The Indian cricket team gave more than a billion people the perfect antidote to last month's terrorist attacks in Mumbai yesterday when they produced one of the most remarkable run chases in the history of Test cricket. The six-wicket win was completed when the country's favourite son, Sachin Tendulkar, swept England's Graeme Swann to fine leg for four, and it sent a large and excitable crowd into a state of rapture.
The stroke not only provided India with the uplifting national triumph it desperately needed, it allowed Tendulkar, a born and bred Mumbaikar, to pass 100 for the 41st time in his stellar career. It was one of those special moments that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, similar to when an under-fire Steve Waugh hit the last ball of the day's play for four to complete a hundred against England in Sydney six years ago.
Sport can never make up for lost lives but this unlikely yet inspired triumph has put the smile back on the face of a nation. Their reaction made a mockery of those who said England should not return.
Kevin Pietersen's side understandably wore the look of a shell-shocked outfit as they forlornly made their way to the solitude of the visitors' dressing room. It will take the team some time to come to terms with what took place. At the start of the fifth day, and despite Virender Sehwag's pyrotechnics the previous evening, England were still favourites.
Pietersen and England made several errors as India cruised to 387, the fourth-highest winning run chase in Test history, but it would be harsh to lambast them for their display. Pietersen nobly maintains he does not want to make any excuses, even if they are legitimate. When what took place in the build-up to the Test and the team's limited preparation are taken into consideration, England did remarkably well to compete as they did. For 10 of the Test's 15 sessions England were the better side, but against a team containing players of the quality of India there are occasions when there is not a lot you can do.
A sombre Pietersen (below) was in no mood to criticise his players. "The boys are not happy in the dressing room but I think both teams can be really proud about the way they played Test match cricket over the five days," he said. "The tragedy that happened in Mumbai a couple of weeks ago was obviously not in the script so it was brilliant that both teams came out and played Test match cricket like that.
"Before the Test I said that I would not use any excuses for losing or not putting in a good performance, but I thought we put in a fantastic performance. I am proud of our dressing room. We tried our hearts out but to control the Test for 70 per cent of the time and miss out is a bitter pill to swallow.
"Who writes Sachin Tendulkar's scripts? It could not have gone any better for him. The man from Mumbai came in and scored a sensational hundred. He batted like a superstar. We tried everything we could and, unfortunately, we came unstuck.
"I think Sehwag definitely started things off [on Sunday] but Sachin played a super, super knock. If we had got him early, who knows what would have happened? We have seen that if you get a wicket in this Test a couple tend to fall. We wanted to attack Yuvraj Singh and get under his skin, but he played pretty well too."
It was the unbeaten 163-run partnership between Tendulkar and Yuvraj that allowed India to stroll home with more than 20 overs of the day's play remaining but the hosts were in trouble when V V S Laxman was out just after lunch.
Andrew Flintoff provided England with a perfect start when he dismissed the horribly out of form Rahul Dravid with the 14th ball of the day. Tendulkar joined the calm and impressive Gautam Gambhir and a fired-up Flintoff initially gave him a torrid time. Survival was Tendulkar's sole objective as he spent the early part of his innings ducking out of the way of short balls.
Gambhir passed fifty but perished soon afterwards for 66 when he dabbed weakly at a James Anderson delivery and was caught in the gully by Paul Collingwood. Laxman played three exquisite shots in his 26, shots that made the pitch look easy to bat on, but he fell when Swann forced him to lob a catch up to short leg.
With India still requiring 163 for victory, the match was in the balance but it was then that Tendulkar's experience came to the fore. England's verbally aggressive tactics unsettled Yuvraj in the first innings when he became involved in a slanging match, but Tendulkar's guidance taught him to turn the other cheek. It was a masterful display from the "Little Master".
England began to lose their way at lunch on the fourth day. It was as if they sat down, realised what a dominant position they were in and questioned it. Suddenly they became defensive.
They were guilty of the same crime yesterday, but this time with the ball. Pietersen became obsessed with saving boundaries and positioned players in the deep. But India's batsmen are too experienced to get frustrated by a lack of fours or sixes and they proceeded to knock the ball into gaps and take the easy runs that were available.
The bowling of Monty Panesar, who once again failed to make any impact in the fourth innings of a Test, was poor and it did not help Pietersen at all. Panesar showed little nous as he bowled at the same speed over after over. Spin bowlers have to adapt to the pitch they are playing on and Panesar again did not. He should have been England's match-winner but Swann outbowled him on his debut.
England won toss: Fifth day of five
England – First Innings 316 (A J Strauss 123)
India – First Innings 241
England – Second Innings 311 for 9 dec ( A J Strauss 108; P D Collingwood 108)
India Second innings
G Gambhir c Collingwood b Anderson......... 66
......... 202min, 139 balls, 7 fours
V Sehwag lbw b Swann......... 83
......... 102min, 68 balls, 11 fours, 4 sixes
R Dravid c Prior b Flintof......... 4
......... 33min, 19 balls
S R Tendulkar not out......... 103
......... 317min, 196 balls, 9 fours
V V S Laxman c Bell b Swann......... 26
......... 54min, 42 balls, 4 fours
Yuvraj Singh not out......... 85
......... 196min, 131 balls, 8 fours, 1 six
Extras (b5, lb11, w0, nb4, pens0)......... 20
Total (for 4, 454min, 98.3 overs)......... 387
Fall: 1-117 (Sehwag), 2-141 (Dravid), 3-183 (Gambhir), 4-224 (Laxman).
Did not bat: *†M S Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, A Mishra, I Sharma.
Bowling: Harmison 10-0-48-0 (4-0-33-0, 4-0-5-0, 2-0-10-0), Anderson 11-1-57-1 (2-0-15-0, 5-1-15-1, 4-0-21-0); Panesar 27-4-105-0 (6-1-31-0, 1-0-5-0, 7-1-14-0, 5-1-23-0, 4-0-16-0, 1-1-0-0, 3-0-16-0); Flintoff 22-1-64-1 (nb4) (3-1-4-0, 5-0-11-0, 5-0-22-1, 2-0-9-0 ,4-0-9-0, 3-0-9-0); Swann 28.3-2-103-2 (12-0-45-1, 5-1-19-1, 7-0-24-0, 4.3-1-15-0).
Progress: 150: 141 min, 34 overs; 200: 222 min, 48.1 overs. Lunch: 213-3 (Tendulkar 27, Laxman 20) 53 overs; 250: 279 min, 61.4 overs; 300: 361 min, 78 overs. Tea: 304-4 (Tendulkar 65, Yuvraj 45) 79 overs. New ball taken after 83 overs at 320-4; 350: 422 min, 90.1 overs. Innings closed: 4pm.
Gambhir 50: 141 min, 105 balls, 5 fours. Sehwag 50: 43 min, 32 balls, 8 fours, 2 sixes. Tendulkar 50: 162min, 107 balls, 5 fours. 100: 317 min, 196 balls, 9 fours. Yuvraj Singh 50: 117 min, 76 balls, 4 fours, 1 six.
Result: India won by six wickets.
Umpires: B F Bowden (NZ) and D J Harper (Aus).
TV replay umpire: S L Shastri (India).
Match referee: J J Crowe (NZ).
Man of the match: V Sehwag.