India v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Delhi, 1st day December 10, 2005

Eclipsed by the elation

Laxman's fluent shotmaking put Tendulkar in the morning shade © Getty Images
In the euphoria that followed a tapped single to square leg, all that went before was forgotten. In a sense, that was a pity because the entrees before the main course had been just as tasty. There was a marvellous innings from VVS Laxman, mocking the brain-dead that would have him dropped, a magnificent spell from Muttiah Muralitharan and a courageous supporting act from Sourav Ganguly that said much of his character.

The day had started with a selfless decision from Rahul Dravid, who ignored the after-effects of yesterday's fever and the fact that he had averaged 14.85 in seven previous efforts as opener, to take on the new ball. Still finding his feet as captain, it was exactly the sort of statement he needed to make to team-mates who have reposed their faith in him. But having taken the sheen off the new ball, he then fell victim to one of Murali's offbreaks.

His record down the years has cemented Dravid's reputation as perhaps the finest No.3 since Sir Donald Bradman, but today, it was Laxman's turn to reveal once again just how much he can offer when asked to come in at the position from which he crafted that unforgettable 281. As at Sydney nearly two years ago, Laxman's fluent shotmaking put Tendulkar in the morning shade, and disrupted Sri Lankan plans of making significant inroads.

A late cut off Vaas came from the realms of fantasy and there were some gorgeous flicks and drives as the innings gathered real momentum shortly after lunch. But in Murali, both Tendulkar and Laxman faced an indefatigable opponent. Twice, Tendulkar lunged forward with bat palpably behind pad, and the crowd heaved sighs of relief as Nadeem Ghauri turned down appeals that may have proved fruitful on another day.

Undeterred by the sense of injustice, Murali struck back from round the wicket, flummoxing Laxman with a nearly unplayable doosra. And while he picked up no more wickets, he remained a persistent and potent threat. But for Kumar Sangakkara's over-excited grab at a simple stumping chance with Ganguly yards down the pitch, the scoreboard may well have told a vastly different tale.

Ganguly deserves immense credit for gathering himself and carrying on as he did. Every now and then, he would roll back the years and play the sumptuous off-side strokes that made him such a treat to watch, but for the most part it was studious defence and awareness of the bigger picture. Displays such as this will certainly make the selectors think twice before jettisoning him.

For Sri Lanka, there was also a fine spell from Dilhara Fernando, who surprised every batsman he came across with occasional steepling bounce on a pitch that eased out considerably as the day wore on. Dame Fortune, however, was clearly with India, and Sri Lanka now need to regroup to avoid the perilous task of chasing down 450 with Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh lying in wait.

Sangakkara did his best to rally beleaguered team-mates with a bit of good-natured sledging directed at Tendulkar, but it had all the effect of a gob of spit into the wind. On a day like today, with the fates aligned to embrace one of the game's all-time greats, Sri Lanka's best - and no one could accuse them of a lack of effort - wasn't quite good enough.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo