With 16 runs to clinch the first innings lead with only two wickets in hand, Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy semi-final dream (vs Tamil Nadu in 2000) was like a candle in the wind.
The players are on tenterhooks (Mumbai 470-8 in reply to TN’s 485). Wasim Jaffer decides to ease the tension by scanning through the morning newspapers. Paras Mhambrey cannot afford to take his eyes off the field as Thiru Kumaran runs in to bowl the first over of the morning. Kuruvilla runs himself out in the second over of the day. Tendulkar is livid. Last man Santosh Saxena walks out.
With Mumbai still 14 runs away from their prime objective, the onus is now on Saxena to give the master blaster all the support. And as Tendulkar plays and misses to Sadagoppan Mahesh, the TN reserves get vocal.
Tendulkar hits the next ball out of the ground at the far end for a six and the Mumbai dressing room is alive and kicking again. “Saat payje, saat payje” (seven needed to equal), Tendulkar’s mate Atul Ranade exclaims. The ball cannot be retrieved. Tendulkar doesn’t care less as he clubs Mahesh but gets only a single to retain strike for the next over bowled by Kumaran. Meanwhile, Jaffer chucks the newspaper.
Two dot balls in a row and Tendulkar cannot conceal his aggression. Third ball, he flicks for a couple. The next ball is hit through the covers for four. The mood in the players’ enclosure is ecstatic. The scores are level. Physio Aijaz Ashai gets up from his seat. But Mhambrey urges him to stay put – for luck.
Mankad appears cool as a cucumber as he gets back to his seat in the front row. Tendulkar on strike provides a heartening sight. “Atta to daeel, bagh, (Now he will strike, you see) says selector Dilip Sardesai. But Tendulkar fails to score off a couple of deliveries. The pressure is well and truly on never mind if it is a question of a solitary run. Saxena has to take strike the next over and has his share of struggles against Mahesh.
“Saral khel, saral khel,” (play straight) says Sardesai. “C’mon Saxy, c’mon Saxy,” Mhambrey chants. Saxena lets the last ball of the over to ’keeper Reuben Paul and phew, the over has ended. Kumaran’s first two deliveries end up as dot balls. There is pin-drop silence as Kumaran settles into rhythm. Tendulkar finds the length to his liking and pulls it to the mid-wicket ropes.
Mumbai has done the incredible. Even before the ball has touched the ropes, Sardesai and company scream in elation. The bear hugs begin. Saxena does not last long, holing out to Hemang Badani at mid-on. But the job is done. Robin Singh & Co trudge back to the pavilion in dejection. When Tendulkar plays an innings like that (233 not out), even a stone-hearted man would be moved.
The man of the movement walks in without showing any emotion. He leaves that for his teammates. The Mumbai dressing room door is shut. In the meantime, one hears a voice in Tamil Nadu room, “the match is not over.” But what follows is a loud, elongated “F@@###@@@K.”
What a moment, what a player. What a knock!