Sandeep Dwivedi : Chennai, Sun Feb 24 2013, 03:00 hrsChennai was expected to sleep early on Saturday. That's because Sunday would see alarm clocks around the city come to life at sunrise. For a cricket fan, this isn't a weekend to oversleep. Serpentine queues are likely to tie MA Chidambaram Stadium in knots for the second successive match day. After R Ashwin's 7/103 on Saturday, Sunday's promise is better and brighter.
Anywhere in the cricketing world, when Sachin Tendulkar walks off the field with a 50-plus score at stumps, the next day registers a sharp peak in foot-fall. There is absolutely no doubt that this extraordinary phenomena will be repeated on Day Three of this India-Australia opening Test.
This game has an exciting buzz about it. It's the kind a home supporter loves. India, replying to Australia's 380, finished at 182/3 from 52 overs. Considering Australia were 166/5 after the same number of overs, it was clear that MS Dhoni's team had nosed forward but the home captain wasn't quite a stride ahead of Michael Clarke.
So that happens to be the big picture of the Test, but the bigger picture that Chennai is expected to dream about tonight will be of Tendulkar, unbeaten on 71 at close, reaching the three-figure mark at his favourite ground where he is possibly playing his last Test. Surprisingly, the anticipation of that Tendulkar special had spread really early on Saturday — in the very first over he faced, bowled by James Pattinson.
Three fours from six balls bowled by a pacer who had clocked 150 kph in his previous over, broken through the defence of the openers and who had got the better of him in their last encounter; was as ideal a start as Tendulkar could have hoped. That much-discussed tentativeness of the England series seemed to have evaporated by either the sight of the Aussie fire power or the rising Chennai temperature.
It was a firm push to the point region that got him his first boundary; the second was in the same region but the stroke was firmer and more eye-pleasing. However, it must have been the third four, past fine leg, that seemed to have elevated Tendulkar into the zone that had eluded him lately.
In the absence of conventional swing, Pattinson, bowling with a cross seam grip was exacting a hint of reverse. Bowling in short bursts, he was steaming in at high speeds with the cross wire aimed at the stumps. That confidence boasting four came from a ball that moved in from off to middle. With an angled bat, Tendulkar directed it to the left of the keeper and across the fence.
All through his slump, with the 39-year-old getting repeatedly bowled, experts had suggested that he should stick to playing with a straight bat. Besides, in the debacle of a series in Australia, Pattinson had shattered his stumps at Sydney.
This was a different day in Chennai. Tendulkar didn't heed conventional wisdom nor did the past weigh him down.
Once he got the ball in the slot, he went for the shot that suited the situation the most.
Rahul Dravid, as a broadcaster during the England series, had said that it wasn't quite the straight drive that signalled that this was to be Tendulkar's day, as the world believed, but it was in fact the flick to the square leg area . That third four didn't exactly motor past the leg-umpire but it was thereabouts.
After the match, Pattinson was to say how he lost the plot against Tendulkar because of a last minute change of plan. After getting the wickets of Murali Vijay and Virender Sehwag with balls aimed at the stumps, he shelved the pre-conceived strategy of testing Tendulkar with the short ball. Wiser after the experience, the pacer can be expected to aim at the helmet and not the stumps first thing on Sunday morning.
Also hunting for the prized scalp was Mitchell Starc. The left-arm pacer bowled from around the wicket, banked on the varying bounce of the slow track to trap Tendulkar in front of the stumps. Early in his spell, a delivery did keep low when Tendulkar did his trademark exaggerated half-slump — the one which he usually does when he the ball sneaks below his bat — and a few hearts sank in the stands.
Master's day out.
But this time around the bat reached down in time to keep the stumps safe.
It was Tendulkar's day and even Pattinson seemed overwhelmed by the man who stood between his team and a possible first innings lead.
"It's just the presence he has when he walks out there as well. He picks the ball up quite early, he has so much time to play," said the man whose disdain for batsmen in general is so evident when he celebrates a scalp.
How things have changed. Two months back during the Christmas week there was talk about the most decorated batsman's fading aura, slowing reflexes and total breakdown of skills. However, such turnarounds aren't new to Tendulkar. In 2003-04, against the same opposition, he came out of a similar slump when he cut down on the shots in the cover region and laboured back to form.
But, again, this was Chennai. Today his wagon wheel had hardly any spoke missing as Tendulkar swaggered out of a dark tunnel. On emerging from the shadows, he was clear: Tendulkar knows his batting best. Not just how to bat but till when to bat.
Day 3: live on star cricket, 9:30am
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