There is only one team playing Test cricket in this series. Mistakes, when repeated, are ugly and this West Indies combination has repeated several, delivering mediocre fare for the third time running.
The match, better known as Sachin Tendulkar’s Farewell Test, has taken a predictable course with India calling the shots. Nothing new there, of course. As dusk enveloped the Wankhede Stadium, the most popular Mumbaikar returned unconquered, having enjoyed a typically dominating stay.
India chose to field, and went on to stymie any hopes of a West Indies revival. There was no devil in the pitch; the West Indians, though, were bent on treating the occasion lightly and making a mockery of the contest. For the second time, the visitors were bowled out on the first day, this being worse than their misadventure in Kolkata. Lack of application combined with brittle character left the team bleeding.
Darren Sammy’s ignominious swipe off the second ball symbolised the West Indies’ decline. Clive Lloyd, watching from the stands, must have squirmed as the side that he once led with such authority and pride was shot out for 182.
Short of skills
Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha and off-spinner R. Ashwin exposed the West Indies batting, bounce causing more damage than turn. It was apparent that the batsmen were short of skills and also bereft of the will to put up a performance that befitted the occasion.
If Chris Gayle was squared up by Mohammad Shami, Darren Bravo was surprised by the bounce that Ashwin extracted.
At 82 for two, it appeared that India would need to earn its wickets.
But after that, batsman after batsman departed, and West Indies faced embarrassment.
Kieran Powell, exceptionally determined, was keen to extend his stay in the middle.
He got his shots right and his attitude was firm, but a lapse of concentration caused his downfall and triggered.
He may have felt let down by the decision but accepted it gracefully.
Ojha and Ashwin, sensing the West Indian vulnerability when under pressure, ensured that the batsmen had to play at the ball, and wickets came in a heap.
It was just what the crowd wanted.
After India lost the openers to ambitious shots, the master emerged to a standing ovation as he walked out to the middle. The West Indies stood guard of honour as he approached the wicket, and then witnessed a small but sweet innings that bore that stamp of class that has become patently his.
Many in the galleries rose to greet his walk to the crease and never returned to their seats.
Such reverence can belong only to a true legend.
His determination was pronounced. In a unique and poignant gesture, he saluted the pitch, more an act of worship, nursing a suspicious feeling that this could well be his last innings given the strength of the opposition.
His balance was impeccable as he settled into an easy stance, looking ahead even as his career must have flashed past in phases.
He had begun his first-class journey with a century at this very ground. To sign off with a hundred would be divine script.
The calm and composed Tendulkar was hardly hustled. He looked in ominous touch, playing the ball on merit, looking for angles to place his shots, and succeeding every time he put bat to the ball. He middled almost every ball and did not flinch; but then, he rarely has!
When Tino Best tested him with a bouncer towards the fag end of the day, he just let it sail harmlessly, perfectly poised.
Old-timers would have warmed up to Tendulkar’s cameo.
It brought back memories of his domineering take off after arriving at the crease.
If Cheteshwar Pujara’s solid knock stays in the background, the reason he won’t begrudge. The crowd just wanted Tendulkar in action.
It was a neat package from Tendulkar that made the day for his fans. His front-foot play was sure and his shots solid.
He played a range of strokes: the cut, drives square and straight, the punch through cover as majestic as ever, the skilfully controlled sweep.
His footwork and execution of shots this evening looked like a precursor of what one can expect from him on day two.
For sure, the Wankhede, on Friday, will be one grand theatre, bursting at the seams, the audience praying and cheering fervently for a Sachin Tendulkar show.