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India win Chennai thriller; go one up

cricket Updated: Dec 16, 2008 01:19 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

On a day when even the slightest thing going wrong could have derailed India's chase of a target that has never been achieved, three generations of cricketers came together to pull off a win that will never be forgotten.

In one blow, Sachin Tendulkar laid to rest both the pain of the failed run chase against Pakistan in 1999 and the repeated carping that he does not finish matches for India. His unbeaten century formed the backbone of India's chase. Yuvraj Singh, still very much a youngster in Test terms, kept the oxygen going, the scoreboard ticking with an innings of 85 not out that might well be an epiphany. Virender Sehwag, the bridge between Tendulkar's generation and Yuvraj's provided the muscle at the top of the order and no-one complained when he walked away with the Man-of-the-Match award after India reached the target with six wickets to spare, using up only 69.3 of the 90 overs available to them.

Beginning the day needing 256, Gautam Gambhir — whose crucial 66 runs the risk of being forgotten amidst all the celebration — and Rahul Dravid set their sights firmly on defying England's bowlers. Dravid's poor run continued, though, as he poked at Andrew Flintoff, the only really threatening bowler on the day, and was caught behind.

Even when Gambhir fell, caught brilliantly at gully by Paul Collingwood off James Anderson India had only reached 183 and still needed 204. V.V.S. Laxman calmed the nerves as only he can, matching placement and timing, keeping the ball on the ground to pick up four vital boundaries. But as is so often the case, Laxman fell just when he looked in no trouble, flicking Graeme Swann straight to short-leg.

At 224 for 4, you would not have been blamed for having that sinking feeling. But Tendulkar was in no mood to surrender and Yuvraj seemed keen to show the chirping English fielders that he was made of sterner stuff than they thought. Tendulkar was rarely in serious trouble and the few times he was not in complete control of his shots were when the ball jumped alarmingly out of the rough. Yuvraj, who swiped dangerously at a few, seemed spurred on by the incessant chatter from the English fielders, and bedded down to unveil some characteristically powerful shots.

As the Tendulkar-Yuvraj association extended first past 50, then 100 and 150, the pressure went steadily from being on India to leaving Kevin Pietersen feeling helpless. With Steve Harmison, England's strike fast bowler, going for 48 from 10 overs, and Monty Panesar, the lead spinner, being taken for 105 off 27 wicketless overs, there was little the England captain could do.

Well before it reached a stage where England could think of switching to a restricting approach, the game was out of their grasp. Yuvraj (85 with 8 fours and a six) might well have pushed for his century but he rightly deferred it to his senior partner who was closer to the mark. When Tendulkar, on 99, lap-swept Swann to the fine-leg boundary, it was one of those rare moments of cricketing perfection in a career spanning almost two decades: India had won with Sachin scoring a timeless century. What more can any Indian fan ask for?