MS Dhoni looked at the clock. It was 1:34 pm,six minutes to tea. Six minutes to squeeze out an over. Six minutes to receiving more rose bouquets by the boundary ropes. On Wednesday,when India werent playing cricket at the Eden Gardens,they were collecting roses or compliments. Dhoni tossed the ball about in his gloves and looked around at his men. They had done him proud in this middle session.
Debutant Mohammed Shami’s reverse swing coupled with some inexplicable shot selection had reduced the visitors from 107/2 to 176/6. But now,this seventh wicket stand between Shane Shillingford and Shivnarine Chanderpaul had begun to annoy (68 balls) and blossom (16 runs). The frontline spinners,Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha,had let them slip away. So Dhoni scanned the field and summoned a man who had collected more bouquets on Wednesday (at least 50) than wickets in his Test career (45).
As Sachin Tendulkar handed his floppy hat over to the umpire at the High Court End,Kolkata roared. These terraces,however,never needed a reason. For 62 prior overs,Tendulkar had earned emphatic applause from the galleries for just,well,being himself. Wickets had tumbled and sixes were smacked,causing little more than a buzz from the 33,000 strong spectators. But when Tendulkar simply walked back to his fielding position while facing the stands,they went wild.
Young men and old would trickle down from the upper tiers and press their faces against the mesh. Then they would scream their hero’s name until he waved. When he did,they would scream some more. This routine was tireless,ball after ball. But now,as Tendulkar unwrapped the tapes from his fingers at his bowling mark,he had given the stadium the license to roar.
Within seconds,another trigger would make it explode.
The first ball he bowled was a leg-spinner to Shillingford. The tall tailender blocked it with a dead bat. The second was a googly,one that Tendulkar couldn’t land as he wished. Four byes. Tendulkar pitched the third ball with precision.
The big leg-break spun around the face of Shillingfords blade. Off the fourth,Shillingford once again played for turn. The ball didn’t. West Indies were seven down. Tea was taken.
Incidentally,the last time Tendulkar took a wicket in a Test match was also the last time he scored a Test century. Cape Town,January 2011. He could well be repeating that feat at Kolkata during this Test against what seems to be,at least on the first day,a spineless West Indies attack. But before he can even think of fulfilling the ticket-buyer’s dream,he will need to get an opportunity to bat in the first place. And by the looks of it,the Indian top order isn’t going to pass over their kill in a hurry.
At stumps on Day One,openers Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay had shaved off 37 runs from West Indies’ first innings score 234. Such was the ease with which those runs arrived that India are surely harbouring ambitions of batting just once on this wicket.
Twenty-three runs were scored from the first three overs,bowled by Tino Best and debutant Sheldon Cottrell. The left-arm quick,whose pace and swing had been spoken about aplenty prior to this series,seemed to have only one line slanting towards a right-hander’s first slip. So Cottrell either bowled wide to Vijay or fed Dhawan on his pads. Like choosing tomatoes in a bazaar,only the juiciest were handpicked for boundaries. Best,West Indiess most experienced seamer,was taken off after conceding 15 runs from his first two overs.
But to be fair to the West Indies bowling attack,this was just the first day of a series. And it didn’t last even half the length of a normal session. Come to think of it,even their batting wasn’t all that bad.
Had either Chanderpaul or Marlon Samuels two of the only three batsmen who received unplayable balls,the other was Denesh Ramdin got their eyes in,the story could have been rather different from what the Day One scorecard suggests. Samuels,after all,has a deep affection for Kolkata,having scored his maiden Test century here 11 years ago. And we all know of Chanderpaul’s love affair with Indian bowlers. He averages 66 against this country,having already notched a fourth of his 28 Test tons against them. Today,he looked good for another. Until Ashwin,well against the run of play,ended his stay on a fighting 38.
The rest could not be forgiven,They either poked,ran or hoicked when they needn’t have. Chris Gayle made a bulk of his 18 runs through edges past the slips. Gayle’s opening partner Kieran Powell scored his runs far more traditionally,with great timing through the V. But uncharacteristically,he suddenly looked to slog a wide bouncer and was caught at mid-off. Shami had his first Test wicket.
Between two more brain-freeze moments Darren Bravo’s run-out and Darren Sammy holing out Samuels innings flowed. Looking in no trouble whatsoever,he was strong with his flicks and devastating with his cuts and drives. Then,while batting on 65,trouble came looking for him in the form of a Shami in-seamer,which cut both Samuels and the middle stump in half.
A second or so after he was bowled,Samuels,in his attempt to say that the ball kept low,collapsed late to the floor. Almost Tendulkar-like. But again,it’s all part of the tributes package in Kolkata. So on Wednesday,when Tendulkar wasn’t collecting compliments off the field,he was being given a backhanded one on it.