Sachin and Sourav illuminate the haze
From the typically hazy Headingley darkness emerged an incandescent flame that reignited the series. It was the sort of brilliance that inspires, one that arrived with an emphatic thud and set the agenda in no uncertain terms. Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly have been in fine form throughout the summer but it was here, with the series slipping away, that they entered the zone.
This was not a day for half-measures but an assured shellacking and the duo dazzled in chilly, drizzly, gusty, gloomy conditions. One was back at his English home, the other was in his 300th one-day international and for the first time in the series they fired salvos from both ends. Rather than one leading the way and the other supporting, they chose this day to jointly explode.
There is something about Tendulkar and Ganguly in the Headingley haze. Five years ago, to this fortnight, they shrugged off the extreme gloom in the Test arena, thundering 96 in 11 overs to set up a mammoth total. There was a sense of déjà vu during their 14-over sequence today, in which they hammered 108 in similar greyness.
Here, on a true pitch, with their side inserted, both watched guardedly for five overs before Tendulkar leapt in the sixth. Four, dot, four, four, four. Surely he had waited for everyone to settle down in their seats before announcing: Yorkshire, it is nice to be back. Ganguly took the cue at the start of the next over, backing away and scooping over extra-cover. Next ball he backed away again, and scooped again, this time over mid-on. Soon he was flaying James Anderson over third man and patted him on the back-side. Once he lofted Jon Lewis so handsomely over midwicket that there was a risk of it carrying all the way to Geoffrey Boycott's house.
At Bristol, Tendulkar (99) appeared all set for mischief while Ganguly (39) stuttered through. At Edgbaston he perished early (8) while Ganguly grafted hard (72). At Manchester he was the calming influence (55) while Ganguly fell to a tame pull. Here they were in unison, taking turns to seize the initiative.
These are the days when the quality of bowling is irrelevant. The bad balls are put away but even the good ones are not good enough. Stuart Broad must have realised. Brought on as late as the tenth over, he darted one in the mid 80s, back of a length and just outside off. There was not much room to play with. Tendulkar's response? A quick bend of the knees, rattle-snake like bat-speed, a statuesque pose and a spanking noise. That was not just a four crashing the hoardings at backward point, it was serious denting of confidence. Six overs later Broad tried a slower ball, as if resorting to the last option, but received such a pummelling down the ground that he did not think of it after.
Ganguly comes with his tailor-made methods, backing away, taking his right leg out of the way and connecting with awesome timing. It is these violent, manic innings that suit him best. Streaky one moment, controlled the next. That is the Ganguly we knew, the one who was quite an unstoppable batsman in his prime.
There were several edges from Ganguly, most joyous flashes outside off. Tendulkar, on the other hand, had just two: the first, on 33, was a tough chance that the wicketkeeper grassed, the second, when on 71, was an easier one that he pouched. Unlike at Bristol, where he was stunned by the umpire's decision, he did not smile; unlike at Manchester, where he was shocked at falling to a Kevin Pietersen long-hop, he did not frown. Instead there was a minor grimace followed by a purposeful walk back. For once there was not a moment's hesitation when he walked back but an acknowledgment of the cheers.
Ganguly's walk back was typically disgruntled but he returned to play his part with the ball. In conditions reminiscent of Toronto, where he often wrecked Pakistan with his wibbly-wobblies, he nibbled it around and grabbed two big wickets. Having hammered the opening bowlers, none of the batsmen could get on top of Ganguly and, with an outstanding Mahendra Singh Dhoni backing him up behind the stumps, the game turned in a span of 12 balls.
It would not have gone unnoticed that they both dropped a catch apiece in the slips but poignantly Ian Bell's wicket prompted Tendulkar to rush to provide the first bear-hug. It was a point when someone turned the clock to the mid-90s - here was a side in need of inspiration and two of India's finest one-day cricketers were waltzing in unison.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo