For 19 balls this morning, India held its breath. Then Muttiah Muralitharan tossed one up to Virender Sehwag, not out on 293 from 254 balls. It dipped. Sehwag lunged, and played in front of his body. The ball lobbed up to Murali. It popped in, popped out, but Murali hung on.
India suppressed its collective groan of disappointment only long enough to cheer Sehwag — the man with the highest strike rate in history for batsmen who have scored more than 6,000 Test runs — as he walked back, seven shy of a unique landmark: three triple tons in Tests, one more than Don Bradman.
“Not many people have got two triple centuries and followed that up with 293. So there is nothing to be disappointed about,” Sehwag said later. But his fans weren’t listening.
With Sehwag’s dismissal, the country emerged from the spell he had cast over it from Thursday morning. The crowds on the pavements in front of stores selling TVs dissipated. Heartbroken, India went back to work.
The Test, too, emerged from a sort of hyperreal trance in which the improbable — like scoring at 5.6 runs an over for an entire Test match day — had seemed real. The pitch seemed less friendly.
Fielders seemed to exist for a particular purpose. Why, Rangana Herath seemed like a bowler again. Dhoni did what Dravid (out for 74), Tendulkar (out for 53) and Laxman (out for 62) will feel they should have: score a hundred.
India scored 283 runs in all on Friday — a run less than what Sehwag did the day before. When the declaration came at 726 for 9, India had made more than it ever has in an innings. The pitch is taking turn. Harbhajan Singh is bowling like an off-spinner again. Sri Lanka need to score 323 more to make India bat for a second time. History beckons.
“Sehwag’s knock took the game away from us,” Lanka coach Trevor Bayliss said. If the bowlers can’t finish off what Sehwag started, India doesn’t deserve to be the world’s No 1 side. Which it will be if it wins this Test. What was unthinkable a decade ago is in sight. Now is not a moment for India to slip.
(Inputs from Deepti Patwardhan)