Although England are in an unexpectedly good position in the second Test, the third day's play should be remembered longest for 45 minutes or so of sheer magic from Sachin Tendulkar. His was a century of two parts: dogged for the first 130 minutes and then as wonderful an explosion of pure stroke play as one could ever wish to see.
He scored 35 in the morning session as England bowled as tightly and defensively as they could to try and torment the phalanx of stroke makers India boast in their middle order. Tendulkar only took the obvious runs on offer while losing Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly at the other end.
Tendulkar and VVS Laxman put on 43 by lunch before the former decided that the hard work had been done and it was time to let his genius flower. It was a different game after the interval, but no one had told England.
Matthew Hoggard had bowled extremely well in the morning to an exact off-stump line giving away runs at scarcely more than one an over. Now he resumed against Tendulkar with eight men on the off-side and only a mid-on to protect the leg-side.
His first ball was a fraction over-pitched and three inches outside the off-stump. With his fast footwork which seems no more than a shuffle, Tendulkar moved across his stumps so that the line of the ball was now on his pads. With a flick of the wrists and that inimitable timing he played it away to the mid-wicket boundary.
Hoggard must have felt a fool for it was a good enough ball bowled to the line he had intended. Two more balls followed which were further outside the off-stump and Tendulkar left them alone. Then came a replica of the first ball of that over except that it was, if anything, an inch or two wider of the off-stump.
Again we had that same shuffle as before, with the clinical precision a dentist would have envied, he placed this one five yards to the right of mid-on with even greater nonchalance. It raced away for four and Nasser Hussain was forced to move a cover fielder to mid-wicket.
Tendulkar played forward respectfully to the ball after that, but the last one of the over was a little shorter and still well outside the off-stump. That lightning fast shuffle came next and now, off the back foot, he hit the ball out of the middle of the bat, placed it to square leg and ran three. They were strokes of pure genius and a decent over from Hoggard had gone for 11 runs.
With Ashley Giles, who did a brilliant job, bowling over the wicket into the rough outside the leg stump, Tendulkar began to improvise. He played the paddle sweep, which the Indians prefer; he moved inside the line when he could and drove, almost invariably between the fielders. And when Giles dropped the ball at all short he made room and cracked him square through the offside. If the line and length was exact he used his footwork and wrists to pick up singles on the leg side.
Tendulkar scored another 35 in the first 35 minutes of the afternoon and it is hard to believe that any other batsman in the history of the game could have batted better or more pleasingly than this. He went on to reach his second 50 in 56 minutes and after reaching 100 he looked as if he had England at his mercy.
His concentration then lapsed momentarily and he drove Hoggard low to Hussain, who juggled agonisingly with the ball low down at mid-on before holding on to it. There is no point in dwelling on what might have happened if that one had got away but it would have been well worth watching.Reuse content