| Razzaq, who dismissed Sourav and Laxman off successive balls on Wednesday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: Get, set, go' The flick had hardly travelled to the fine-leg fielder when the decibel level reached alarming proportions. As he completed his 27th run, it was time to witness another significant landmark.
Not much emotion was visible in Sachin Tendulkar, though ' just the customary raising of the bat and a silent prayer. The congratulations flowed, from Rahul Dravid and the Pakistan players. One down, the world record 35th century still to happen.
The expectations reached a pitch as he crossed the half-century. Then, suddenly, it all came crashing down'
The party was just waiting to happen. Nevertheless, the anti-climax didn't sour the mood as the 10,000-club membership itself guaranteed celebration. The bigger things can wait, but Eden Gardens had to bask in the glory of the Little Master.
Sachin and Rahul Dravid jostled for attention on Wednesday but as the Mumbai maestro zoomed ahead, the vice-captain's mind must have gone back to that innings against Australia in 2001 when V.V.S. Laxman stole all the limelight. Dravid's 19th century was a real gem and his dismissal off the day's last ball will assure a peaceful night's sleep for Inzamam-ul Haq. The four wickets they captured in the final session will also do them a world of good.
Not without reason did Dravid describe the 110 as one of his 'better centuries in terms of control'.
Harbhajan Singh's inclusion is sure to give the hosts the edge as Danish Kaneria showed on the opening day itself. The ball is turning and Pakistan should have included off-spinner Arshad Khan to add variety. Shahid Afridi seemed more intent on pace than extracting help from the wicket.
The Dravid-Sachin 122-run partnership for the third wicket was a superb example of their enduring skill and indomitable will. In extremely sultry conditions ' which kept Inzamam-ul Haq out of the ground for a session and a half following dehydration ' they dictated proceedings through some controlled strokemaking. Dravid certainly excelled in terms of fluency.
The Indians promised to have sorted out Kaneria after his success in Mohali. Virender Sehwag set the tempo with his indomitable style and the Indians never curtailed their attacking approach. The opener often stepped out to the leggie and when he pitched outside the leg stump, he moved aside to hit through the midwicket area.
Kaneria can be blamed for using the googly too often. The surprise element involved with the delivery was hard to be found. Perhaps a bit of maturity will make him more effective.
Without compromising on grace, Dravid sent the Pakistan bowling into disarray. Runs came in a hurry ' boundaries taken off his pads, cuts dispatched through point, the unfussed straight drive, et al. Not for a moment did he seem in the slightest of discomfort.
Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir's job in the morning ' after Sourav Ganguly won his second straight toss in the TVS Cup ' was made easy by some unimaginative bowling by the pacers. Mohammed Khalil wasted the new ball, bowling to Sehwag's strength and allowing him to launch the offensive. Sami wasn't enterprising either.
It was only in the last session that Abdul Razzaq got the ball to reverse-swing and make dents in the middle-order. Laxman and Sourav fell to consecutive deliveries, leaving Dinesh Karthik to save the hattrick. The Indians suddenly seemed to be wayward.
The Team India captain failed to build on a superb start (12 with three boundaries), attempting to drive without getting in line.
The Indians will aim for another 100-odd runs to put the Pakistanis under pressure. The wear and tear on the pitch will make the spinners more threatening and batting won't be easy on the final day.
Dravid summed it up aptly. 'We've to ensure a strong position by the end of Day IV.'