Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, and a dead Ahmedabad pitch (21 wickets and seven centuries in five days) put paid to Sri Lanka's dream of a first Test win in India. Gambhir played out 110 deliveries for 40 runs, and Tendulkar 211 for 100 runs; both of them looked entirely at home in the role of saving a Test, not letting dot balls affect their minds.
By the time the final session of the match arrived, the only question left unanswered was whether Tendulkar would get to his 88th international century. Kumar Sangakkara didn't seem pleased with being kept on the field in the mandatory overs while Tendulkar moved towards the ton. The bowlers started bowling way outside off stump, and Tendulkar retorted in his own inimitable manner. He walked across to a delivery so wide it would have been called in an ODI, and flicked it to the square-leg boundary to get into the 90s. He had to work similarly hard for the rest of the runs too. As soon as he got there, the captains agreed to call off the match with six overs still to go.
Sri Lanka started the day 144 ahead, and needed eight Indian wickets to force a result, but met a docile pitch and determined batting. The only break in concentration came in the second session when Gambhir stepped out to launch Rangana Herath out of the ground, and ended up losing his wicket. That was not before he had reached his seventh century: four of them, including his last three, have come in the second innings, two of them in match-saving scenarios. He now averages 59.55 in the second innings, against 54.22 overall.
Sri Lanka were not helped by the hamstring injury to Dammika Prasad, who didn't bowl in the first session, and Muttiah Muralitharan's ineffectiveness: he didn't take a wicket in 38 second-innings overs. Previously Murali had gone wicketless in the second innings of a match only six times; the most he had bowled in such scenarios was 17 overs. Their problems on the unhelpful pitch were summed up by how Amit Mishra, nightwatchman from yesterday, got to his personal best score and frustrated them for 26 deliveries on the fifth morning.
Gambhir, at the other end, was in his Napier-like mode from earlier this year, when he batted 643 minutes for 137 runs to save the Test. Even today, he was not interested in scoring, or in other words he didn't let being stuck at one end bother him much. Angelo Mathews bowled well in Prasad's absence, hitting good lengths consistently, getting some of them to stay low and getting the odd one to seam away off the rare crack on the pitch. But Gambhir took most of the strike to him, playing 30 consecutive balls from Mathews for no run in the first hour, certain in his judgement outside off, and coming forward to straighter deliveries to negate the odd shooter.
Against spinners, Gambhir preferred to stay back, or jump out of the track and get close enough to the delivery. He did pull out the big hits in the 90s, as he is used to doing because he prefers to get the 90s done with quickly. He took 61 deliveries to move from overnight 74 to 90, but then hit three boundaries in six balls to reach his century quickly. And then scored two runs in 25 deliveries. The approach in the 90s was similar to that in Napier, when he stepped out and lofted Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel for fours in consecutive overs.
Post lunch, when Gambhir played his only rash shot, he left the saunter towards safety in Tendulkar's hands. Tendulkar had started off fluently, driving Murali against the spin for two boundaries, and punching Mathews for one, and once he got comfortable in the middle he too opted to play for time. Between them Gambhir and Tendulkar played out 24 overs. The latter had reached 32 off 75 deliveries, and slowed down even more after that.
Sri Lanka tried one of the last rolls of the dice, taking the new ball and getting Prasad to bowl despite the injury. But neither Prasad nor Chanaka Welegedara could find enough from the pitch to disturb Tendulkar or VVS Laxman. For a while Tendulkar shut shop completely, scoring three runs in 26 deliveries. By that time he had reached 30,000 international runs, and it seemed torturous to make the fast bowlers keep bowling on this pitch.
The spinners came back on, the match started moving towards a slow draw again. By tea Tendulkar had crossed 50, India had erased the deficit, and Tendulkar and Laxman had played out another 24 overs. Post the interval, both Tendulkar and Laxman batted with more intent, in the knowledge that the game had been saved. Sri Lankan bowlers tried various angles of attack, but there was little left to play for, and both the batsmen duly reached personal milestones.