It was a moment of utter hilarity, a surreal moment that defied reason, a moment that brought to the fore England’s misery and India’s mastery.
As the shadows lengthened and the weary, woebegone Englishmen went through the motions, Anil Kumble, at the age of 36, playing his 118th match, 17 years after he made his debut, got his first Test century.
The Indian line-up has seven men who have 90 hundreds among them, and though at least three came close in this innings, it had to be Kumble, the No. 8, the gritty fighter but never a destroyer with the bat, who got to three figures for India for the first time in the series — which, by the way, is as good as won.
The crowd, sombre when their men were taking a beating, leapt up and cheered wildly for Kumble, the irony of the moment not lost on them.
And it had to be Matt Prior through whose legs the ball had to travel to the boundary for that four that took Kumble past 100.
Pietersen, sent out there to buy wickets at any cost, was flighting the ball up to Kumble, who moved away from the wicket and got a bottom edge. Prior missed the ball as it whistled low between his legs, but this moment also encapsulated his day of misery.
India’s day was bright and shining -- in 80 overs on Friday, the tourists hammered 348 runs, driven by Kumble, MS Dhoni, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar, and England must now play out at least two days on a wicket that is beginning to wear off.
The barrage was launched by Laxman in the morning and taken over by Dhoni before finally, Kumble and Sreesanth cruelly twisted in the knife with a last-wicket stand of 73 in a little over 12 overs. There were six half-centuries for the Indians, seven if we include the extras, which had 33 byes --- a figure that must make Prior cringe.
Earlier, Dhoni made the Englishmen wince as he launched a murderous assault the moment he moved past 50. In the 15 balls he faced after that, he smashed 49 runs, including four sixes and three fours, watched by a delirious crowd.
England dared Dhoni to take them on, throwing first Panesar and then Pietersen at him, and the Indian responded with his customary belligerence.
Feasting on Monty
In the 38th over of the day, Panesar was smashed first ball over long on, Dhoni then ran a brisk two, and then hit another six over long-on. An agonised Panesar walked away, disconsolate, and was immediately taken out of the line of fire.
After dealing with Chris Tremlett, taking 12 off his over, the fearless Dhoni took on Pietersen, hitting the ball high and wide, right into the second tier of the stands. The next ball sailed over even as Panesar flailed wildly near the square-leg boundary, hoping for the ball to drop to him.
The next one did drop to a fielder — Dhoni, going for his third six in three, hoping to move to 98 with a swing over deep square leg, could only sky it high to Alastair Cook, who took a good catch running in.
Kumble, though, kept on going, mixing authentic, delightful shots with his brand of kitsch cricket. With the field set close, he started hammering the ball past the fielders, unerringly finding gaps.
Just before lunch, if England thought their troubles were over when they saw the back of the resolute Tendulkar, displaying grit and strokes of genius, they were wrong.
With the advent of Kumble — it was only the beginning of a wonderful fairytale for the leg spinner.