Memorable in many ways

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

Sachin Tendulkar... a special knock.-S.SUBRAMANIUM

SACHIN TENDULKAR and Anil Kumble would treasure the Ferozeshah Kotla track. Landmarks were achieved by these two stalwarts of Indian cricket in grand style as the master hit his 35th Test century and the wily leg-spinner claimed his 300th Test victim at home. Sri Lanka was outplayed by a team that had far more resources to tackle the challenges that arose from the conditions.

The signs came early in the match when V. V. S. Laxman showed the way with an innings that was as aesthetic as one can imagine. And then Tendulkar took over to rid himself of a huge burden by scoring a much-awaited century. The rout was completed by Kumble's 10-wicket haul. "You couldn't have asked for more," remarked a delighted Rahul Dravid, who led with immense confidence. There was talk of the pitch cracking up on the third day after Muttiah Muralitharan weaved a magical spell on the second morning but the Kotla pitch deceived most pundits and it was left to Kumble's unflinching belief in himself to carry the team home. A significant contribution also came from Irfan Pathan, who grabbed the opportunity when asked to open the innings. "I'm not an all-rounder," he pleaded when suggestions were made to that effect simply based on his 93. "I've a long way to go," Pathan put things in perspective.

"I've enjoyed bowling at the Kotla but honestly you need to have faith in your abilities to achieve your goals. You only need to turn the ball three inches to get the edge," Kumble said modestly, underplaying the fact that he had indeed earned his wickets on an unresponsive track.

Everything was in place for India. The weather was ideal for a good game of cricket but the Sri Lankans lost their way after a third-ball strike by veteran Chaminda Vaas, who also finished with his 300th Test wicket. "It's been a long journey but I've enjoyed every bit of it," commented the left-arm seamer who has made a lasting contribution to Sri Lankan cricket for a decade now.

In terms of entertainment, the match had many phases that stood out to make Test cricket so enjoyable. The crowd response to the match was overwhelming, leaving the DDCA president Arun Jaitley delighted. "There is nothing like a packed Test arena. We've worked hard to get this venue to its best modern shape and I'm happy the way people have responded," he said. He deserved all credit for the successful staging of the match.

Laxman set the tone on the first day. The Lankans had made a fine start and the Indians had to earn the runs. Dravid showed excellent leadership by taking over the responsibility to open the innings in the absence of Virender Sehwag, who was laid low by a throat infection. It was not a pleasant experience for Dravid and he was at his best in the second innings when he carved a half-century that was as valuable as any other knock.

Irfan Pathan grabbed the opportunity when asked to open the innings in the second essay and scored 93.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

"I should have converted my knock into a hundred. I was enjoying my timing and it felt great to be in Sachin's company when he was also concentrating on a big innings. I'm so happy he got his century," said Laxman, who was out to a beauty from Murali.

India's first innings was also steadied by Sourav Ganguly, who came up with a knock of 40 and later got a 39 in the second to justify his place in the side. Shockingly, the national selectors thought otherwise. There was merit in Dravid describing Ganguly's contributions as "crucial to the team's success" but the selectors obviously had an agenda on hand. Despite two decent innings that contributed immensely to India's recovery, the former skipper was sidelined for the next match in a decision that was widely condemned. The Ganguly episode certainly left a bitter taste and took the sheen off a commanding victory.

Tendulkar's emotional reaction on reaching his century was understandable. It was a poignant moment. He had waited sometime and planned his hundred like a professional once he saw the opening. It was not his best effort on the field but it was clearly the most momentous one. "A special innings" was how he described the grand feat.

Marwan Atapattu and Mahela Jayawardene offered resistance in both the innings by compiling quality half-centuries but lacked support.

Muttiah Muralitharan restricted the Indians with a magical spell in the first innings.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

The absence of Sanath Jayasuriya meant added responsibility on these two gifted cricketers and they did perform but not adequately enough to prevent a comprehensive loss.

Murali's seven-wicket haul in the first innings saw Sri Lanka restrict the Indians but the off-spinner failed to reproduce his magic in the second innings when Pathan, Yuvraj Singh, Ganguly and M. S. Dhoni put the issue beyond Atapattu's men.

The task for Sri Lanka was daunting and the choice difficult. To last the entire day was a challenge that was taken up with a wonderful spirit but half-centuries by Atapattu and Jayawardene faded in front of a sustained spell by Kumble. Having struggled in the first innings, Harbhajan Singh improved and finished with three wickets, including Jayawardene, who was foxed by the turn and bounce.

Kumble earned the `Man of the Match' honours as Dravid termed the victory a "team effort." It indeed was.