Tendulkar gives India 69-run lead
If the second day belonged to the twinkling VVS Laxman, the third was all Sachin Tendulkar's as the brightest star in the Indian batting constellation shone once more at one of his favourite hunting grounds. His unbeaten century played a large part in India taking a lead in the second Test; less than the size of the lead - 69 runs - the fact that they got a lead at all will give them great strength in a series that was threatening to go steadily downhill for the visiting team.
There has been something about Tendulkar's batting in each knock in this series that stood out from the rest and it was hard to put a finger on it till the third day. On a day when India stumbled more than once, Tendulkar showed, through a mixture of tight defence, controlled shot selection and dazzling strokeplay, what has made him a batting tour de force over 17 years. While Sourav Ganguly has been the form batsman, and Laxman the man who inevitably defies the Australians, it is Tendulkar who can hurt them the most. On the day, Tendulkar scarcely put a foot wrong and, in a pleasant departure from the norm, he was more than adequately supported by a tail that showed stomach for the pitched battle.
The breadth of Tendulkar's innings, which began with him on 9 overnight, and ended when he ran out of partners at 154, put several other things in the shade and made the events of the morning seem a thing of the distant past. Ganguly's confident start, easing Brett Lee through the off side, lofting and cutting the spinners and the subsequent disappointment of holing out for 67 seemed inconsequential. Yuvraj Singh's continued struggle to convert one-day wonders into Test runs as he scratched around for 12 before being trapped by Lee was forgotten. Even the fall of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, yet to convince at the Test level, and Anil Kumble, in quick succession, with India still 118 runs in the red, did not seem to matter.
At that stage Tendulkar had compiled a battling 69 but it was then that he decided to change gears, and did so with an ease that belied the gravity of the situation. An upper-cut off Lee, deliberately played over the slips cordon down to the vacant third-man region, signalled Tendulkar's intent loud and clear, and under this protective umbrella emerged Harbhajan. Although no mug with the bat Harbhajan has often been less than judicious in his shot selection, and favoured the big shots a bit too much, but on the day he played a crucial hand.
Harbhajan kicked things off with a trademark slash over the slips, but what followed was a revelation. He chipped Lee back over his head for a boundary, met a short ball with a swivelling pull, one knee in the air Caribbean style, belted one through cover and, for good measure, flicked a full-toss through midwicket. The 100-partnership for the eighth wicket came off just 136 balls with Harbhajan contributing 50, one more than Tendulkar.
But while Harbhajan's knock was the blindside that the Australians did not expect, Tendulkar's century was the effort that everyone knew and feared. His driving through cover off the back foot, cutting in front of and behind square, and checked punches back down the ground showed that there was no length or line tidy enough to control him when in the mood. When nothing more dramatic was possible Tendulkar merely stepped across his stumps and whipped the ball through square-leg, a shot he has perfected to a degree that he can score runs at will using it.
|Tendulkar showed what has made him the batting tour de force he has been over 17 years in a mixture of tight defence, controlled shot selection and dazzling strokeplay|
When Tendulkar drove Clark through cover off the back foot, immediately called "two", and reached his century - a milestone that had evaded him rather frequently in 2007 - the relief was palpable and the applause stirring. To a man the crowd was on its feet applauding as Tendulkar looked to the heavens, helmet in one hand, bat in the other, as if giving thanks.
But his work was not done yet. Even when Harbhajan fell on 63, closing the face of the bat early and edging to gully, his stand with Tendulkar terminated on 129, the show went on. Tendulkar, to the surprise of many, did not farm the strike, and instead allowed RP Singh and Ishant Sharma their share of the bowling, stitching together partnerships of 27 and 31 for the last two wickets. When the end of the innings came it was fitting that Tendulkar was unbeaten, on 154, his tally now 455 runs since last being dismissed at the SCG giving him an average of 326 at this ground. Equally significantly, Tendulkar now had scored a century on each of his four tours to Australia, spanning 16 years.
India ended with a lead of 69, and even the fact that they could not force a breakthrough in the five overs they bowled at Matthew Hayden and Phil Jaques will do nothing to quell their optimism, nor will they grudge Lee his five-for. This Test has come well and truly alive.
Anand Vasu is an associate editor at Cricinfo