Some days are laced with more than the usual dose of anticipation. On Saturday morning, as the sun broke through, past mischievous clouds, you could immediately sense it… even a mile from the Lord’s cricket ground.
The queues were visibly longer; they were much more eager and atypically impatient too. A few tickets were still available, if you were willing to pay a tiny fortune or at least a thousand pounds, that is. Inside, the excitement just kept mounting.
At exactly 12.28, inevitably, the much-awaited moment arrived; two hours later, at 2.28, it passed too. It’s almost impossible to say which was more poignant, when Sachin Tendulkar strode in confidently or when he walked away… shattered.
A warm and hearty applause led him into the ground; and a stunned silence followed him back into the dressing room. Once again, he has remained on the brink of a 100th hundred; once again, time just stood still only to tease history.
But then, the third day of the first Test was not just about Tendulkar’s missed tryst; just two overs after his exit, the match almost turned on its head: Stuart Broad extracted two firm edges, one each from Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. To his horror, and to the dismay of the crowds, both were spilled.
The anticipation quickly shifted though: from the prospect of history being made to the possibility of some more wickets, even a follow on. Through the day, not surprisingly, there was a buzz in the air and barely anybody moved from their seats.
India managed to dodge the first danger: they were all out for 286, just 12 runs past the follow on mark. Rahul Dravid was unconquered on a maiden 100 here, like always fighting away from the spotlight. Six overs were left in the day, though, plus two more days. India are not out of trouble yet.
The English openers saw off the five overs in their second innings safely and at stumps, the home team was leading India by 193 runs.
It was a tense, riveting day all the way. India, replying to 474 for 8, began strongly with the overnight pair. Gautam Gambhir and Abhinav Mukund befuddled England’s pacers by simply being left-handers. Chris Tremlett struggled with his line while James Anderson with his rhythm.
Only when Stuart Broad came into the picture, batting looked like a dangerous vocation again. He first uprooted Gambhir’s middle stump and, then, induced Mukund (49) into a loose stroke. Much later, he would plot a sharp nick off Tendulkar’s probing willow for his piece de resistance.
Captain Andrew Strauss will take credit for his fall though. Tendulkar began confidently, rising on his toes to punch through covers, or rolling his wrists to flick past square-leg. He raced away to 32 off just 37 deliveries before walking into a mesmerising spell from Tremlett; he needed 21 deliveries for his next 2.
Just when Tremlett seemed to have him in a vice-grip, Strauss replaced him with Broad; the release of pressure immediately did the trick. Tremlett trapped Laxman at fine leg, and the impressive Graeme Swann got Suresh Raina lbw to leave India precariously poised at 183 for 5. They needed 91 still to avoid the follow on.
But then Dravid had already settled in nicely. He took his time settling down, happy to get his initial runs behind the square. He watched the ball carefully, leaving a majority of them.
But soon, he was cutting and driving too. A strong on-drive that split silly mid-wicket and mid-on was easily the shot of the day.
As the clouds stayed glued to the sky, he inched towards his 33rd century, and the first at Lord’s. It surely must have tasted extra sweet, after a 15-year long wait. His days of anticipation are probably over.