Departures from the past
Thousands of words have already been exhausted describing the spirit of New India, and when Rahul Dravid terminated the Indian innings this afternoon, leaving Sachin Tendulkar stranded six short of a double-century, he made another significant departure from the past. India has often sought solace for its shortcomings in the Test arena in individual glory, but clearly, for this side, team goals carry more meaning than personal ones.
Five years ago, Mark Taylor gave up, against the counsel of his team-mates, the quest of a world record, by declaring the Australian innings while he was batting on 334 in a Test at Peshawar. He was following a time-honoured Australian tradition. But captains in the subcontinent have always been mindful of personal milestones while setting the team agenda. Imran Khan, an exception, left Javed Miandad hanging on 280 against India at hyderabad in 1982-83 - and Miandad devoted a whole chapter in his autobiography to air his grouse.
Watching India pile on the runs for the second successive day in Pakistan was like replaying India's tours of Pakistan in the late 1970s and early '80s, but in reverse. In 1978-79 and in 1982-83 Pakistani batsmen, led by the wristy Zaheer Abbas and the cheeky Miandad, drove Indian bowlers to tears and statisticians to hyperactivity on dry pitches devoid of grass. Pakistan then had the firepower to defeat the lifelessness of the pitches, and India were hastened to humiliating defeats despite boasting some world-class batsmen.
In his first few overs of the Pakistan innings, Irfan Pathan extracted more movement, both in the air and off the pitch, than the Pakistani bowlers did with the new ball on both days, but it will be fair to say that India's hopes of winning this Test rests on the broad, but of late weary, shoulders of Anil Kumble.
India put on another 320 runs today at over four an over at the cost of only three wickets. Despite heartbreak, Pakistan's bowlers did not disgrace themselves. For a bowler with a strike rate of under 44, Shoaib Akhtar's 0 for 119 would seem appalling when seen only as a statistic, but his was a courageous performance in sapping conditions. He bowled a lion-hearted but luckless spell in the morning, repeatedly beating Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag outside the off stump, but this was one of those days when the dice refused to turn the bowlers' way.
Pakistan's fielding was appalling once again, and one over from Shabbir Ahmed just before lunch summed up the wretchedness of their day. He induced two genuine edges from Sehwag, and had a huge leg-before appeal turned down, and yet conceded 12. Taufeeq Umar was caught dozing, as sometimes happens when teams give up hopes of a wicket, at first slip when Sehwag slashed at one; the next ball went screaming to the backward-point boundary; a ball later, Moin let another edge past his left glove, and only a thin edge saved Sehwag from leg-before on the last ball. A couple of overs earlier, Abdur Razzaq's laziness saved Sehwag from being run out at the bowler's end. In all, Pakistan had five chances to dismiss Sehwag before they finally got him, and on a pitch like this, such lapses deserved to be punished.
Sehwag's triple-century might have a salutary effect on his career. His race to 190 was gung-ho, but from there on he displayed a matured determination not to let his recklessness get the better of him. Without sacrificing his innate aggression, he gathered his next 119 runs from 179 balls. After being dismissed he spoke about being mindful of what had happened at the MCG against Australia, not from a personal viewpoint, but for the team cause. After belting 195 breathless runs there, Sehwag went for 195, trying hit a six too many, and India collapsed from an awesome 311 for 3 to a dismal 376 all out. All through today, he played the incoming balls from the fast bowlers with deliberate caution, and was mindful of the men on the boundary while playing Saqlain Mushtaq's offspin. Only once, when on 295, did he find the temptation too hard to resist, and clouted a six to bring up his 300.
It is hard to say how much Sehwag was influenced by the man at the other end, but Tendulkar's was a serene presence. It is almost as if, haunted by his average of 17 from five nightmarish Tests in 2003, Tendulkar has decided to make it up with a vengeance this year. His three innings in 2004 have yielded him 495 runs without an average, as he hasn't actually been out yet. He was harried by Shoaib in the morning, yet composure never left him. His off-side game has returned, and he longer bothers about being outshone by his partner. For India, the news is doubly good: in the new Tendulkar, they now have the world's most consummate accumulator, and in Sehwag at his decimating best, they have the old Tendulkar.
Sambit Bal is editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India and Wisden Asia Cricket magazine.