| V.V.S. Laxman in action during his knock of 69 on Day I of the second Test at the Kotla on Saturday
New Delhi: It was quarter to five at the Kotla on Saturday. The umpires ' Simon Taufel and Nadeem Ghauri ' had expressed concern over poor light just a few minutes ago, but Sachin Tendulkar wanted to go on. It was not a moment to keep in abeyance. The show must go on till the protagonist scripts its denouement.
Dilhara Fernandoís just-concluded over increased the suspense further, with the legend stuck with a run short of the milestone. Chaminda Vaas started bowling the 76th over against Sourav Ganguly. The former Team India captain struck a delectable boundary through point and took a single in the second ball.
Sachin was on strike and, the world of cricket suddenly stood up with bated breath. The third ball went straight to the short third man. In came the fourth, and with it, the history. A gentle push towards square leg became the part of cricketing folklore as Sunil Gavaskarís 34th century receded to the background.
Sachin looked up at the sky, Sourav congratulated him and Muttiah Muralidharan came forward to offer him hands of appreciation. It was time to hail the new conqueror.
Perhaps, in a befitting manner, the umpires called off Day I action of the second Test of the Videocon Cup soon after that epic single: itís, as if, nothing could be more important than what the Kotla had just witnessed.
Gavaskarís No. 34 came against Sri Lanka in the form of a classic 176, way back in 1986-87, in Kanpur. Sachin had touched that frontier exactly a year ago, against Bangladesh on December 11, when he finished the day at unbeaten 159 (he went on to make 248 the next day).
And what a way to surpass the mark (achieved in 177 balls with 14 boundaries and the inningsí only six)! The mock menace in Muralidharanís glares paled into irrelevance amidst the ominous certainty in Sachinís perseverance and precision of movements, as the day wore on. A watchful start followed by some anxious moments and then, blossomed into a dazzling exhibition of strokeplay ' the master blaster was really at his best.
His three boundaries in a row against Muralidharan could be a case in point to note how the diminutive man was assuming a giantís stature.
On his opposite end, there was, indeed, another great, out to answer the naysayers in his own way. Sourav (batting on 39) must thank Kumar Sangakkara for missing the simplest of stumping chances, but the fighting spirit in him was very much visible ' a straight drive off Vaas and steering Muralidharan around his legs bore testimony to that.
The duo had collected 112 runs in an unfinished fourth-wicket stand, as India finished the day at 245 for three. One wait may have ended, but the one for Sourav is still on.
If it demands the riveting spirit of the courageous, it was certainly represented by Dravid early in the morning. If calling the spin of the coin rightly was the first step towards a point of gaining strength in the battle ahead, the captain gave it an entirely different connotation when he decided to come in the middle with Gautam Gambhir, as ailing Virender Sehwag had to be resigned to the team hotel to watch the action on television.
Dravid skipped the match-eve nets owing to mild fever, but in his move to face the new ball was captured the manís character and fighting spirit.
With Gambhir perishing in the third ball of the innings, Dravid was joined by V.V.S. Laxman in building a foundation of substance. It was a sheer joy to watch two batsmen of different styles, first negotiating and then negating the stings of Vaas and Muralidharan with a good blend of calculation and determination.