Vintage Tendulkar wows Wankhede

The maestro bats like old times before a packed house.



MUMBAI:
A common feature of near-death experiences is that the contents of an entire lifetime flash before the eyes. Did Sachin Tendulkar go through something similar on his last, long walk back to the pavilion? In the 100-odd yards that he traversed after being dismissed for 74 by Narsingh Deonarine, did he travel several years in his head? Did Tendulkar's mind make an involuntary journey back to Karachi and Manchester, to the dust bowl that was once Sharjah, to the heartbreak and salvation that was Chepauk, to the innumerable grounds that he had made his own over the last two-and-a-half decades?

Having frozen time the previous evening, Tendulkar on the second morning of the second Test reversed it, all the way back to the days when batting gave him more joy than anything else. There were drives off the middle of the bat, audaciously attempted upper cuts, authoritative sweeps; the freedom with which Tendulkar approached what was possibly his ultimate Test innings was the most refreshing aspect of his batting on Friday.

Resuming on 38, he made an instant impact with fours (a cut and a paddle) against off-spinner Shane Shillingford. Fast bowler Tino Best was firing in violent, well-directed short balls and Tendulkar, in a throwback to another time, ducked and waved his bat in the air in search of the third man fence. The mind raced immediately to that impudent upper-cut off a Brett Lee bouncer and the heart yearned desperately for a reprise that, after several failed tries and one near caught-behind, did not materialise.

But on 48, Tendulkar pulled out another magical shot from his vast repertoire – a straight drive for his 68th half-century. Bollywood actor Aamir Khan (still in his ‘lucky’ unwashed, unironed blue t-shirt from the previous day) was one among several thousands who rose spontaneously to cheer. And almost immediately the marker of expectation moved a few notches upward, towards three figures, just the way it has for almost Tendulkar’s entire career.

Closing in, missing out


A farewell century could have been dismissed as the blind optimism of an irrational fan going into the Mumbai Test. But the ease with which Tendulkar tackled the tricky first phase brought a ton firmly back into pragmatic territory. A couple of divine backfoot punches later, a century was assumed to be there for the taking.

Sandwiched between those glorious drives was a half-chance, one that bulleted into forward short-leg’s boot before the fielder could react. Drinks were taken with Tendulkar on 71 after which Mumbai’s darling embarked on his extensively imitated squatting, crotch-adjusting routine, before taking fresh guard against off-spinner Narsingh Deonarine, a nothing bowler with 19 wickets in 15 Tests before this one.

On the fifth delivery of that fateful over, Deonarine snared his 20th victim, one that is likely to embed him in cricket history - the only way he could have made it there. Tendulkar went for the cut, edged to first slip, where skipper Darren Sammy held a sharp neck-high catch. It was Sammy who had caught Tendulkar on 94 – ending ceaseless chants for his 100th hundred – at the same venue over two years ago. It was Sammy again who ended his last knock, 26 runs short of what everybody, rather unreasonably, was hoping for.

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