Cut down in full flight
Until Steve Bucknor, who has gradually assumed the role of a Prince of Darkness in the Sachin Tendulkar story, extinguished the lights, the master was proceeding resolutely towards what might have been a career-defining innings. Every batting legend has produced a magnum opus comparable to Beethoven's Fifth or Picasso's Guernica - Vivian Richards and Sunil Gavaskar chose The Oval as their canvas, making 291 (1976) and 221 (1979) respectively, while Sir Garfield Sobers chose the MCG to script an epic 254 for the Rest of the World against Australia (1971-72).
Tendulkar, whose first Test century at Old Trafford announced a talent every bit as precocious as Mozart - who was all of four when Twinkle Twinkle was composed - came closest to such a innings for the ages in Chennai six years ago, but a glorious 136 was ruined by the jarring notes that followed in its wake. Rahul Dravid, who matched him stroke for stroke during a wonderful partnership today, can point to two such gems - the 148 at Headingley which is perhaps just shaded by the 233 at Adelaide against Steve Waugh's near Invincibles.
Whinges about officiating are not the sole preserve of cricket, witness the recent Jose Mourinho-Anders Frisk fracas, but a diabolical decision like that which sent Tendulkar on his way - the reprieve he got in Mohali was just as nonsensical - can only push cricket one step closer to technology's embrace. With a Test match, and perhaps a series, tantalisingly poised, what wasn't needed was a judgement so flawed that it made you wonder whether umpires should be offered the light too.
The Tendulkar-Dravid partnership should have been the crowning glory of a fabulous day's cricket, when India's bowlers finally woke from the torpor that had seized them on the final day at Mohali. They did everything that they hadn't done then, or yesterday, building pressure and forcing mistakes, though it still required a bizarre leave from Yousuf Youhana and a half-hearted prod from Inzamam-ul-Haq - who had been batting like a dream - for them to seize the initiative.
Asim Kamal, Abdul Razzaq and Kamran Akmal, who so distinguished themselves when making a mockery of near-impossible odds in the first Test, failed when confronted with a situation where they had to set the tone, but by then, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble were finally bowling with the purpose and variety that had been in scarce supply 24 hours earlier.
They were backed up magnificently by the relentless probing of Lakshmipathy Balaji and the renaissance of Irfan Pathan, who was as sharp and incisive today as he had been pallid earlier. What could have been a deficit of 100 runs was turned into a slim 14-run lead, and the opportunity to set Pakistan a challenging target on a slowly deteriorating pitch.
Tendulkar, though, will have no part to play in what promises to be an intriguing penultimate day. A few weeks from now, jealous mediocrity will crawl out of the woodwork and nibble at his reputation, citing that inability to apply the finishing touches. In a democracy, that must be tolerated, as were the Philistines who mocked and persecuted Galileo. Only those who sat and watched a gorgeous sunrise obscured by a man-made storm can appreciate how close a supreme batting artist came to painting in the one blank space in an otherwise breathtaking canvas.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Cricinfo.