Hero worship, and Gul denies Tendulkar again
They see them in television commercials, on advertising billboards and perennially on the news, but the Indian public just can't get enough of their players. Hundreds thronged the gates of the Captain Roop Singh Stadium and flanked the approach roads, hoping to get a real-life glimpse of their heroes. Those who got into the ground early enough cheered themselves hoarse as each player came on to the field for practice. And when the Indian team took a warm-up lap around the ground, the fans ran down from the back of the stands and pressed against the wire fences hoping for a glimpse, or maybe even a casual wave of acknowledgement from their stars.
Butt lets India off
The Indian bowling attack has received more than its fair share of punishment from Salman Butt. He scored a century the first time he played India, in Kolkata in 2004, and has used this series to secure an opening berth after being dropped against South Africa. He made 50, 37 and 129 in the first three games but the law of averages finally caught up with him in Gwalior. The second ball of the match, angled in to the left-hander by RP Singh, rapped Butt on the pads dead in front and umpire Saheba gave him a quick send-off.
Akmal in disguise?
Kamran Akmal's wicketkeeping has been under tremendous scrutiny, and with good reason, for some of the catches he's dropped have been atrociously easy. Today, however, it was Mahendra Singh Dhoni who had the poor day with the gloves. In the fourth over, Irfan Pathan got one to swing back into Younis Khan and take the inside edge. It flew low to Dhoni's left and he couldn't get down in time to hold the catch. Younis was batting on 6 at the time and went on to score 42 more before Dhoni let him off again. This time it was a leg-side stumping, against Harbhajan Singh. The second reprieve, however, cost India only 20 runs.
Boom boom bust
After Younis Khan finally got out, the crowd erupted into massive cheers. Part of it was for the wicket but majority of the excitement was because Shahid Afridi was striding to the middle and bringing with him the promise of boundaries. If you closed your eyes, the cheers were loud enough for Tendulkar to be walking out and not Afridi. He blocked his first two balls and took a single off the third. He tried to be cheeky with the fourth, attempting a scoop over short fine leg against Ganguly and was adjudged leg-before. The crowd didn't get their sixes but they cared not. Another Pakistan wicket had fallen and the cheers accompanying Afridi's exit were louder than those that greeted his entrance.
A paucity of strike during the 49th over jeopardised Mohammad Yousuf's chances of getting to a hundred. It went down to the wire with Yousuf needing nine off two balls. RP Singh charged in and pitched one on a length, only to see Yousuf's smooth blade descend in an arc and deposit the ball over the straight boundary. He needed three more off the final delivery but RP landed one in the blockhole and Yousuf could only push it towards mid-off for two and settle for 99 not out.
If at first you don't succeed ...
Today was one of those days when some of Tendulkar's shots just made your jaw drop. The crowd had cheered each of the splendid cover drives and flicks but hadn't been treated to a straight drive in the first eight overs. Off the fifth ball of the ninth over, Tendulkar leant forward to Rao Iftikhar Anjum and rehearsed a straight drive. He had placed it well enough but the timing was just a bit awry, allowing mid-on to stop it. The next ball, however, was dispatched with perfect timing and mid-on could only watch as the ball sped past him.
Making up for lost time
After reaching his 50 off 48 balls, Tendulkar went quiet, scoring 14 runs off his next 25 balls, before deciding to get on with it again. He came down the pitch, made room, and lofted Afridi inside out over extra cover for four. He made room for the second ball and square-drove it to the boundary before placing the next delivery wide of the man on the sweeper boundary. And just like that, he was back up to speed, with 77 off 77 balls.
Gul denies Tendulkar ... again
As Tendulkar eased into the 80s the crowd began to cheer every run that took him closer to that elusive century No. 42. The nerves began to show; he mistimed a few, played and missed and even hit one uppishly towards cover. An upper cut off Shoaib took him into the 90s before the fall of Sehwag and a drinks interval delayed his search for three runs to reach his 42nd ODI hundred. Gul landed the first ball after the break on a length and Tendulkar pushed hard at it. The ball jagged back off an inside edge and the crowd fell silent as both they and Tendulkar realised that a bail had been dislodged. Gul had gatecrashed the party once again, having dismissed Tendulkar for 99 in Mohali.
George Binoy is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo