Tendulkar lone star of India

First Test: Five wickets for Lewis put England on the threshold of a resounding victory but the day will be remembered
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An innings of pure genius by Sachin Tendulkar yesterday delayed but could not stop England's progress towards what will surely be certain victory when the First Test goes into its fourth day today. There will not be much of it - England need only another 48 runs to win and have nine second-innings wickets standing.

While England deserve nothing but praise for the way their refashioned team have maintained the level of competitiveness that marked their performances against India in the one-day internationals, there is little doubt that what will live on in the memory of those fortunate enough to be here will be the 122 out of India's second-innings total of 219 with which Tendulkar single-handedly kept his team in with a semblance of a chance. It was his ninth Test hundred, and his third against England.

Where would India be without him? Injuries, inexperience, squabbling and loss of form have conspired to make this a largely unhappy tour for them, but the mastery of Tendulkar remains unimpaired. As Brian Lara's career stalls, innings such as this one strengthen Tendulkar's case to be regarded as the best batsman in the world.

He came in when India were 17 for two, still 82 runs behind. Four hours and 22 minutes later he was ninth out with India 109 runs ahead. He had hit 19 fours and the magnificent straight six off Min Patel with which he brought up his hundred. To describe it as one of the great against- the-odds innings would do scant justice to the majesty of his shot-making and the seemingly effortless way with which he continued to play his naturally adventurous game even when the cause was all but lost. Then again, he probably reckoned he had little choice.

He was not entirely lacking in support. Sanjay Manjrekar, batting with a runner because of his sprained ankle, bravely helped him put on 59 for the sixth wicket. There followed a seventh-wicket stand of 58 with Anil Kumble. For a while it looked as if Tendulkar could yet inspire India to reach a position from which they might conceivably nurture thoughts of winning the match themselves.

England felt the pressure too. That much was obvious when they were convinced they had Tendulkar caught behind off Chris Lewis for 76. Umpire Shepherd refused to uphold the appeal, and as England pressed their case he felt the need to wave a finger of admonishment at the captain, Mike Atherton.

England did get their man when he pulled Lewis into Graham Thorpe's hands at deep mid-wicket. There was nothing left after that and, leaving aside Tendulkar, England's bowlers could mostly look back on another tight display. Lewis was the main contributor with five for 72, Alan Mullally and Dominic Cork also enjoyed their successes, and Patel, with his first extended spells of the match, might also have done had he been prepared to risk bowling round the wicket. For Ronnie Irani, however, bowling for England proved a more painful experience than batting had been.

Resuming on five for nought, India quickly lost Vikram Rathore and Ajay Jadeja, so when Tendulkar came to the wicket a huge burden of responsibility was weighing on him. It was no lighter after Nayan Mongia slashed a shot to gully where Nasser Hussain took a diving catch and then Mohammad Azharuddin was bowled round his legs by Mullally.

So much seemed to depend on Tendulkar and his captain but, at 36 for four, the situation was desperate. Tendulkar, though, blazed on with a succession of brilliant shots. There was the perfectly good ball from Cork to which he rocked forward and then back before clipping it through extra cover; a pull through mid-wicket, not quite timed, off Mullally; and then came two overs from Irani in which Tendulkar left the England debutant in no doubt as to what the step up to Test cricket can involve.

Irani's first 11 balls were all to Tendulkar. They went 4, dot, 4, dot, 4, dot, 4, dot, 4, dot, 1 - a pattern that suggested Tendulkar had picked up a toy with which he had quickly got bored. He hit Irani all round the ground: to mid-on, through the covers, through mid-wicket. Not surprisingly, Irani was taken off.

In between Irani's two overs, Mullally took India's fifth wicket with the score on 68 when the left-hander Sunil Joshi, batting with a broken finger, left a huge gap between bat and pad and Russell caught him off the inside edge. Manjrekar walked gingerly to the wicket, and it was obvious that the best India could hope from him was that he would hold up one end while Tendulkar carried the fight to England on his own. For 64 balls and 99 minutes, that is exactly what he did.

Tendulkar reached his 50 two overs before lunch with his 10th four, a clip off his legs from a ball by Lewis, and India gradually edged towards an overall lead. Manjrekar eventually fell when he fended at a lifting ball from Lewis and Nick Knight took an easy catch in the slips. Kumble picked up where Manjrekar had left off, and by tea India had reached 170 for six, with Tendulkar 101 not out. But Kumble's dismissal to a run-out was a setback from which India could not recover.

Atherton and Knight were cautious but confident as they set about England's reply on a wicket still giving a lot of help to the quicker bowlers. Knight was unlucky to be given out lbw, Atherton lucky not to but, with Hussain carrying on in the same vein as in his first innings, England were all but home.