Each of us has a favourite cricketing anecdote; our special heroes, the statistics that are as familiar as birthdays and anniversaries (maybe more so), the matches we never forget. These are pulled out every now and then, told and retold, embellished with time, till finally, those closest to our hearts become old friends.
What we saw at the Eden on Monday has the makings of all that and more, of a classic love story. It was a day that brought happiness and contentment in equal measure, yet also frustrated from time to time, gave us anxious moments galore, left us irritable, panicky and finally, wanting to know where this all was going.
At stumps on the second day, the deciding Test that could have India end the cricketing season as world No. 1 for the first time, was deliciously, delicately poised, with India 46 ahead of South Africa’s 296 and five wickets in hand. For the record, VVS Laxman (9) and nightwatchman Amit Mishra (1) were at the crease, but the day belonged to two others.
It was slow magic, an old flame rekindled after absolute ages. It’s been four years, 11 months and six days since we last saw Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag in a century stand. It’s been far too long — and, far too rare.
Here’s an astonishing statistic, given all their staggering individual records and incredible feats for India. Tendulkar and Sehwag, once master and apprentice, now sharing space in an elite club of those who became legends in their lifetimes, have batted together in Tests only 16 times. Their 249-run stand for the third wicket on the day, therefore, was even more special. If the Gautam Gambhir-Sehwag combine in the morning showed us just why those two are rated the most exciting openers in the business — they put on 73 in just over nine overs before a rare mix-up saw Gambhir take the walk back — the Tendulkar-Sehwag partnership saw us go through the range of emotions.
All the ones mentioned above and peculiarly, nostalgia, for something that actually was rather unusual.
Morkel and Steyn, so effective in the first match, were left disheartened and dejected by the end of the second day in this. Look at their figures. Morkel bowled 15 overs for 80 runs and the lone wicket of Murali Vijay, edging behind, to show for his toil.
Steyn, Mr. Destruction himself in Nagpur, was worse. His 17 overs were largely joyless as Tendulkar and Sehwag moved between tucking him carefully out of the way and smacking him out of the way like he was a rookie bowler. Tendulkar, who took 51 balls for his first 25 runs, raced to 50 off only 23 balls more thanks to his despatching Steyn to the fence thrice in one over.
Parnell four months old when Tendulkar made his debut in November 1989, had no clue how to handle either Indian batsman, but what was fascinating was their treatment (you cannot call it a duel, it was so one-sided) of Paul Harris.
Harris had held the Indians in check last time and they were obviously determined not to let him settle this time. Sehwag went for the jugular, trying to hit Harris out of the attack. One of the shots to remember was how Sehwag dealt with the left-arm spinner’s negative line, begun in the eighth over. Sehwag let a couple go by, ‘hipped’ one away and then reverse swept him magnificently past point.
Tendulkar tackled him differently. He watched him for a bit, then as soon as Harris bowled a slightly fuller length, still on a leg stump line, Tendulkar moved out a few steps and whipped it through square leg.
It wasn’t Harris’s day. The umpires had decided to call anything intentionally outside leg-stump wide from early on.
JP Duminy, who reprieved Sehwag on 47, made up for his lapse in the 71st over as Sehwag drove an innocuous offbreak straight to cover. Tendulkar reached his 47th Test hundred, but was drawn into a drive by a perfectly flighted Harris delivery that turned and bounced just enough to kiss the outside edge. At slip Kallis wrapped his hands around the catch and when a tentative S Badrinath was beaten for pace and comprehensively bowled by Steyn, South Africa had temporarily halted India’s charge. But with VVS Laxman at the crease and Dhoni still to come, Indian fans should not worry just yet.