Long before Sachin Tendulkar gave a public demonstration of the fallibility of gods, there were thousands of mere mortals outside the PCA ground here. Most of them were either policemen or soldiers.
Somewhere in the undergrowth were members of the Special Weapons and Tactics group (SWT), the crack unit of the Punjab, whose chief membership criterion appears to be a height of above 6ft. The job of the less elite, smaller units was to let people into the ground only at a pinch.
It used to be the case in India that things got done only after 10 people had stamped the same piece of paper in a different place. This has altered as the country has grown in efficiency with the burgeoning of the middle classes.
But the belief that a job is worth doing only if it is done at least three times still exists and has now extended to bag searching. Such was the perceived threat of violent interference in this match that it was impossible to get far on the approach to the ground without being instructed to reveal the contents of whatever receptacle was being carried.
It was a little much to be examined rigorously twice on the same trestle table, one chap having watched his colleague a full yard away empty the contents of the satchel and then insisting on doing the same after they had been re-packed.
The advice was to reach the ground no later than 10.30, four hours before the match was due to start. Most of the 28,000 ticket holders answered the call, as did what seemed as many again non-ticket holders. The only place to be in the environs of Chandigarh yesterday was the cricket ground and people were drawn there as they were to the alien spaceship in The Day the Earth Stood Still. There was nothing to see but other people, battered cars and tuk-tuks – the roads to within a mile around the ground were closed, but that did not stop them.
From some way out, before the Prime Ministers of both countries were presented to the teams in a spirit of reconciliation which perhaps should not be underestimated but will not either bring about a common accord between the nations, the atmosphere was electrifying.
But for all the passion and patriotism on show it was not quite like Pretoria 2003 or even Manchester 1999. Those were the last occasions the sides met in the World Cup and they stick in the memory because citizens of countries were there, side by side, almost in equal measure (also at the Manchester game the Old Trafford authorities memorably thought it was a wizard idea to offer pork pies as lunch to scores of Asian journalists). Here it was, more or less, India, India all the way.
The show, when it got underway at last, was Sachin's. For a man in whom millions have unfettered faith, he invited disbelief. He played as a man with feet of clay. It was as if the event had overwhelmed him. But the gods obviously look after their own and he was dropped four times. It really was unbelievable. The only surprise – the gods teasing us perhaps – was that Tendulkar was out 15 short of what would have been his 100th international hundred.
There was a note of deep irony about Tendulkar's innings. It is generally considered that the reason India refuse to countenance the umpire decision review system in their matches is because Tendulkar resists, having not had the rub of the green in the early experimental days. When he was on 23, the umpire Ian Gould gave him out lbw and it looked stone dead.
He reviewed and the hawkeye gizmo astonishingly showed the ball missing leg stump. This could not have been mere technology but another example of divine intervention on behalf of club members.Reuse content