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Sachin Steverolls Sydney signoff

Sydney, Jan. 3: Prime Minister John Howard, a cricket aficionado, had just stepped into the Bradman Stand lift at the SCG when somebody asked about expectations from Day II of the deciding Test.

“I hope Sachin Tendulkar gets a hundred,” he responded, even as wife Janette is understood to have murmured: “I wouldn’t mind if he gets out soon.…”

One isn’t sure how the Howards reacted later but, resuming on 73, Sachin authored the best of his career — an unbeaten 220 by stumps. Moreover, with V.V.S. Laxman crafting his highest (178) in Australia, India has ensured only two results are possible: Either a big win for an unprecedented series victory, or a draw.

Even with a draw, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy is going to remain with India. The Australians, by the way, haven’t lost a home series since being beaten by the West Indies in 1992-93.

At the close, having spanked the Brett Lees all over the park, India was an awesome 650 for five. It’s tempting to effect an overnight declaration on the highest total overseas, but Sourav Ganguly may prefer adding exactly 50 runs to increase the psychological pressure. Just once before, at the Eden almost three years ago, did the Australians concede over 600 in the Steve Waugh era.

Ironically, it’s in his farewell Test that Steve has landed in an unusual position. In years to come, though, he could acknowledge that the record 353-run partnership for the fourth wicket between Sachin and Laxman was befitting the occasion. Clearly, promoting Laxman, who blasted 167 in his last Test innings here, clicked.

“Oh, the lads were a treat... I’m battling cancer and, so, I’m grateful for every new day.... Seeing a fresh one alone makes me happy but these two (Sachin and Laxman) made me very, very happy,” remarked an emotional Geoffrey Boycott, when The Telegraph sought a comment.

Taking guard afresh at 284 for three, Sachin and Laxman were unseparated till 547, when the latter got a Jason Gillespie delivery which landed at the perfect spot. By then, Sachin had posted his 32nd hundred (drawing level with Steve) and Laxman his second of the series and seventh overall.

Sachin, of course, had no reservations admitting he was “very relieved” at managing a personal best when the ball hadn’t been rolling his way: “Yes, I’m very relieved. It’s not that I wasn’t batting well but, instead of playing and missing, I was nicking.... I’m happy I’ve come good in such an important game. Whatever the outcome, it will always be remembered as Steve’s last Test.”

Dedicating the knock to his “family and well-wishers”, Sachin said: “I’ve gone through a tough time. Therefore, I’m grateful to my family and well-wishers — teammates too — who kept encouraging me. I’m also indebted to the former players whom I spoke to in recent weeks. Everybody felt it was a matter of time.”

The Little Maestro’s immediate family, however, missed his achievement. This morning, after all, wife Anjali and the kids (Sara and Arjun) headed back to Mumbai. Sachin’s in-laws, though, are around. Dona and Sana have left, too.

Understandably, perhaps, Sachin placed this innings at the “very top”. As he put it: “I had to fight it out and being disciplined was the key. Having misjudged a few times, outside off, I intentionally hardly played at anything pitched on or around that stump. I kept my game simple.”

The Australians’ discomfort, however, couldn’t have been more acute.

And, towards the end of a day where India collected as many as 366 runs (including 155 in the slightly extended final session), a section of the turnout began throwing bottles and booed Stuart MacGill, who dropped Sachin on 149 and Laxman on 177.

Neither Sachin nor Laxman gave another chance. Actually, after the second let-off, an infuriated Steve motioned to MacGill, demanding that the Baggy Green be worn with honour and that he should get his act right. Quite uncharacteristic, coming from Steve, but it wasn’t an ordinary day either.

Asked whether a series of articles in the media, questioning his No.1 ranking, rankled him, Sachin quipped: “I’ve not been reading the papers.... I also won’t be reading tomorrow’s editions.…” That makes it two in Team India, as Sourav has adopted the same approach.

Being the senior pro, Sachin warmly applauded Laxman’s classic. “He was batting so well, I decided not to match him. Instead, I went about doing my job. It was an absolute delight watching from the other end.”

Besides, Sachin said, he had sought Laxman’s “opinion” on whether something was amiss in his game.

For Laxman, that must rank as a special compliment.

Not that it was necessary, but Laxman reminded everybody that Sachin remained the No.1. He then dedicated his knock to his parents (V. Shantaram and V. Satyabhama), both of whom have been with him from the MCG Test, and Steve.

“Steve has been an inspiration and, considering this is his last Test, my innings is dedicated to him as well,” Laxman, the dasher from Hyderabad who is most at ease keeping a low profile, pointed out.

After two of the toughest days in his captaincy (this being Test No. 57), that should give Steve some comfort. The script is perfect for one last stand at the SCG.

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