February 23, 2002

Tendulkar ton puts India in the driver's seat

It is unfair to expect any player to score a hundred every time he walks out to bat. Try explaining that, however, to the average cricket fan. You will find that logic exits speedily out of the window when it comes to Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, in particular. Making an unbeaten 137 (275 balls, 18x4), Tendulkar entertained the swelling weekend crowd at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium and took India to 437/5 at stumps on the third day. Zimbabwe, for their part, found themselves yet again at the receiving end of a Tendulkar special.

Minutes before tea, Tendulkar turned a full delivery from Travis Friend to square leg, scurried two, and reached his 28th Test hundred, going past Steve Waugh and Allan Border in number of Test tons scored. The little man from Mumbai is now just one century away from Sir Don Bradman and six away from the all-time leader Sunil Gavaskar. In the course of this innings, Tendulkar also passed the milestone of 7500 Test runs.

So Tendulkar made a ton against Zimbabwe on a belter of a batting track at Nagpur - not too surprising. Perhaps less expected was the manner in which Sourav Ganguly batted. The Indian captain, who has been out of sorts for many Tests now, looked perfectly comfortable at the wicket. But just when it looked like he would emerge unscathed with a big score, he threw his wicket away. Let us face it - Ganguly has a certain contempt for left-arm spinners, and he simply cannot resist the urge to walk down the wicket and thrash them out of the park. It looks spectacular when it comes off, very silly when it does not.

After knocking the ball around sensibly for 38 (99 balls, 7x4), Ganguly sauntered down the track and deposited a Ray Price delivery straight down the throat of Grant Flower at long on. With 344 on the board, VVS Laxman then walked out to the middle. And, from his performance today, one would have to conclude that VVS Laxman is fast becoming one of those enigmas of world cricket.

The man who slammed 281 in the most trying of conditions against Australia in the second Test at Kolkata has since struggled to make a big score. The pressure of failure has turned a free-stroking batsman into a nervous prodder. The Hyderabadi stylist put his head down today, cutting out many of the shots in his repertoire and settling in - before falling tamely. Laxman, who prefers to use his bat rather than pad the ball away, gave Price a classical dismissal when the shoulder of his bat deflected a delivery to the close-in fielder on the off-side. Laxman made just 13 (47 balls, 2x4).

Earlier, after adding eight runs to his overnight score, Rahul Dravid was dismissed on 65, chopping hard at one that kept low from Heath Streak. The ball kissed the inside edge and went straight back onto the stumps.

Sanjay Bangar, in the side at the expense of Virender Sehwag, played his part well, batting sensibly and feeding his senior partner the strike. When the loose ball was on offer, Bangar was sharp enough to take full toll. Coming to the wicket to join Tendulkar with India on 376/5 in the 140th over, Bangar's unbeaten 22 (87 balls, 2x4) helped Tendulkar take India through to stumps without further damage.

For Zimbabwe, Price, the 24-year-old left-arm spinner playing in his seventh Test, stood out. Bowling with a fair degree of accuracy against batsmen who eat spinners for breakfast, Price returned figures of 4/130. Unfortunately for the visitors, though, the other promising young bowler, Travis Friend, was put out of action in the 149th over of the innings. Having bowled one "high full-pitched ball," as the rules describe what is commonly known as a beamer, and being no-balled and warned for it, Friend repeated the mistake. Umpire S Venkataraghavan had no choice but to remove him from the attack for the course of the innings.

It was an eventful day, but it will all amount to nought for the spectators if this game meanders into a tame draw. India will need to score quickly on the fourth day and give themselves enough time to bowl Zimbabwe out. With a lead of 150 on the board already, India should be looking to force the pace first thing on the morning of the fourth day.