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Tendulkar's finest hour?

India 241 and 387 for 4 (Tendulkar 103*, Yuvraj 85*, Sehwag 83, Gambhir 66) beat England 316 and 311 for 9 dec by six wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

I'd flown to India a mere seven hours before play began on the final day of the Chennai Test, so I was late getting to the ground. It didn't help that my ride dropped me on Bells Road, diametrically opposite to the entrance of my stand on Victoria Hostel Road. I told security I could run from third man to long-on faster than Monty Panesar could get from third man to deep point, but they didn't let me through.

So I ran around via Wallajah Road, pausing once to take in the fact that hundreds, if not thousands, were being turned away from the cheap seats (F, G stands) because they were full. Young people, perhaps school and college students, who had taken the Monday off, but couldn't afford the more expensive seats; fathers with young kids, perhaps going to their first Test day. And then I got to my stand: the TNCA pavilion, the most expensive seats in the house, tickets either complimentary, or given to season-pass holders, or to corporates.

The stand was less than half full when I got in, and I even passed an empty seat with the name "AC Muthaiah" scrawled on it. I had an entire row to myself, although the stand was rapidly filling up, and by the end of the day would be about 60% full. The sight of young fans being turned away from what promised to be an exciting day of cricket was disappointing.

Rahul Dravid fell in the third over of the day. In his defence, the delivery, from Andrew Flintoff, was one of very few that day that did something in the air.

Then Sachin Tendulkar entered to warm applause. The crowd was still growing at this point, and the batsmen who walked in later got more raucous welcomes, actually. The welcome Yuvraj Singh got, given his fickle Test career and the nervous situation he was walking into, made me think, "Oh, the ODI and T20 fans are in the house now."

Tendulkar was off the mark immediately, and middling it well. A fellow chatting on his mobile took a spot in the row I'd owned up to that point. "Thalaivar ["leader" in Tamil] seems solid, although I've just gotten in," he said. He was evidently trying to convince someone to abandon their Monday plans and come to the cricket. Tendulkar was often accused of not coming through when the chips were down, but it's amazing that over and over again, when they were down, there was always great expectations from him. It's almost as if people were expecting lightning to strike them every time there was a storm.

At this stage Flintoff was bowling superbly, making the ball move subtly off the seam in both directions. Graeme Swann was spot on. Panesar started with a five-run over, followed by some very quiet ones. He was bowling flat, but I thought it was part of the plan. England wanted to stopper India while probing for a breakthrough. That had been their successful game plan on day five in Mumbai in March 2006. At this point, England were doing everything right and India already faced a stiff ask.

The plan began to unravel when James Anderson replaced Flintoff, and Panesar went over the wicket. Anderson's modus operandi all day was to mix up very short and very full deliveries. He hardly bowled the three-quarter length. He was also the slowest of the three England pacers. Perhaps that was his interpretation of the team's tactics: bowl short to restrict the batsman, and throw in the occasional full delivery looking for a wicket.

Just when the pressure was beginning to ease on India, Gautam Gambhir fell while chasing a wider delivery from Anderson.

Panesar's strategy of going over the wicket was hard to understand - was he trying to attack by ripping the ball out of the rough, or stifle the scoring through a negative line? As it turned out, he was very inaccurate. In trying to hit the rough, he overpitched once or twice every over, bringing the paddle sweep into play. For much of his spell, the fielder at short fine leg was Steve Harmison, and India could get a run even if they hit it straight to him at normal pace.

A couple of times, Panesar pitched it too short and got punished for it. His bowling was, for me, the second biggest disappointment of the day since he was the only bowler who was welcomed to the bowling crease with a cheer from the crowd. Even Flintoff's spells were only getting excited murmurs.

Tendulkar paddle-swept Swann and Panesar for fours, and upper-cut Anderson over slips to the boundary in a fine and dandy exhibition of improvisation, but if I ranked the top six rousing shots of the day, not a single one of Tendulkar's would make the list.

VVS Laxman got off the mark in the first over he faced, but then appeared to have retreated into a shell. I remember Tendulkar walking up to him mid-over and motioning with his arms, perhaps exhorting him to play freely. Laxman responded in the most scintillating manner. First, he stood tall and, without much foot movement, freed his arms to send an Anderson delivery racing through the covers. Then he drove Panesar inside out past mid-off. Shortly before lunch, Laxman drove Flintoff just to the leg side of the bowler's end stumps for another boundary that brought the crowd to its feet. Each of those strokes, along with a couple of punches down the ground by Yuvraj off the back foot, would make my list of top shots.

Laxman was looking comfortable when, in the fourth over after lunch, he was caught at forward short leg by Ian Bell off Swann. The ball had turned and bounced more than he had expected it to, just minutes after Tendulkar had found it keeping perilously low at the other end. The ghosts of Mumbai 2006 were resurfacing. In that match as well, the wicket had appeared very negotiable before lunch on day five, only to seem unplayable later on.

Yuvraj struggled right from the start. I saw Cook hand his box to Flintoff (yeah!), who then replaced him at silly point in order to give Yuvraj some verbals. There was one beauty from Swann that turned past Yuvraj's outside edge, with the batsman groping down the wrong line.

