November 2, 2002

Tendulkar ton saves India the blushes

Once again bad light cut short proceedings at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Not before India reached 195/4, taking a 56 run lead thanks to a sparkling century from Sachin Tendulkar. The little master chalked up his first ever Test ton at India's biggest venue, the 31st of his career and saved India from slipping into a precarious position. With just one day left, an outright result looks improbable, if not entirely unlikely.

To be honest though, it was a day of high excitement. The first two and a half hours in particular kept the crowds on their seats, yelling, shouting and urging the home team on. As many as eight wickets fell in the first session of the fourth day's play.

India's spinners helped the hosts claw their way back into the game reducing West Indies from 446/5 to 497 all out. India, responding to a deficit of 139 managed 51/3 at lunch.

Sourav Ganguly opened the bowling with Virender Sehwag and watched in dismay as the first ball was creamed to the cover fence. Just two balls later however, Shivnarine Chanderpaul (140 runs, 258 balls, 17 fours, 1 six) cut a long hop straight to Harbhajan Singh at point. Chanderpaul equaled his highest Test score, reaching the same mark he set against India at Guyana in the last series.

Twenty-one year old Marlon Samuels cracked his maiden Test century but was out soon after. Samuels (104 runs, 183 balls, 10 fours) poking at a ball from Harbhajan only managed an edge to the on side that Sehwag snapped up sharply. The middle-order has won praise from all quarters for the manner in which he batted. While being effective, Samuels was elegant. His shot selection was spot on for the duration of his stay out in the middle.

After the fall of Samuels' wicket the tail folded up meekly. Anil Kumble snapped up Darren Powell (0) and Jermaine Lawson (5) albeit with some help from umpire Asoka de Silva who upheld an lbw shout that would have certainly slipped down the leg side.

Harbhajan ended with 5/115 and West Indies were all out for 497. Kumble, with 3/169 managed to salvage some lost pride.

In response, India got off to the worst possible start as Sanjay Bangar edged the first ball of the innings - delivered by Merv Dillon to Chanderpaul at third slip. Bangar has been a font of solidity and strength at the top of the order and his dismissal so early on gave the West Indies the perfect boost.

Virender Sehwag after cracking two handsome boundaries in a seven-ball ten watched in disbelief as a clever bit of thinking cleaned him up. Planting a fielder at leg slip, Dillon dug a delivery in short on the pads. Taking the bait Sehwag glanced and the ball landed in the Chanderpaul's lap at the aforementioned position.

Rahul Dravid, batting beautifully on 17 was cut short once again for no fault of his. When he inside edged Darren Powell onto his pads the loud shout for lbw was upheld by umpire de Silva. A shocking decision, and ironically, almost an action replay of the one David Shepherd handed Dravid in the first innings.

The period between lunch and tea was one of consolidation for India. From 49/3 India inched their way to 141/4 at tea. The only wicket that fell was that of Sourav Ganguly, and Tendulkar took charge of proceedings for his part, from his end.

Very early in the session Ganguly fell. Bowling over the wicket to the left hander, Cameron Cuffy got a delivery to pitch just a fraction outside the leg stump and Ganguly was rapped on the pad. The ball did not straighten at all and would have certainly missed the off stump. Nevertheless umpire Asoka de Silva saw it fit to send the Indian captain packing for 16.

From then on Tendulkar took charge. A flurry of trademark strokes hammered into advertising hoardings around the ground. None better than that copybook on drive where Tendulkar managed to pick the ball up from just outside the off stump and punch it back past the bowler to the on side.

It has been said innumerable times in the past, most loudly by his critics, that Tendulkar fails to make runs when India needs it the most. Today, when the chips were down, Tenbdulkar came up with the goods. Not being altogether destructive, or indeed too defensive, Tendulkar remained unbeaten on 114 (195 balls, 17 fours) as the players walked off the field.

The first to congratulate Tendulkar was VVS Laxman. It is difficult to reliably define the value of Laxman in this Indian side. When the batting is firing well, he seldom gets a chance to showcase his wares at number six. When early wickets fall, he is under pressure and often has to shepherd the tail. Today, despite the pressure, the Hyderabadi stylist had Tendulkar for company. Realising his role early on, Laxman was content to play second fiddle, scoring a patient unbeaten 30 (105 balls, 4 fours) in a partnership of 108 for the fifth wicket.

Actually, there is one way of clearly judging how valuable Laxman is. If he had gone for a first-ball duck, India would have been 87/5. Tendulkar would have had to contend with a deficit of 52 runs, with only Parthiv Patel and the tail for company. The game might well have been all over for India.

Back to reality from the land of speculation. The game is not up. Funnily enough, it is still wide open.