In the just-concluded first Test against South Africa, India came into the fifth day in a fairly hopeless situation. Having scored 454, the team needed 30 more runs just to make South Africa bat again. But they had only two wickets left.
But as has been the case for the best part of two decades, India could hope because India had the greatest modern batsman, Sachin Tendulkar, still batting. He had just scored his 50th Test century, looking as solid and serene as always. With him there, India could legitimately hope, first of all, to score those 30 runs. After that, who knows? With Tendulkar batting as soundly as he had been, perhaps he could shield the tailenders and put a large enough score on the board and take enough time doing so that a draw became possible. Winning was likely too much to hope for, but after the first innings 136 debacle, a hard-fought draw would have been a tremendous achievement.
That's the hope that Indian fans like me held on to as the fifth day came around. Slender, but real.
After all there was that famous and electric performance by that other great modern master, Brian Lara, to inspire hope. Playing Australia in March 1999, WI were 248 for 8, needing another 60 runs to win. But Lara was still batting. With only two modern batting incompetents, Ambrose and Walsh, for company, Lara systematically took most of the strike and shepherded his team to one of Test cricket's great triumphs.
So we hoped for India. So how did that fifth morning, so filled with hope, pan out?
SA's fastest bowler, Steyn, started the day. He had to bowl four balls, to complete his over that had been interrupted by bad light the previous evening.
Off his second ball, Tendulkar took a single. That left Sreesanth to face the last two balls. Great, we thought, Tendulkar is farming the strike. Sreesanth survived the two balls.
Morkel bowled the next over to Tendulkar, a maiden. As far as I can tell there was no attempt made to score, especially not off the last couple of balls.
Steyn had six balls next, to go after Sreesanth. Sreesanth survived. As far as I can tell, there was no attempt made to score, especially not off the first couple of balls so that Tendulkar could take strike.
Morkel bowled the next over. Off the third ball, Tendulkar scored a single, leaving Sreesanth to face three balls. He was out off the second of those.
The new batsman, Jaydev Unadkat, played out the last ball of Morkel's over.
Steyn up again, to bowl the next over, Tendulkar on strike. Off the first ball, Tendulkar scores a single. Unadkat is left with the rest of the over -- five balls -- to negotiate, which he does with some unease. After the last ball, Cricinfo's commentary team has this to say: "Not sure if Tendulkar would want to give him the strike first ball."
Morkel bowls next, Tendulkar on strike. Off the second ball, he takes a single, leaving Unadkat to face four balls. The fifth ball of the over, Unadkat defends and "Tendulkar calls to take the single" (Cricinfo again). Tendulkar plays out the last ball with no attempt to score.
Steyn now has a full over to target Unadkat. He needs only one ball to take him out. SA wins the Test.
Far from 30 runs, India scored just five on the fifth morning. Of 35 balls bowled, Tendulkar faced 15, and six of those were in one Morkel over in which he seemed uninterested in scoring at all. (Compare with Lara, who fronted up for 74 of the final 118 balls -- after the fall of the 8th wicket -- of that 1999 Test).
And Indian fans like me were left to wonder: just what was Sachin Tendulkar doing on that fifth morning?