India ride on Tendulkar hundred
On the same day when he equalled Sunil Gavaskar's tally of 125 Test appearances and on the same ground where Gavaskar equalled Don Bradman's record 29 hundreds, Sachin Tendulkar blended solid defiance with controlled aggression and reached a much-anticipated landmark, putting India in firm control of the second Test at Delhi. Contrasting knocks from VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly - one effortless, the other gritty - shored India up from a dicey situation but on such a day, everything was bound to be overshadowed with one little man and one mighty world record.
Come tomorrow, and it would have been exactly one year since his last century, against Bangladesh at Dhaka, and Tendulkar had often admitted that century No.35 was a bogey which he wanted off his back. He began his innings with the game on an even keel but by overcoming Muttiah Muralitharan's craft and Chaminda Vaas's nous, by ruthlessly cashing in after surviving two perilous lbw appeals, and by showing glimpses of his glorious youth he ensured India were in a position to dictate terms for the rest of the game.
It was an innings that sported a rich array of strokes - a classical flick off Dilhara Fernando, a full-throttle cover-drive off Vaas - completing his follow-through while on his knees - three successive fours off Murali - feet twinkling, bat flourishing - a lofted six off Malinga Bandara, and a back-foot slap with a Caribbean touch. When on 24, he was trapped in front by a Fernando incutter; when on 38, he stretched forward to an offbreak from Murali and got away with a touch-and-go call but once he completed his half-century, he methodically dismantled the attack. The moment he reached the 90s, every run was greeted with a volcanic reaction and at precisely 16:44:19pm, he rocked back and turned one from Vaas to backward square leg, took off for a single and punched the air with delight as the entire stadium erupted with joy.
The focus was firmly on Tendulkar but there was a hugely important innings panning out at the other end as well. Ganguly, who was fortunate on 11 when Kumar Sangakkara fluffed a stumping, ground his way to a crucial 39 not out by the end of the day. A couple of cover-drives, eased with finesse, promised much and he found the gaps with ease. Delhi has been a lucky venue for Ganguly - with four scores of more than 50 - and he will get a chance to re-establish himself in the Test side.
Both these were vital innings but what had really set India up was 69 golden runs from Laxman, who had lit up the overcast Feroz Shah Kotla when India ran the risk of being derailed. Laxman, batting at No.3 after a little more than a year, was fortunate at the top of his innings, with a close lbw shout turned down and a flashy inside edge eluding the stumps, but soon opened out with some delicious strokeplay. Wafting the bat like an artist's brush, he effortlessly wrenched India out of a wobbly situation with languid strokes all around the ground. Seam movement from Vaas was countered with grace, Murali was thwarted and the inexperienced Bandara was simply dismissed. Laxman appeared in complete control, and all set for one of his massive hauls, before he nicked a superb Murali doosra.
Play had begun half-an-hour late, owing to excessive dew on the ground, and Vaas gave Sri Lanka a near-perfect start by dismissing Gautam Gambhir, the local boy playing his first Test on his homeground, cheaply. Dravid, who opened the batting for the first time since November 2001, was immaculate in reading the movement of the ball, punctuating his knock with five fours, but he was occasionally hassled by the variety that Murali, who came on as early as the eighth over, displayed. Murali unfurled his entire range and would surely rue a few umpiring calls, but destiny, as he would know, is a strange animal and there is little one can do when certain events are written in the stars.
Gautam Gambhir lbw b Vaas 2 (2 for 1)
Caught in the crease and trapped in front
Rahul Dravid c Mubarak b Muralitharan 24 (56 for 2)
Pushed tentatively, ball snicked bat and deflected off pad to short leg
VVS Laxman c Sangakkara b Muralitharan 69 (133 for 3)
Played back to a doosra; nick snapped up cleverly by the wicketkeeper
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo.