The scene was set, and like many others, I was constantly engaged in one particular activity — checking the Cricinfo scorecard or glued to the television screens, not much different from the mad crowd screaming at Feroz Shah Kotla. Everyone watched with a reason, a sense of purpose, wondering if Wednesday will be the day when a certain icon makes it to the zenith of the batting records.
It wasn’t going to be a fairytale ending, but nonetheless the plot was not missed either, although the hero didn’t deliver till the end. But his dismissal didn’t alter the happy ending. The much-waited hundred was not destined at Delhi. Like John Morton once quoted: “I am 99 today and I’ll be 100 tomorrow. It’s another day.” So it will be another day for Tendulkar.
But what is more important is the fact that the Indian cricket team is back to its winning ways after a six Test match no-win streak, including a 4-0 drubbing in England. The last victory was at Jamaica against the same opposition.
The first Test of the new season went off well, and it had its moments where both teams had a chance. In the end, all it took was some resilience from the much-revered Indian middle order to knock off 276 runs on a track which kept low towards the end.
As Mahendra Singh Dhoni lost the toss, Darren Sammy had his men take the first advantage of the Delhi pitch. It was time for old horse Chanderpaul to come up goods against his much-fancied opposition, scoring his 7th century against India in Tests. Rest of the team wasn’t able to rally around Chanderpaul as they folded to the spin duo of Ojha and debutant Ashwin.
India got off to a flier and the presence of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir in tandem was just the tonic India missed in England. The pair from Delhi has been instrumental in getting India solid starts for the famed middle order to put its authority on the opposition. A collapse when India lost a lot of wickets at a go once the openers were dismissed enabled West Indies to come back with a 95-run lead. The Indian batsmen, led by the formidable Rahul The Wall Dravid, ensured there was some respectability in the total as India managed to score a little over 200, giving West Indies a chance to claim a win in India after 17 years (last being at Mohali in 1994).
But spearheaded by R. Ashwin, Indian bowlers had other ideas. Ashwin’s carom balls bamboozled the batsmen and with the notable exception of Chanderpaul, no other batsmen really got going. With the track playing on the slower side with occasional ball not bouncing, West Indies managed a lead of 275 runs.
Was it enough? If the first innings were to be any indicator, Sammy had all the more belief that they can win this match. Once again the daredevils from Delhi got off to a quick start before Gambhir departed. Sehwag, who was looking increasingly dangerous, belted the bowlers and looked set to take away the match in quick time. Once he was dismissed at 55 (same as that of first innings), the pressure was on the two leading men in World Test cricket. It is such a rare sight to have two leading rungetters batting together; with their mammoth experience they played out the attack and took India closer to the target. With two days to go, India were in a good position to take the lead in the series.
West Indies got a sniff of a chance when Fidel Edwards castling Dravid with an outstanding reverse swinging ball. V.V.S. Laxman joined Sachin and the pair put in the runs required. A majority of cricket followers in India and in general Indians across the world had come to a standstill and was focused on the most anticipated hundred of the century. Sadly, it wasn’t to be but before Tendulkar got out for 76, he had ensured India was well on course to win the Delhi Test and take a 1-0 lead in the series. V.V.S. Laxman collected yet another half-century and ensured he is still a force to reckon with.
So what are the positives for India from this Test match?
The return of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir at the top of the order looked good getting quick starts in both the innings. Fast bowlers Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav were bowling well in tandem and debutant Umesh Yadav has pace. One must ensure though that he doesn’t go the way of the likes of Munaf Patel. Ojha bowled economically, picked up wickets while Man of the Match R. Ashwin’s nine-wicket Test debut was the icing on the cake.
Even though may might claim the chase has come against a weak Windies side, it happens to be the second highest chase ever to be made in India, equalling the West Indies score of 276 at the same venue in 1987. The highest was a 387-run chase by India against England at Chennai in 2008.
In all this Yuvraj Singh’s position seems uncertain. Personally, I would have preferred Virat Kohli because of the latter’s current form. It remains to be seen if India persists with the winning combination or whether Kohli is picked up in the next Test. Despite the loss, West Indies should get plenty of confidence from all this and hope they give a good fight in the next one.
Although, the Delhi crowd didn’t get to watch the century of Tendulkar, they will take the memory of the Little Master reaching the 15,000-mark in Tests.
In the end, there still needs a lot of work to be done behind the scenes. DDCA to address the chaos on part of the organising committee in ticket management to ensure more matches are played in the Capital. For BCCI, moving forward to schedule matches such that the last three days of a Test match fall on the weekends so that many would turn out to watch the game. Empty seats in a country that literally runs the cricketing world is not going to help the sport in the long run.