A historic 300, even a possible 400, beckoned Virender Sehwag. But by the time Friday morning came, Cyclone Sehwag had passed the shores of Mumbai. It was now only a calm breeze. Even before all the people standing in the kilometre-long line outside the stadium could get in, the batsman had exited. Eleven minutes is all Sri Lanka took to crack the code that had eluded them for almost six hours on the previous day.
Sehwag’s dismissal for 293 and the regular fall of wickets hurdled India’s progress, but captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni stirred the air late in the evening as the team notched up their highest score in Tests.
India finally declared at 726 for nine, 333 runs in lead in the first innings, and after Dhoni brought up his 100 by hoisting Rangana Herath for a six. Sri Lanka, who played only three overs in the day, were 11 for no loss and have a mountain to climb.
Given the kind of innings Sehwag played on Thursday, it was always going to be difficult to keep the Mumbaikars, who arrived at the southern end of the city in trainloads, away. But when the news trickled out that Sehwag was caught and bowled by Muttiah Muralitharan, the rates of tickets, which were going for more than double the price in the black market, slumped.
Sure, there were still Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. And Tendulkar hung on well for a half-century. But it wasn’t the same. Scoring runs became a tedious exercise. The Sri Lankan spinners started looking better, the pitch, with puffs of dust, a little more hostile.
From the frenetic pace they scored at on Thursday, India were back to around three and a half runs per over. The lower middle order, with the exception of Dhoni, didn’t fire as expected and at 629-7 at tea, it looked like the Indian innings was on its last legs.
But MS Dhoni kept a steady flow of runs from his end. He even invited a few jeers from the crowd, before his late burst, where he fervently protected last man Pragyan Ojha.
Even if the ball was timed well enough to reach the boundary, Dhoni did not leave his crease for fear of exposing Ojha.
But once Dhoni decided to turn on the heat, there was no stopping. He smashed six sixes and three fours to pluck out a hundred and take India past 700.
The last-wicket partnership scored 56 runs, only five of which came off Ojha’s bat.