Iconic batsman Sachin Tendulkar kept his emotions in check and showed his genius for one last time in front of adoring fans with an unbeaten 38 as India seized early control of his 200th and final cricket Test against the West Indies after a disciplined bowling display in Mumbai on Thursday.
The 40-year-old maestro walked in to the middle amid thundering cheers from the crowd and a guard of honour from his West Indies rivals as he showed glimpses of his vintage form to remain unconquered at close of an eventful opening day of his last Test.
At stumps, India were comfortably placed at 157 for two after bundling out the hapless West Indies for a meagre 182 by tea, riding on left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha’s five-wicket haul.
While Ojha (5/40) grabbed the spotlight in the first half of the day, it was the retiring legend, who held centrestage in the last session with his entire family and childhood coach Ramakant Achrekar watching from the stands.
It was an abysmal batting display by the West Indians after being put in by Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The Caribbeans lost eight wickets for just 89 runs in a single session much to the delight of the Wankhede crowd.
Kieran Powell (48) and Darren Bravo (29) were the only batsmen to put up a semblance of fight against the stifling line and length of the Indian bowlers, who utilised the conditions well.
India responded strongly with openers Murali Vijay (43) and Shikhar Dhawan (33) putting on 77 runs in quick time. The two were sent back by Shane Shillingford before Tendulkar and Cheteshwar Pujara (34) took control of the proceedings.
India, leading 1-0 after winning the first Test in Kolkata inside three days, were just 25 runs behind West Indies at close of play raising doubts whether the match will go the full distance.
Call him a picture of confidence or an epitome of concentration, Tendulkar was everything during his undefeated stay at the crease in which he faced 73 balls hitting six boundaries.
Not only did he look in control but also helped Pujara (34 batting) gain in confidence as they added 80 runs in an unbroken third wicket stand.
At exactly 3:33 pm, India’s most loved sportsman walked down the staircase of the pavilion to the deafening applause from the near-packed Wankhede stadium with spectators on their feet after the fall of Vijay’s wicket to welcome the legendary player.
He acknowledged the ‘Guard of Honour’ from the West Indian cricketers, shook hands with rival captain Darren Sammy and umpire Nigel Llong and did what no one ever saw him do during a match.
He touched the 22-yard strip which has given him everything and sought its blessings, as mother Rajni Tendulkar, immediate family members and Achrekar watched from President’s Box.
A mistimed slog sweep got him off the mark and when Shillingford offered width, he rocked back to cut it past point for a boundary. Shillingford tried a doosra but Tendulkar read it early to hit that signature cover drive to reach 12.
As burly 6’10 Shanon Gabriel provided width, out came another killer cover drive to roll back those years. When Shillingford bowled a good flighted off-break, he presented full face to play the copybook forward defensive stroke that he may have learnt at Achrekar’s cradle some 30 years back.
As he settled down, Tendulkar along with Pujara, took those singles bringing up another 50-run partnership. Marlon Samuels bowling his fast off-breaks fired one down the leg side and a neat leg-glance brought about the fourth boundary.
The best was saved for the end when he showed the full face of the bat hitting a copybook on-drive of Sammy’s bowling.
Earlier, West Indies batsmen were visibly uncomfortable against both pace and swing of Shami Ahmed and Bhuvneshwar Kumar and also looked clueless against spin twins Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha losing eight wickets for 89 runs in the post-lunch session.
Ojha, who was a bit unlucky in the first Test, was pick of the bowlers grabbing five for 40 in 11.2 overs while Ashwin, who completed 100 wickets in Tests had figures of three for 45 in 15 overs to show for his efforts.
Mohammed Shami (1/36) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (1/45) may not have got too many wickets but they created the initial pressure which helped the spinners to get on top of the opposition.
It looks highly unlikely that the match will last the distance as the West Indian batsmen would find it even more difficult to survive on a wearing track on the third day having played only 55.2 overs on the opening day.
Having lost a couple of wickets in the first session, an inept Caribbean batting line—up looked out of sorts in the post—lunch session on a dry Wankhede track, that had both turn and bounce on offer.
The likes of Marlon Samuels, Narsingh Deonarine, Darren Sammy simply failed to grind it out against Ojha and Ashwin as wickets fell at regular intervals. The manner in which Sammy (0) threw his wicket would raise question mark about his position in the Test squad.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul (25), playing his 150th Test match, started off with a big six but was removed by Bhuvneshwar with a nice away going delivery that was snapped up in the slips.
Marlon Samuels (19) looked uncomfortable against Shami’s swing and finally caved in when he edged one to Murali Vijay in the slips of an Ojha delivery that turned away.
Shami started off from where he left at the Eden Gardens, during his dream debut as he bowled at a brisk pace moving the ball away from the left hander.
He did beat the bats of Gayle and Powell before removing the big Jamaican with a well crafted plan.
Having bowled a couple of full length deliveries, Shami bowled one that just kicked up from short of good length as Gayle got squared up in his bid to defend.
The ball lobbed up after taking a leading edge as Rohit completed the formalities at point.
Gayle’s poor show in the series continued having failed in both innings at Kolkata. He now has scores of 18, 33 and 11 from three innings of this ongoing Test series.
He has never looked comfortable and didn’t looked like trying to play his natural game — which is to take on the opposition attack. He looked rusty and unusually bogged down.
Bravo was in trouble as soon as he arrived edging an away going delivery to first slip but the ball dropped in front of Ashwin, who was manning the zone.
In between some very good deliveries, both Bravo and Powell dispatched the loose deliveries to the boundary.
Anything that drifted onto the pads was tucked away on the leg side while Bravo hit some good shot on the off—side region.
Ashwin had a rough time in the first slip, when he dropped a sitter off Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s delivery with Powell batting on 21.
Bhuvneshwar was brought from Garware End, having bowled his first spell from the North End. He bowled a beauty that moved away from Powell, who gave a regulation catch which bounced off Ashwin’s palm.
To add insult to injury, Ashwin, who was brought into the attack was hoisted for couple of big sixes by Bravo and Powell.
Bravo using his feet to loft Ashwin inside—out over cover was a treat to watch. The 50 runs for the second wicket partnership came off 96 balls.
West Indies 1st innings: 182 all out in 55.2 overs (Kieran Powell 48; Pragyan Ojha 5/40)
India 1st innings: 157 for 2 in 34 overs (Murali Vijay 43).