How can you possibly choose your favourite part of this spectacular second Test so far? Was it when VVS Laxman was displaying his class on Thursday? Or was it when Sachin Tendulkar was conducting a masterclass on Friday?
Laxman’s was an innings of fluid grace, all exquisite, wristy timing. Tendulkar’s seesawed between mellow moments of run accumulation that frustrated Australia no end and fiery bursts of brilliance that left them battered. One innings brought the Indians into this game. The second might just have handed it to them.
The difference lay in the fact that Laxman, after his mesmerising knock, made an error of judgment that saw him back in the box. When he left, India were still 278 runs behind Australia and needed to recapture the mood and the moment.
Which is precisely what Tendulkar, magnificently mature in the way he paced himself, did. When he left, it was only because he had run out of partners at the other end. Australia were unable to get him. And with 532 on board, India were a vital 69 runs ahead, 187 of these coming in stands Tendulkar had with the bunnies, batsmen No. 9, 10 and 11.
This was after another wonderfully reassuring sight, the sight of Tendulkar and Ganguly both enjoying themselves in the middle. Ganguly, unfortunately, fell just before the new ball was taken, out to Brad Hogg yet again. The only whiff of hope on the day for the Aussies was for that short period, when Ganguly, Yuvraj, Dhoni and Kumble all fell in quick succession. But once Harbhajan, he of the swaggering walk, smart mouth and (on the evidence of the day), an impeccable sense of timing now and then, walked in, hung out his bat but hung in there, they should have known it wasn’t going to be their day.
Incidentally, whatever happens in this game, what it should also do is put an end to the seniors-move-over-time-for-Gen X debate for a while. After all, who scored in this game? Dravid (53), Laxman (109), Tendulkar (154*)and Ganguly (67). And Harbhajan (63) of course, over a cannily crafted, unexpectedly delightful three hours, but his was a bonus. A great, big bonus, but one all the same.
What was very encouraging to see though, was the fact that India were playing Australia like Australia play other teams. They were running the singles hard, finding the gaps always, frustrating the bowlers, fatiguing the fielders and demoralising the team.
Overthrows happened, catches were dropped, the bowlers looked clueless. Again, what has given them some time to win this game was the pace at which they scored, at an Aussie-like 3.84 runs an over.
Rain is predicted for the weekend. Everyone here is hoping it stays away. If they take a couple of early wickets on Saturday, India have the edge in this game and to be denied a chance of winning it would be heartbreaking.
On the other hand, the Indian camp would also not be very unhappy with a draw, for quite another reason. It would end Ricky Ponting’s men’s quest for a record equalling, 16th-win-on-the-trot, which, by most indications, is all the Aussie rank and file have talked about in the dressing room of late.
“We’d of course like to go for a win,” said an India senior on Friday night, “but we can’t control the weather. But if we can stop the Aussies record run, it would make us very happy and upset them no end”.
If this attitude seems a mite churlish, well think again. The Indians feel absolutely done in by the events of this game, the umpiring decisions by Benson, Bucknor and third umpire Bruce Oxenford preceding today’s Harbhajan Singh controversy.
“The Aussies fight dirty, they keep coming at you, take any advantage they can get,” said an India player. “We don’t see why we should not. They’ve been pretty charged up about getting this record, if we can stop that and force them back to square one, upset them some what, then why not look forward to that too?”