Sachin Tendulkar played his first Test at Chepauk 20 years ago, making 165 against England in a series that India would win 3-0. James Pattinson was two then, barely old enough to grip a cricket ball. These two men, at opposite ends of the experience spectrum, were the key protagonists during an enthralling second day's cricket in the first Test at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Saturday (February 23).
Tendulkar, who has scored hundreds in his two previous Tests against Australia at this venue, finished the day on 71. India, at 182 for 3, were still 198 adrift of Australia's total of 380, an effort underpinned by Michael Clarke's superb 130. Pattinson bowled just six overs, in two spells of three, but his ferocious pace and subtle movement were enough to knock over each of India's top three.
Tendulkar's last act with the bat on this famous old ground was an unbeaten hundred as India chased down 387 against England in December 2008. When he arrived at the crease on Saturday, to rapturous acclaim from the stands, the scoreboard showed 12 for 2. The first ball he faced from a fired-up Pattinson was driven beautifully through cover for four. The second was deflected even more deftly, behind point. After missing the third, he moved across his stumps and glanced the next to fine leg for four more.
That set the tone for a 94-run partnership with Cheteshwar Pujara, who showed plenty of invention and skill himself over the 140 balls that the two batted together. A vicious square-cut off Mitchell Starc got him going, and there were some deft strokes behind square and off his pads as he matched Tendulkar stroke for stroke. It needed Pattinson's reintroduction to stem the tide, with an clever off-cutter making a mess of the stumps as Pujara looked to play away from the body.
Opening the bowling with Starc - neither was born when Tendulkar made his debut in 1989 - it hadn't taken Pattinson long to announce himself. Murali Vijay had little idea about a full delivery that was clocked at 150 km/hr. It crashed into the stumps off an inside edge. Virender Sehwag lasted another 12 balls. He got into an awkward position to play a ball that reared chest-high and watched in dismay as it bounced on to the top of the leg bail.
After Pujara's dismissal, India needed another big partnership. With Tendulkar more circumspect in his approach, Virat Kohli came in and played with the sort of freedom that had been missing during the first three Tests against England. He punished anything short and wide outside off stump, and also played a couple of lovely flicks through midwicket as India had the better of the final session.
The first had been all about Australian defiance, as Clarke and Peter Siddle extended their partnership to 54 from 174 balls before India broke through in a session that stretched to 135 minutes once the ninth wicket fell at the stroke of lunch.
It was R Ashwin, who had taken six on the opening day, that ended it, having Nathan Lyon brilliantly caught by Kohli at leg slip after he miscued a sweep. Ashwin's figures of 7 for 103 were his best in Tests. Clarke's innings had spanned 246 balls, during the course of which he surpassed both Don Bradman and Greg Chappell in the list of highest Australian run-scorers. He was finally out caught at long-off after not getting to the pitch of a delivery from Ravindra Jadeja. It meant that Pujara's drop at silly point, off the same bowler a few minutes earlier, didn't prove costly.
Siddle, whose vigil lasted 94 balls, finally gave Harbhajan Singh his only wicket of the innings, edging one to Sehwag at slip. Harbhajan cut a disgruntled figure for the most part, especially once Kumar Dharmasena turned down a confident leg-before shout against Pattinson. It was one of several contentious decisions that prolonged India's frustration before lunch. Fortunately for them, Tendulkar was in the right place at the right time to restore some smiles to what has been a pretty gloomy dressing room in recent times.