Tendulkar 33 short of coveted landmark

Mumbai: Sachin Tendulkar inched closer to his much-awaited 100th international century with an unbeaten 67 as India gave a strong reply to the huge West Indian total of 590 on day three of the third and final Test here in the western Indian city Thursday.

At stumps, the home team were 281 for 3 in 80 overs – 110 runs short of saving the follow-on and were 309 runs adrift of the tourists` massive tally on a wicket that was playing true but showing some signs of wear and tear. The unbeaten batsman accompanying Tendulkar, who has faced 133 balls in his three-hour stay and struck a six and five fours and was 33 short of his landmark century, was V V S Laxman (32 in 53 balls with 3 fours) and the duo`s unbroken fourth-wicket partnership has yielded 57 runs.

Play was called off four overs early because of bad light and the visitors can take the second new ball right after it commences Friday. India lost the wicket of opener Gautam Gambhir, who made 55 in 99 balls with eight fours, in the second session after the dismissal of his opening partner Virender Sehwag (37 in 50 balls with a six and three fours) in the pre-lunch period after the duo had put on a brisk 67 runs in 14.3 overs.

Later, the hosts lost Rahul Dravid after the batting mainstay made a superb 82 off 149 balls in 195 minutes with 11 hits to the fence, his 62nd half century in 160th Test. He also crossed 13,000 Test runs and scored more than 1000 runs in this calendar year. All the three wickets were of batsmen`s errors. Sehwag stretched forward to drive rival captain Sammy and left a gap between bat and ball to be bowled for the third time by the accurate seamer.

Gambhir top-edged a pull off a short ball from Ravi Rampaul going over his head to rival skipper Carlton Baugh and Dravid tried to cut a ball by leaning back one ball after he drove Samuels handsomely past extra cover for a four. Dravid`s dismissal in the 61st over post tea brought Tendulkar and Laxman together and the duo batted diligently to carry the score past 250.

Tendulkar, who was mostly content in getting runs off nudges after once slashing a short ball from Fidel Edwards for a stunning six over third man, was lucky not to have been dismissed by his series nemesis Devendra Bishoo after compiling his career`s 63rd half ton in his 180th Test appearance. He followed a leg break from Bishoo, who has taken his wicket twice in the three innings, with his bat and the thin edge was grassed by stumper Baugh, much to the relief of the crowd. The batsman was 58 in a team score of 263 for 3 at that time.

West Indians had also dropped Gambhir on 31. Kirk Edwards failing to latch on to the southpaw`s edge off the unlucky Sammy when India were 87 for one in the fourth over after lunch. In the morning, the hosts took only 16 minutes to dismiss the last West Indian wicket after the visitors had resumed at 575 for 9.

Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, bowling round the wicket, clean bowled last man Bishoo when the tailender tried an almighty heave to leg to terminate the visitors` innings off the 19th ball of the morning. Left-handed Bishoo added 10 runs to his overnight two while Edwards remained unconquered with 11 after being on seven Wednesday evening.

The tourists added 15 runs Thursday before losing their last wicket and their total is their highest in 36 years. Ashwin picked up 5 for 156, his second five-wicket haul of the series after his second innings six in Delhi in the opening match of the series. His tally of wickets stood at 18. Chasing the imposing score on a wicket that still played as true as on the first two days, the hosts rocketed off to 67 in less than 15 overs with Sehwag and Gambhir making a forthright beginning before the former lost his wicket.

Sehwag, looking good for a big score, was clean bowled by Sammy, who had dismissed him twice earlier in the series, with a ball that moved in a shade. His 37 contained three fours and a six and came off 50 balls. Gambhir was joined by Dravid, who needed 21 runs to complete 13,000 Test runs, and the duo prevented further loss before lunch taken with India at 74 for one.

Dravid, who needed 15 balls to get off the mark, started the post-lunch session with a first-ball on-driven boundary off rival speedster Fidel Edwards and then square cut the bowler for another four to begin the session in impressive fashion. Gambhir then straight drove Edwards to the fence to raise the hundred of the innings in the 26th over, in 127 minutes.

Dravid twice cover drove Sammy for fours, the second hit helping him reach 13,000 runs. Gambhir swung Sammy to the fence, his seventh of the innings to complete his 18th half century in his 44th Test in 89 balls and 147 minutes. But the Delhi left-hander, tempted by a ball dug in short by Ravi Rampaul, tried to swing it to leg and was declared out caught behind off a top edge, though he stood his ground as the West Indians appealed. His stay at the crease lasted 166 minutes and he faced 89 balls.

The second wicket partnership between Gambhir and Dravid fetched 71 runs in 118 balls and 91 minutes. Tendulkar walked in to a huge roar from the spectators who had trooped into the stadium in

anticipation of him achieve his much-awaited landmark of 100 international hundreds. The duo batted cautiously before tea with Tendulkar starting slowly before uncorking a fine cover drive all along the carpet off Rampaul to pilot India to the 150 mark in 190 minutes and 40 overs.

West Indies were without leg spinner Bishoo for a while after lunch after he aggravated the thigh strain he sustained when he was hit by Indian pacer Ishant Sharma when he batted this morning. He went for a scan but returned to take the field and also bowled in the second session. He almost bowled Dravid off the last ball before tea when the India number three had to kick out the ball before it could roll on and hit the stumps after his defensive prod.

India`s senior-most batting pair, unbeaten at tea in a score of 172 for 2, raised their half century stand in 93 balls after the break. Tendulkar became a bit more adventurous by on driving Bishoo and steering Samuels past slip for fours but saw Dravid depart at the other end to an ambitious shot. The duo put on 86 runs in 161 balls and 103 minutes. Tendulkar pushed Samuels to long on to reach yet another half century in 88 balls and, with Laxman, was intent on mixing caution and aggression.