Like the mythical hero who had just slain the demon, Sachin Tendulkar raised his bat, mace-like, threw back his head and lifted his arms, marking India’s triumph, and his own.
For close to three hours, Tendulkar had waged a strange battle, a battle that had two distinct flavours. On Sunday, he had cooled Shoaib Akhtar’s fire with ice; on Monday morning, the game India’s to lose, Akhtar raged in, gambling away runs in the quest of wickets.
Tendulkar’s mind was altered — the sniff of the win had done it, and his bat flashed with precision and force, with thrilling regularity and telling effect, eliciting roars from the sparse crowd.
With 32 to get on Monday morning, people had bet on Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly to give them a brief thrill and got it from the former. They roared their approval at every boundary, every single, every stroke, as India flew towards their second-highest run-chase at home.
Ganguly, the aggressor on Sunday, fell trying to clear the ropes off an Akhtar bouncer, as Sohail Tanvir at fine leg pouched the ball, celebrating in his strange manner, his face straight, almost doleful.
The new, cerebral Akhtar, who had been tempting Tendulkar and Ganguly, sent down a fast, furious first one to VVS Laxman, who survived, but no one knows how.
Tendulkar smashed Akhtar past the infield to get the last four runs, celebrated solo and then sunk into the arms of Laxman, whose much larger form obscured the little giant.
In the Indian dressing room balcony, the grins were wide, the players applauding the win with arms raised; they hung over the railings to banter with the crowd and the coolest one; Mahendra Singh Dhoni, fingers in his mouth, let loose presumably piercing whistles, for they were drowned by the din from the stands.
This was India’s seventh win in a row at the Kotla. Anil Kumble, in his first Test as captain, a Test after scoring his beloved first Test century at the Oval in August, soaked in the praise, obviously joyous, but customarily circumspect.
He did not reveal the nature of the dressing room celebrations; only saying it involved a 15-minute session with trainer Gregory King — which clearly can’t be true! He said he had no fear after Sunday — “I didn’t feel the earthquake, so I must have slept soundly!” he declared, his features relaxing into a great grin.
Shoaib Malik’s fate was in complete contrast — the young skipper, with pursed lips and squared jaw, went through the media inquisition looking rueful and sounding hopeful. He heard out a lengthy harangue by a discontented Pakistani journalist in silence like a schoolboy, he failed to get the import of the argument, but had the grace to thank him humbly at the end.
Malik indeed cut a sorry figure — only one man, Shoaib Akhtar, had given him a performance worth talking about. His own lack of runs, his ineffectual attack, the frailty of his master batsmen, everything clouded the skipper’s brow. “If we had had sun over the last five days, the wicket would have been quicker,” he mused.
It wasn’t, Akhtar’s fastest balls sat up nicely to be smacked, and Pakistan were knocked out on the fourth day. The fifth was reserved only for the last rites, in brief.