Hawks, kites and the last rites
To all intents and purposes, the first Test ended at 12.55 this afternoon, as Harbhajan Singh holed out to Glenn McGrath on the fine-leg boundary, cueing a spasm of celebration from the Australian fielders. But symbolically at least, the curtain of this match was lowered moments before tea yesterday, when Shane Warne rolled in to bowl and pinned VVS Laxman lbw with a perfect first-ball flipper.
At that moment, a Bangalore crowd that had been waiting in vain for a Kolkata-esque miracle was forced to wake up and smell the cordite. And more pertinently, so too were the stadium authorities. As the teams trooped off for tea, the rowdy eastern section of the ground was enveloped in a cascading mesh of nylon nets, which stretched from the roof of the stands to the top of the security fencing. First and foremost, they were to prevent any irate fans lobbing brickbats onto the field, but the symbolism was potent.
Unsurprisingly, the curtains were still drawn as the fifth morning dawned. More astonishing, however, was that there should still be any crowd still lurking behind them. But Indians are a resilient bunch - more resilient, perhaps, than the impression sometimes given by their batsmen. And so, with a Sunday morning to kill, and with the homeboy, Rahul Dravid, still in situ, there was sufficient reason for despair to be put on the backburner.
The Chinnaswamy Stadium is nothing if not varied. It takes at least a fortnight to get to grips with the pavilion, press and hospitality part of the ground - a rabbit warren of interconnecting floors, passages and random pot-plants, where one wrong turn through a partially bolted door can land you up in the middle of the players' lounge, or at the top of an interminable flight of dusty outside stairs. The cheap seats, on the other hand, offer no such fripperies. A thin, single-file gateway leads to a large (and largely unused) courtyard, and then, after a couple of quick steps down a tunnel, you emerge onto a vast concrete terrace.
If the stadium authorities were expecting trouble, then it was surely not from this section of the ground. Perched beneath the netting were rows upon rows of orderly, unassuming cricket fans, almost all of whom were sporting freebie cardboard sun-visors that made them look about as menacing as a colony of toucans. A chap selling sachets of filter water (no bottles allowed in here) wandered up and down the stands, while towards the top of the terrace, a squad of beige-suited police officers sat dozily in the shade, twiddling their lathis and playing with their mobile phones.
"We are well-behaved!" insisted Sanjeev, a Bangalore computer technician (what else?), who pointed out that, apart from anything else, they didn't have anything to fling at the players: "Not even chairs!" He had been to watch all five days, but had still not given up the ghost - not even when, just as we were speaking, Michael Kasprowicz struck to remove Dravid for 60.
A disgruntled groan muttered its way along the terrace, but with India's new darling, Irfan Pathan, spanking all before him, there was still plenty for the stands to celebrate, as a hundred cardboard cut-outs of Sachin and Sourav danced a merry jig with every boundary. There was even cause for an impromptu Mexican Wave, as a hawk (or was it a kite, a falcon, an eagle or even a vulture - where's Simon Barnes when you need him?) swooped along the netting for a fly-past.
That was as close as any of the spectators were coming to giving the Australians the bird. On the field, however, it was a very different story, with Warne in particular coming in for some fearful tap. Some keen-eyed observers (though maybe not the hawks) had noticed that, when Warne took the field this morning, he was wearing some rather snazzy new red-toed bowling boots - surely not an endorsement waiting to happen for the soon-to-be world-record holder?
If that was the case, then Pathan and Harbhajan soon made him pay for his hubris, belting him out of the attack at close to four runs an over. Harbhajan, in particular, enjoyed the onslaught immensely, and could be seen tapping his bat in congratulation, after bringing up Warne's century with a massive biff over midwicket.
Of course, the resistance could never last, although try telling that to the fans. They continued to believe, even as the No. 11, Zaheer Khan, was flinching McGrath to the fine-leg boundary. And belief is half the battle won. There was enough bottle in the Indian performance today to suggest this series is not over yet.
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.