Sachin Tendulkar celebrates his half century against England during the 3rd test match at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. HT photo
Sachin Tendulkar's role in this Indian middle-order cannot be questioned, at least for now. When Virat Kohli was lapped up in the slips, India had their backs to the wall. The talk of taking the initiative on a 'typical subcontinent wicket' by posting a huge first innings total was quickly disappearing like the moisture in the strip under bright sunshine.
By the end of the first day of the third Test at the Eden Gardens on Wednesday, India had not made much progress in their mission of getting away from the wall, but skipper MS Dhoni would take the bargain. Things could so easily have been worse. The new ball swung appreciably, a lot more than Ahmedabad and Mumbai. Once it got older, it began to reverse.
Surprisingly, England bowled better once the wicket got flatter. Their pace duo of Steven Finn and James Anderson rectified the wide of off-stump line in the first session to just outside off from the start of the second. This was maintained for the rest of the day. Monty Panesar made the Club House end his own and most bowling changes happened at the other end. Captain Alastair Cook was quick to figure the breeze from the Hooghly filtering in through the gaps in the stands and gave the High Court end to his seamers. India were surviving dangerously.
That was when Tendulkar stood tall. He batted the best when England bowled at their best. Finn used his height to bounce him. Known as one of the best leavers of the short ball, always watching it disappear into the keeper's gloves, Tendulkar was uncomfortable just once. Finn hit Tendulkar in the armguard with a slower bouncer.
The youngster had won a square. Two balls later, an outside edge did not carry to Graeme Swann and ran to the boundary. Another square won. Tendulkar was on 19.
Waiting for every loose ball, Tendulkar punched straight past the bowler. An extra-cover drive reassured an Eden brimming with anxiety that Yuvraj Singh, at the other end, kept stoking. The left-hander was awkward in defence, precarious while leaving but classy executing his drives.
Yuvraj, who stood with Tendulkar the longest, yielding 79 for the fifth wicket, did the hard part of getting in riding his luck.
That Tendulkar badly wanted to make his innings count showed in his disappointment when he got out. It also reflected in the relief after getting his first Test 50 in 11 innings since his 80 against Australia in Sydney in January. As Yuvraj came up to congratulate him he lifted his bat and looked heavenwards. A touch surprising when it comes from a man who has 100 international hundreds his name.
It was not just about the runs. The way he tried to protect Yuvraj initially from Swann, sweeping him at every opportunity and trying to force him wide of the off-stump line, and then taking most of the strike against Finn and Anderson when the ball began to reverse, was a battle Eden watched quietly with admiration.