history

S. Ram Mahesh


  • India finished at 245 for three on day one
  • Fighting effort by Sourav Ganguly

    New Delhi: It happened on a winter day at the Ferozeshah Kotla. Sachin Tendulkar fulfilled part of the prophecy he was born into, keeping his date with history and passing Sunil Gavaskar's record of 34 Test centuries. A clenched fist, a rare "come on," and a look heavenwards consecrated the moment.

    "That was so my father would be the first to see my bat," Tendulkar said later. So coruscating was the knock (100 not out, 279m, 177b, 13x4, 1x6) and so enormous the moment, that it eclipsed a sublime half-century from V.V.S. Laxman, a statement of intent by Rahul Dravid and a fighting effort by Sourav Ganguly as India finished at 245 for three when bad light stopped play on day one.

    Some of the morning mist had condensed on the grass, prompting groundstaff to run rugs over the outfield to soak up dew and delaying the start by half an hour. Dravid's throaty rasp that he would bat at the toss indicated the pesky virus, which had struck Virender Sehwag hadn't let go, but the captain — in at least three layers of clothing — strode out to open with home-boy Gautam Gambhir.

    Dravid opens

    Speculation on who would fill Sehwag's void had done the rounds on Friday; the Indian leader, as he has done countless times in the past, stepped up to the plate. Dravid in four previous Tests as opener had aggregated just 104 runs at 14.85 — a paradox for a man of his technical aptitude.

    He lost his partner half-way through the first over. The shiny cherry, after leaving Vaas's fingers, changed course on hitting the track. Gambhir picked the line, and in trying to play through the onside allowed his leading right shoulder to fall away, letting the left arm take over. Bottom hand closed bat face, which ball promptly eluded.

    India was two for one as the sweatered Sri Lankans congregated. The old firm of Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman then took over, extricating their team from a tricky position. Dravid interspersed periods of denial and defence with glorious stroke composition — a square-cut that negotiated low bounce against Muralitharan's break and filtered through the three-man offside field stood out. His only moment of vulnerability came when — as in Chennai — he reacted late to a Muralitharan doosra off the pitch.

    Artistry

    Those associating Laxman's batting artistry and genuine niceness with vague or woolly-headed thinking can't be more wrong. The steel in his spine he has revealed often enough. And a ticking cricket brain to fit the South Indian stereotype and go along with the Hyderabadi wrists can't be missed. Sure, he can interrupt the ball mid-flight, as he did on Saturday, with a twist of the wrists after his front foot hovers and slides forward. But he can temper his instincts, pick the wicket's pace and play in the `V' before settling. Laxman's 175-minute 69 (117b, 12x4) accordingly melded method and wizardry. He began circumspectly. A close shout for leg before and early French cut were soon shaken off. A couple of times, he shifted balance to his back toe and waved Vaas to the third-man boundary. Once, he rolled his wrists over a hook, another time he heaved a pull.

    Dravid left his mate after 77 balls together for 54, when Murali's off-break spun across the width of the bat and squirted to forward short-leg. The expected crescendo greeted Sachin Tendulkar. A back-foot punch off Murali through cover got him started and a half-volley on the legs was crunched square. A shiver ran through the stadium in anticipation of something special. A doosra from around the wicket snared Laxman, Sangakkara holding on and ending the 77-run alliance, but Tendulkar accelerated after his first fifty.

    Felicity

    The cover drive was his stroke of choice. Few in the game's hallowed past have played it with a much felicity or with as many variations. Dilshan was slapped, Vaas was leant into and Murali was caressed. Tendulkar's genius unshrouded itself in one particular over from the spin legend. A flighted, dipping delivery had Tendulkar's quick two-step and magnificent bat flow to contend with.

    Murali returned to over the wicket and pushed it through. The Mumbaikar went back, his left leg splaying away from the ball's line and releasing the room required for the late cut. The third strain of brilliance involved an elbow-led punch to a delivery whose length was shortened by an adroit step back.

    Ganguly, let off by Sangakkara on 11, and Tendulkar will look to pile on the agony on Sunday. Sri Lanka let itself down with some tardy fielding. Another such day, and its dreams of series victory will evaporate.

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