The Master Blaster reaches another milestone but India are two wickets away from defeat as bad light forces play into the final day of the first Test against South Africa.
Tendulkar's 50th Test hundred stalls Proteas
CENTURION, SOUTH AFRICA // The headlines will be about Sachin Tendulkar and his 50th Test century, but when howling winds and an impending storm chased the players off SuperSport Park 71 minutes before the scheduled close of play, South Africa were just two wickets away from taking a 1-0 lead in the series.
With clear skies forecast for today’s final day of the opening Test, it will take something bizarre for them not to head to Durban in front.
But Tendulkar’s milestone achievement will be some consolation to the Indians as they go down fighting.
Of his achievement, Tendulkar humbly said: “I was not chasing any record. I have never run behind records. But I am happy.”
In sport, the margin between victory and defeat can be razor thin. At Centurion last December, Graeme Onions kept South Africa’s bowlers at bay to salvage a draw for England after Friedel de Wet had nearly fashioned a win in his debut Test.
A year on, Tendulkar and MS Dhoni, the Indian captain, added 172 in 246 balls as India crept to within 35 of the score they needed to make South Africa bat again. Blue skies had given way to dull grey and you could see lightning streaks in the far distance.
Had the rain come down then, with the scoreboard showing 449 for six, India could still have harboured hope of saving this Test.
Instead, Dale Steyn conjured up a mini-spell of searing pace to put the Proteas back within touching distance of victory. The ball that got Dhoni was on to his glove before he could get into any sort of position.
Mark Boucher, the South African wicketkeeper, tumbled to his right and as he came up with the ball in his glove, Steyn let out a primal scream. It was 4.27pm.
He followed up with several express deliveries to Tendulkar, including one that hit him, and exchanged the odd word as well.
But with the storm moving in and the light fading, the umpires led the players off at 4.49pm. In the dressing room, Dhoni would have reflected on those 22 minutes, the difference between possible survival and near-certain defeat.
After three one-sided days, this much-hyped series had finally come alive.
Ishant Sharma, the nightwatchman who evoked the spirit of Jason Gillespie, the former Australian cricketer, with his calm and steady defence, had set the tone, helping Rahul Dravid add 44, but India’s chances of taking the game into the final day took serious hits in the hour before lunch as South Africa struck three times.
Morne Morkel, the first-innings hero, produced a beautiful delivery that feathered the edge of Dravid’s bat, while VVS Laxman, so often the man for a crisis, played an awful shot to Lonwabo Tsotsobe to be caught by AB de Villiers in the slip cordon. The penultimate ball before lunch saw Suresh Raina – who will surely now be replaced in Durban by Cheteshwar Pujara – guide a Jacques Kallis delivery straight to slip. Still 207 in arrears, the game was as good as gone.
Tendulkar had watched the collapse unfold from one end, a situation reminiscent of the early phase of his career, but when the players emerged after lunch and the new ball was taken, Dhoni highlighted just why this is no longer a team built around one individual.
He struck some perfectly timed drives and was very much the aggressor as Tendulkar rotated the strike. India added 117 in that session, with every threat comfortably blunted.
Tendulkar survived a confident leg-before appeal from Paul Harris when he was 55, but otherwise his progress to a seventh hundred of 2010 was serene.
Having launched Harris for a straight six to move into the 90s, he got to the landmark with a single through cover off Steyn.
There was the customary look up at the heavens – he said later that the innings was dedicated to his father, who would have celebrated his 83rd birthday on Saturday – and then it was back to work.
After having it all their own way for three days, South Africa had to toil hard on the fourth against a team that finally lived up to its billing.
Steyn and Morkel were again eye-catching, while Harris caused some alarms with turn out of the rough.
Tendulkar will front up to them again this morning, but with Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh – caught at slip off Harris – gone, the South African hearts will not be fluttering quite like they were at 4.26pm yesterday.
India, first innings, 136
South Africa, first innings, 620-4 dec
India, second innings (overnight 190-2):
G Gambhir lbw b Steyn 80
V Sehwag c Smith b Harris 63
R Dravid c Boucher b Morkel 43
I Sharma c Amla b Steyn 23
S Tendulkar not out 107
V Laxman c De Villiers b Tsotsobe 8
S Raina c Harris b Kallis 5
M Dhoni c Boucher b Steyn 90
Harbhajan Singh c Kallis b Harris 1
S Sreesanth not out 3
Extras (b13, lb5, nb5, w8) 31
Total (8 wkts, 122.2 overs) 454
Fall of wickets: 1-137 (Sehwag), 2-170 (Gambhir), 3-214 (Sharma), 4-242 (Dravid), 5-256 (Laxman), 6-277 (Raina), 7-449 (Dhoni), 8-450 (Harbhajan)
Bowling: Steyn 27.2-5-103-3 (w1), Morkel 28-5-91-1 (nb2, w3), Tsotsobe 24-3-98-1 (nb1), Harris 30-5-88-2, Kallis 13-3-56-1 (nb2).