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Friday the 15th: No better place to be than Wankhede

Chants of ‘Sachin, Sachin’ reverberate at the Wankhede Stadium even before the Indian team steps on the field. A bank holiday means less people have to stay away from work. A huge roar greets the team as they start their warm-up. It gets louder as the Little Master steps on the field.

It gets deafening when Tendulkar and Cheteshwar Pujara walk into bat. The crowd want to see their hero Tendulkar take strike, but Pujara faces up to Tino Best. The Saurashtra player takes a single off the fourth ball which is greeted by a huge roar — unthinkable for a single in Test cricket.

Tendulkar, overnight on 38 is ready. The crowd goes bonkers as he takes his first run — a single to mid-wicket — on the last ball of the over to retain strike. Back-to-back fours off Shane Shillingford — a back foot punch and paddle sweep — are greeted with deafening applause.

West Indies pacer Tino Best is trying his best to disturb Tendulkar’s rhythm. But the batting maestro is composed. Tendulkar effortlessly ducks his bouncers. With the batting legend three short of a half-century, Best appeals emphatically for a caught behind, but the ball seems to brush Tendulkar’s sleeve before reaching wicketkeeper Dinesh Ramdin. The tension is palpable.

Tendulkar’s wife Anjali is seen breathing a sigh of relief when the umpire doesn’t raise his finger. Few balls later, a Tendulkaresque straight drive off Best brings up his 68th half-century as the Wankhede erupts in joy. The cheers refuse to die down. The batting maestro raises his bat, acknowledges the crowd and his family seated in the President’s Box.

Best’s next ball to Tendulkar is a bouncer. It certainly does not go down well with the crowd. Chants of ‘Tino sucks, Tino sucks’ emerge. Runs are now flowing from Tendulkar’s blade. Hopes of a hundred appear large which would be a fairytale-like end to his career. While Best is in no mood to turn off the aggression, Tendulkar takes the humourous route. He gives Best a light ‘punch’ on his shoulder — a gesture which may mean, “keep trying your best.”

Later, the master batsman races to 70.

Narsingh Deonarine surprises Tendulkar with extra bounce. Trying to cut, he edges to Darren Sammy at first slip. The mute button at Wankhede is pressed. Everyone is shell-shocked. Tendulkar waits for a while, stares at the pitch before taking the long walk back. He then decides to turn around, raise his bat and helmet to acknowledge the crowd.

Soon, there are more empty seats at the Wankhede than ever before in the day. For Mumbaikars, Test cricket has become lonely.

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