A more frightening delivery, from the crowd's perspective, was one from Swann that popped up off the same length and was taken by a leaping Matt Prior over his shoulder. The thing about that delivery was that Yuvraj, not yet in double figures, had attempted to violently sweep it across from off stump and ended up misjudging the bounce by a foot. Although I was generally apprehensive all day, at that point I felt like India were standing on the precipice of defeat.

Meanwhile, Harmison got his first bowl of the day, and thought he had Tendulkar lbw on 49, but umpire Daryl Harper didn't agree. That was Tendulkar's last mistake of the day. He spent eight nervous deliveries on 49, and when he finally reached his 50, there was a mass exodus from my stand towards the restrooms.

Yuvraj gained a semblance of confidence, beginning with successive boundaries off Swann: a mere push through cover off the back foot followed by another violent sweep, this time making perfect contact.The first shot was one of the best shots of the day in my book, and the latter perhaps the hardest hit boundary of the day.

Yuvraj continued to pepper the extra-cover/mid-off boundary off either foot against the spinners and the pacers. I think some of those boundaries could have been saved if someone other than Pietersen had been at mid-off. I assumed his injury was troubling him, because, at the time, he seemed to be in the Panesar-Harmison league of fielding.

England were really hampered by the fact that they were carrying at least three very weak fielders, two of whom were, at various times, stationed at very important positions. Their best two fielders were Flintoff and Anderson, who drew applause virtually every time they fielded the ball.

Tea came with Yuvraj looking comfortable and Tendulkar solid. I walked to the front of the stand, tried to lean over the balcony and peer into the dressing room, only to be motioned away by a commando with the butt of his automatic rifle.

After tea, Yuvraj went from strength to strength. Tendulkar later said he tried to keep Yuvraj focused, even alluding to the chase against Pakistan in 1999. But it actually looked like it was Tendulkar who lost concentration or was overcome by fatigue once or twice.

The new ball arrived with India needing 67 to win.

I had seen a lot of Tendulkar's batting for about 19 years at that point, and, to me, the biggest contrast from his heyday was the relative lack of dominance. I wondered what percentage of century partnerships he had dominated in the last five years. In his peak, if he timed it well, the ball went for four runs. That was not a given anymore. This was evident in his partnership with Yuvraj and Laxman. If those two middled it, the ball went for four. When Yuvraj lay back and nonchalantly swished a pull off Monty, the ball disappeared miles into the stands. When Tendulkar pulled Panesar with all his might (so hard he nearly lost his balance), the ball dropped ten yards short of the fence. Shortly before tea, he wound up a big back swing and slog-swept Swann over mid-on. The ball dropped to the ground and gently bobbled over the ropes.

Perhaps he didn't time it well, but the point I'm making is that a batsman who can reach the boundary at will draws a certain awe from the bowler. Think Viv Richards, who could mistime the ball and send it soaring over the ropes. At that point, Tendulkar couldn't hit boundaries at will. He didn't have that physical ability anymore. His best-executed, best-timed shots were not guaranteed to reach the boundary. I think he realised he could not dominate the bowling because of this and completely changed his approach to batting, becoming instead an accumulator.

As India's target fell to less than 50 runs away, with six wickets in hand, victory appeared a foregone conclusion, and in fact, so too did Tendulkar's century.

But we knew that if India lost two quick wickets, England would have the upper hand. And we knew that Yuvraj was outscoring Tendulkar by a long way and could well deny him his hundred.

But once Tendulkar emerged from his post-tea loss of concentration, the entire crowd realised that it was his moment of destiny. India would win and Tendulkar would get his hundred.

True enough, he raced to 96 with a couple of boundaries off Panesar: the inevitable paddle sweep, and, finally, an orthodox cover drive. The atmosphere in the ground was more charged than it had been all day. The cheers, chants, and bugles were making such a din, you couldn't hear yourself think. In my stand, a couple of middle-aged gentlemen were standing, swaying, bobbing, and leading the cheering with whistles and hoots, while three rows of youngsters provided the chorus.

Yuvraj backed off. He patted a couple of harmless deliveries back down the pitch. The moment finally arrived off Swann's bowling. The moment some were too afraid to contemplate that morning for fear of another disappointment.

Tendulkar was on 99, India a mere four runs away from a memorable win. The instrument had to be the paddle sweep. Everyone around me stood up, raised their hands and applauded.

Yuvraj was the first to anticipate the boundary and the first to comprehend the moment, leaping in the air halfway through the run. Tendulkar leapt in joy after turning around for the second. They met mid-pitch and Yuvraj lifted Tendulkar in the air.

We all moved towards the front of the stand for the presentation. Pietersen was the only English player at the ceremony, accompanied by a few commandos. Curiously, a couple of the lesser-known English players were, at the time, wandering about the outfield without any security. But our focus was on the podium. Since I couldn't hear the player interviews, the only point of interest for me was the Man-of-the-Match award.

I thought Strauss would get it for his two centuries, but Virender Sehwag was probably also a good choice. I hadn't watched any play on day four but those in the crowd who had were in no doubt whatsoever that Sehwag was the one who had completely turned the game around. There was one fellow who said a little after tea that he had the greatest regard for Tendulkar, that he was batting brilliantly, but irrespective of how much he scored on the final day, his knock would only be the second-best of the innings. Their thoughts were reflected during the presentation.