Tendulkar braves demanding conditions and delivers
Sachin Tendulkar had just reached his double-century. He was into the ninth hour of his innings. He had been on the field for the whole match, except for perhaps one session. He had had a few visits from the physio. The tea break was approaching. Twice in the next two overs, MS Dhoni hit shots slightly wide of the outfielders. And Tendulkar hared across for the twos, running as though they were his 199th and 200th runs. That was perhaps the most impressive aspect of the 95 runs Tendulkar added today to his overnight 108. If a run was there to be scored, he was there to score it.
After Tendulkar had helped India to relative safety on day three, today ceased being a battle between bat and ball. There was hardly anything to trouble Tendulkar. It had come down to endurance, and the need to bat as long as possible to try and prevent his bowlers from having to bowl in the humidity.
Tendulkar spoke about the physical challenge of batting for 516 minutes after having fielded for more than five sessions. "It's been challenging," he said. "Of course the conditions are tough. Yesterday when I got into the dressing room, I had a long ice bath. I was in the ice tub for a while. Then I did some stretches, had an early dinner, and I was in bed by 8.30.
"I just relaxed as much as possible. Because I went off to sleep early, I was up early morning, sort of relaxed a bit and stretched a bit in the morning. When you are off the field time flies in between. When you are off the field, go back to the hotel and sleep, when you wake in the morning, it's time to go back to the ground again. But that's what Test cricket is all about. For almost all four days, I have been on the field. It's been demanding on the body, but it's held up pretty well."
Another moment that stood out in what was largely an error-free effort was when Suresh Raina brought up his debut hundred. There was as much joy on Tendulkar's face as on Raina's. Like Virender Sehwag said, it was difficult to tell who the debutant was. They then spoke for what seemed a longish period between deliveries.
"I was very happy for him," Tendulkar said of the moments after Raina got his century and before the next ball. "Many guys doubted whether Suresh was a good Test player or not. He has done well, I am very pleased. The way he batted was fantastic. All I told him was, 'Enjoy this moment. You have earned something special. This will always be the highlight of your career. You will have many more hundreds, you will achieve many more things in your life, but this will always be something special.'"
Admittedly this was a flat track - Tendulkar didn't try to suggest otherwise. But he also knew that - until the follow-on was avoided -India were one mistake away from getting into big trouble. He had to curb the temptation of looking for runs, especially because the track and the bowling were ripe with runs.
"It was tough. There were times when you felt you could go over the fielders," Tendulkar said. "But also the Test match was poised critically. It was an important phase, and one mistake would have cost us quite a bit. So I felt it was important to just try and control all those temptations, and play a percentage game."
Those joyful shots came at intervals. His scoring-rate never fell though he eliminated risks. With not much life left in the match, everybody's thoughts turned to the elusive triple-century. This was a good chance: there was enough time left, all he needed was for MS Dhoni to stay with him.
The error from Tendulkar arrived, though. Just after tea, the first ball of Tillakaratne Dislhan's spell turned a bit extra and Prasanna Jayawardene pouched a bat-pad offering. Tendulkar later said that the triple-century was not on his mind.
"I have always gone out and played," he said. "People look at records, not me. I would want to score as many runs as possible. Whenever it comes, it comes. It is never too late. I will keep trying, but that is not the end of the world to me. There are many more things to cricket, and that is where the focus is. It's not on records. If it has to come, it will come."
Whatever milestones he passed during the course of the innings - be it the most 150-plus scores, be it drawing level with Steve Waugh's 168 Test caps, or be it yet another double-century - saving the Test was his top priority. To keep the series alive. And he was a satisfied man at the end of it all. And when he is satisfied, so is the rest of India.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo