Sachiiiiiiiiinnn... for the very last time!

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India pads up for the master blaster’s final innings

Sachiiiiiiiiinnn... for the very last time!
INDIAN ICON: Artist Ranjit Dahiya works on a mural of cricketer Sachin Tendulkar on the wall of a sports club building in Mumbai
The buzz around Sachin Tendulkar’s 200th and last Test match is such that the contest starting Thursday might well be the last Test match to draw a full house in the country. Seen against a worldwide drop in Test match attendance, a full house on five days could well be a modern record.

The West Indies are almost incidental to the plot. But Dhoni is warning everyone not to judge the visitors on just their performance in the Kolkata Test, which India won in under three days. “They are a fantastic side, they have good fast bowlers, a good spinner and batsmen who have made runs all over the world,” Dhoni said at the media briefing on the eve of the Test.

On their part, the West Indians skipper is hoping first to take the match into a fifth day. While that would not be an achievement in itself, remaining competitive in the Test for longer might seem a good thing given the West Indies’ recent record in the longest format.

Dhoni said the pitch was too damp on Wednesday to judge how hard it would be on the first playing day and after. Insider information on the surface is that the grass is being given a close shave with the intention of letting the match go to near full distance while also giving Mumbai’s favourite son the best chance to play a substantial innings.

The Little Master was looking good in a couple of attacking strokes past mid on in the last Test until a questionable umpiring decision cruelly cut short his stay. Looking relaxed at a special print media photo opportunity on the edge of the playing field, Sachin thanked the media for their support throughout his career. When reminded that he has the last chance to score his 52nd century here to make it one for each of the 52 Tests Don Bradman played, Sachin, with his trademark shy demeanour, said he would give it his best shot.

“Most of all I am looking forward to spending time with my family,” he said even as we chatted about his first Test appearance and the fantastic journey that is to end after 24 years with this Test match. The betting market may be underestimating his chances of scoring a century in his last appearance on the premise that even Bradman, who was overcome by emotion and had tears in his eyes when he was bowled by Eric Hollies for a duck at The Oval in 1948.

Sachin seems in a far better frame of mind to make the one big effort to please his fans with the combination of creativity in strokeplay and solidity in defence that has marked his career. And Sudhir Nayak, who is the curator, may have made the pitch with Sachin in mind with a bit of carry that may ease the playing of strokes while giving the pitch an even pace. There may be a few more stresses added to the cries of ‘Sachiiiiiiiiinnn, Sachiiiiiiiiinnnnn’ that will rent the air when he comes in to bat at some point early in the Test.

India has little need to change a basic combination that has done well in five Test wins on the trot with Ravichandran Ashwin, now rated the top Test all-rounder in the rankings, expanding his presence into more than a utility role with the bat and Rohit Sharma having proved himself on debut with a classy innings.

International bookmaking markets have installed India firm favourite to win the Test at half money while the draw is 250% profit on investment and the West Indies, the eternal dark horses, are at 7.5 to one. The smart money is on a Sachin half century, according to analysts.

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