The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sachin keeps India afloat

Calcutta, Nov. 2: Hunted for much of the past month, Carl Hooper’s men have turned hunters.

Rather late in the three-Test series for the Exide Cup but, till the extended first session on the final day (Sunday) is over, a billion Indian fingers will be kept crossed.

A draw still appears the most likely outcome, but the West Indies (ahead on the first innings by 139) do have India cornered.

Moreover, with the last day also beginning half-an-hour early, the Indians will have to be careful about the bounce, which can more than surprise. It has especially been worrying in the first hour or thereabouts.

Day IV, of course, made for terrific cricket — leading contributions coming from the Indian spinners, Mervyn Dillon (a truly inspired first spell) and the peerless Sachin Tendulkar, who unleashed some of the most beautiful of straight drives.

The captains, too, made smart moves. Some clicked, others didn’t.

Utilising Virender Sehwag’s off-spin, for example, produced an instant result (Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s exit), while Hooper’s move to introduce Jermaine Lawson as soon as Sachin took guard, didn’t get the desired result.

Clearly, somebody somewhere decided on reminding everybody that Test cricket could be as scintillating as the one-day variety.

And, so, as many as eight wickets fell in the opening sesson when, a day earlier, only two had fallen over the three sessions.

It did make for an inspired day (which began and ended early), by the end of which the West Indies had the lion’s share of honours.

Under pressure for the first time, captain Sourav Ganguly acknowledged his team had to “bat very well” on the morrow.

“At the moment, we are only 56 ahead… Our priority, then, is to first bat very well,” Sourav, who received yet another questionable decision, told The Telegraph.

In fact, but for an outstanding hundred (first at the Eden) from Sachin and his unbroken 108-run partnership with V.V.S.Laxman, the Indians would have been in the pits.

While the openers (Sanjay Bangar and Sehwag) can’t blame anybody but themselves, Rahul Dravid was felled by the umpire — Asoka de Silva, this time — for the second time in the Test. As for Sourav, even he has reason to feel aggrieved.

Like in the first innings, when David Shepherd (unbelievably) couldn’t notice the inside-edge, the Sri Lankan did likewise.

Clearly, the ICC must review the entire business of technology being “carried forward” without allowing the third umpire to intervene when the miscarriage of justice is so obvious.

In Sourav’s case, while the Cameron Cuffy ball pitched on the line, it definitely wouldn’t have hit off stump. Quite simply, de Silva didn’t get the angle right.

The bottomline, then, was that India were reduced to 87 for four. With a day-and-half remaining, disaster wasn’t far off. Only, Sachin took charge in a manner which comes so easy and, in Laxman, the former captain found a sensible ally.

Though play began half-an-hour early, it was called off 38 minutes before the scheduled close. Now, the last day, too, will start earlier.

For the Indians, the first hour, especially, will be tough. After all, the ball took off during the same period today and, any repeat, will be like manna from heaven for the visitors.

At stumps, Sachin was on 114 (264 minutes, 196 deliveries, 17x4) to Laxman’s 30.

Earlier, Harbhajan Singh registered his 11th five-wicket haul, while Anil Kumble finished with three for 169.

The other evening, during the ICPA fund-raiser, Harbhajan was heard ‘grumbling’ about the Eden track becoming so much slower after being relaid. Surely, he will now be singing a slightly different tune.

Resuming at the overnight 446 for five, the West Indies lost the remaining wickets in exactly an hour.

Chanderpaul could only add four before an attempted cut proved fatal. Marlon Samuels, however, did complete his maiden hundred — actually, he became the West Indies’ third centurion (after Chris Gayle and Chanderpaul) in as many days.

Samuels’ role model, by the way, is Sachin. As a pupil, so to say, he must have learnt much from Sachin’s essay this afternoon.

“I wanted to prove that somebody could stand up to the Indian spinners. I am happy I could do my bit... That was my motivation,” Samuels explained.

Whatever else, this 21-year-old is not short on talent.

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