Nothing but joy in the Indian camp © AFP
By 4pm Indian time, New Zealand's sports fans were readying themselves to pick up the pieces. Sachin Tendulkar's supreme exhibition of the batting art had more or less shunted them out of TVS Cup contention, while several thousand miles away, Australia's much-criticised and often reviled rugby players had caused New Zealand's All Blacks to choke ahead of the summit yet again. Compared to the trauma of that semi-final exit, this Hyderabad debacle will barely register.
And a debacle it undoubtedly was, once Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag - riding his luck like a bucking Bronco - had added 182 at better than six an over. The last time New Zealand toured, Tendulkar and Dravid had blasted their way to 376 for 2, with Tendulkar contributing a mammoth 186. The pitch today wasn't quite in the same featherbed league, not that you would have known the way
Tendulkar set about the bowling.
He started with a great deal of circumspection, evaluating the pitch and the pathetic potato patch of an outfield - a legacy of the Afro-Asian Games football competition. The first 10 overs produced just 48, but once the strokes were unravelled, the momentum was inexorable. He drove and cut with the panache of old, while also playing the cute deflections, dabs and paddle-sweeps that are
such an integral part of his one-day repertoire.
At Gwalior, he had lost some puff in sight of a hundred, and in Bangalore, low bounce stopped him 11 short of the landmark. Today, there was neither lack of puff - the second 50 came in a scorching 40 balls - or lack of fortune. It was a collector's item of a century, spoilt only by the fact that he couldn't go on and inflict further punishment on an attack already on its knees.
Sehwag's 130 was nowhere near as memorable, compiled with the sort of hit-and-miss approach that will only succeed consistently against mediocre bowlers. New Zealand's bowlers are big on effort, but there's a sameness to them which makes risk-taking an attractive proposition. Sehwag has plundered four centuries in 13 matches against them. Against Australia, he has just two fifties -
including that manic 82 in a hopelessly lost cause in the World Cup final - in six games, a tally that won't improve drastically unless he tightens his technique.
Greatness, as Australia's rugby players showed their more talented opponents today, lies in raising your game against the very best. Racking up tries against Namibia, or runs against Bangladesh, means nothing at all. It's only when you can make the cut against Real Madrid or Australia that you become worthy of respect and admiration. In 38 matches against Australia, Tendulkar has
seven centuries and nine 50s, at an average of 50.60 - that's greatness for you.
There were other encouraging signs of India, especially in the shape of a gorgeous cameo from Dravid. There have been quicker fifties made, but not one of them was chiselled out with such immaculate placement, finesse and authentic strokeplay. An off-driven six early on in his innings was just breathtaking, worth the price of admission on its own. If he and Tendulkar can carry this form to Australia, the white flags can be held in abeyance a few weeks longer.
There were also excellent spells from Ajit Agarkar and Murali Kartik, albeit safe in the knowledge that the match was as good as won. On current form, Agarkar deserves at least a share of the new ball in Australia, given that neither Ashish Nehra nor Zaheer Khan has a significantly better Test record. Zaheer would have gone wicketless yet again but for umpire Hariharan's generosity, a decision so flawed that it suggested complete ignorance of the leg-before law. At least Agarkar appears capable of snaring the odd wicket without such assists.
Kartik, for the second game in succession, did all he could to nail down a ticket to Australia. If some inexperienced pace bowler - who'll most likely be spanked into the Great Barrier Reef by Matt Hayden and friends - gets the nod ahead of him, it will be a travesty. But with Indian cricket's selection procedures shrouded in so much intrigue, you know better than to hold your breath.
As for New Zealand, it's time to go home, or to Pakistan - and you know which option would be more attractive to most of the players - after a tour encapsulating several Test highs, and many one-day lows. The black kit has frequently intimidated opponents, especially when worn by strapping rugby players. Today though, it didn't symbolise a victor's aura, only the mourning that accompanies shattered dreams.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.