For some time the talk has been about his slowing reflexes, lack of footwork, diminishing eyesight and technical errors. It’s been a tortuous phase and his fans have been left to get nostalgic about his glorious past.
Such was his skill, when Sachin Tendulkar’s game clicked, the conditions, bowling attack and situation didn’t matter. And in his last Test, he served another reminder of it. The Wankhede track is no WACA, but it offered considerable help for the bowlers. His team was under pressure when he walked in. And given Tendulkar’s recent run, West Indies bowlers fancied their chances of another easy kill.
On Thursday, however, with the most precious people in his life in attendance, the maestro rolled back the clock a little. He dished out a small treat (unbeaten 38) that his mother, watching him play live for the first time, would have been proud of.
One of the great strengths of Tendulkar is the way he uses the top-hand wrist; the bat speed and punch in his stroke comes from that. Luckily for the Mumbai crowd, he got his wristwork going in his last act and again dictated terms to the bowlers.
Once MS Dhoni chose to field, the odds were stacked against his getting to pad up on the opening day. However, West Indies’ batting caved in like a pack of cards. And the way openers Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay were batting, knocking off 77 in 13 overs, there appeared little chance the No 4 would get a go soon.
But off-spinner Shane Shillingford snared the openers in the space of three balls and all eyes in the stadium turned to the Indian dressing room balcony. The moment everyone had come for had arrived early. The familiar figure emerged. With the Indian tri-colour proudly painted on his helmet, switching the bat from hand to hand, he walked in to a thunderous welcome.
As he took guard, the question uppermost on everyone’s mind was whether he had it in him to deliver one last time. The answer came in the 11th, 14th and 15th balls he faced. All three were dispatched to the fence. It was not about the runs, but the manner of scoring -- the timing was exquisite.
First, Shillingford, his slayer in Kolkata, was cut and off-driven in the same over. The third boundary sealed it, leaning into pacer Shannon Gabriel’s fuller length delivery, driving it through cover. It was an assurance that all the pieces in Tendulkar’s game had fallen into place. He put on an unbeaten partnership of 80 with Cheteshwar Pujara (34 not out), building on the excellent work of left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha.
The second day will present the best batting conditions. There were quite a few empty seats on Thursday, but the main attraction will be played in the morning and Mumbai is expected to come to a standstill on Friday. The stage is set for the perfect farewell.