As decreed by Duckworth & Lewis...

The covers come on after the skies open up at a crucial juncture of the match.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Tendulkar came up with a bright 148-ball 141, but unfortunately for the master batsman, rain nipped a most enticing contest in the bud, writes S. RAM MAHESH.

Sachin Tendulkar's long awaited return — the 22-ball tournament in Sri Lanka doesn't count — was the stuff of dreams. Silhouetted in the mist, the amorphous lines of tree-laden hills, the crisper contours of red-bricked roofs, and the flashing lights of cars on the highway provided the ideal backdrop for a work of art. And Tendulkar obliged with a hundred he termed "very special".

Unfortunately for the master batsman, the mist grew more threatening, giving way to rain that nipped a most enticing contest in the bud. Messrs Duckworth and Lewis ruled that West Indies had won by 29 runs. "They had the runs on the board, so obviously, they would have fancied their chances," said West Indies skipper Brian Lara, who played some sublime strokes before rain intervened.

"We always had an eye out on the Duckworth-Lewis score, and we knew rain was going to be part of the mix at this time in Malaysia. Obviously, India wanted the match to go on, whereas for us it didn't really matter."

Did he feel the rain robbed his middle order batsmen of setting right what went wrong during the embarrassing collapse against Australia? "No," he said, and laughed. "I'm sure the middle order will gain a lot of confidence from the win. It's a very important win for us."

The most bizarre aspect of the match, however, wasn't that India lost despite posting 309, and that there would have been no result had the Indians bowled even a delivery short. The bizarreness centred around a ridge on the Kinrara Oval track that necessitated ICC match referee Chris Broad issuing a statement. Broad's statement said a "small fault in the underlying structure of the pitch identified by ICC consultant groundsman Michael Box" caused the uneven bounce that accounted for Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

"The fault resulted in a small depression emerging late in the evening on the night before the match," said Broad. "The depression is short of a good length outside the off stump of the right-handed batsman when the bowler is coming on from the Pavillion End of the ground." The captains had a chat with the match referee and decided to continue play. "During the game, we had a chat on what our options were," said Lara. "We were told to continue." At that stage they were 72 for no loss in 13, so they would have wanted to continue.

Both Lara and Tendulkar sought to play down its importance. The ridge didn't seem to affect the left-handed batsmen — Chris Gayle's 35-ball 45 was crucial in the context of the game.

But, the performance of the match came from Tendulkar. "It's a special hundred because it's come after a six-month break, and also because it came on a difficult track," he said. "Coming back is a challenge, specially when you're coming out of a serious injury. I'm feeling absolutely fine. As far as playing strokes is concerned, I have no problem with any of them (after the surgery).

"Cricket has been my life. Let's be honest — I'm living a dream. Every time I go out on the field, there is enthusiasm. If I find it a burden, I'll know when to step back. I'm enjoying it at the moment, and want to keep going."

The unbeaten 148-ball 141 — the only other instance of Tendulkar carrying his bat is the undefeated 186 against New Zealand in Hyderabad in 1999 — was paced like many of the great man's previous 39 hundreds. There was the initial burst, during which he threw a couple of upper cuts, and even top-edged a hook. Then came consolidation as he passed his 50 in 67 balls: a phase devoted to the dink to third-man for one, the work with the wrists for two.

Irfan Pathan, who has batted at No. 3 in five of his last 10 ODIs, was crucial to India's cause during this period. Where Tendulkar downshifted, Pathan upped the tempo. The pair shared a 164-run partnership against Sri Lanka in Nagpur in October 2005, when Tendulkar had returned from injury previously. Here, Pathan carved and smote his way to 64 off 68 balls, outscoring his senior partner in the 125-run alliance.

The third phase of Tendulkar's knock was batting's equivalent of the long-distance runner's hammer finish. India made 59 runs in the final five overs, owing in part to Suresh Raina's delightful cameo, and to Tendulkar's shifting of attention to Dwayne Bravo. Blithe drives inside-out over the cover boundary were de rigueur. Three of Tendulkar's five sixes were obtained in this manner: even hard-bitten journalists, many of whom have asked if his powers have been withered by injury and weathered by age, allowed themselves an admiring gasp.

The 33-year-old's effort was thrown into relief by the Kinrara Oval track. Lara, a kindred batting soul, said, "We suffered at Sachin's hands. He played magnificently, especially to come back after six months and play it on a difficult track."

In the end, it came down to the weather and the most sophisticated rain rule in limited-overs history.

THE SCORES

India v West Indies, Kinrara Academy Oval, Kuala Lumpur, Sept. 14, 2006.

Result: West Indies won by 29 runs (Duckworth-Lewis method).

India: R. Dravid lbw Smith 26; S. R. Tendulkar (not out) 141; I. K. Pathan b Gayle 64; V. Sehwag b Taylor 9; M. S. Dhoni b Taylor 2; S. K. Raina c Smith b Taylor 34; M. Kaif (not out) 1; Extras (lb-14, w-9, nb-9) 32; Total: (for 5 wkts; 50 overs) 309.

Fall of wickets: 1-75, 2-200, 3-223, 4-227, 5-295.

West Indies bowling: J. E. Taylor 10-1-64-3; F. H. Edwards 6-0-44-0; I. D. R. Bradshaw 10-0-44-0; D. R. Smith 7-0-43-1; C. H. Gayle 10-0-46-1; D. J. Bravo 7-0-54-0.

West Indies: C. H. Gayle c Dhoni b Patel 45; S. Chanderpaul c Patel b R. P. Singh 6; R. R. Sarwan (not out) 37; B. C. Lara (not out) 27; Extras (lb-8, w-14, nb-4) 26; Total: (for 2 wkts; 20 overs) 141.

Fall of wickets: 1-32, 2-98.

India bowling: I. K. Pathan 2-0-22-0; A. B. Agarkar 5-0-24-0; R. P. Singh 4-0-39-1; M. M. Patel 5-0-18-1; Harbhajan Singh 4-0-30-0.