Kolkata, Dec. 5 -- An over-enthusiastic Eden Gardens crowd had once repented chanting "we want Sachin". It was 13 years back, just before tea on the fourth day when VVS Laxman and Sadagoppan Ramesh were tackling a dreaded Pakistan pace battery of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar.
The stands expected the match to fizzle out into a draw and seeing the great man bat would be more value for money.
But Sachin Tendulkar was controversially run out. Eden erupted and the remaining match was played in front of empty stands. Of course, India lost, the last time the hosts went down in a Test at the venue.
Come Wednesday, not just Eden, the whole country would want Tendulkar to fire, albeit the rising voice calling for his retirement. But having lost Sourav Ganguly and then Rahul Dravid and Laxman in quick succession, the Indian middle order is vulnerable.
Cheteshwar Pujara, just seven Tests old, has been on a roll, but everyone saw how fast things could change when that did not happen a second time in Mumbai. Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh are the others in the middle order. The three of them put together have played 58 Tests, Yuvraj 39 of them sporadically since his debut against New Zealand in 2003. England see an opening there.
India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni surely realises the vulnerability. "Pujara and Kohli are doing a good job. We don't need to put pressure on them," he said. Soon he accepted the fact that more than before, India are now heavily dependent on their openers, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag. ".we would want them to perform together," he said at the media conference on Tuesday.
All of these factors and the calming presence of Tendulkar makes him far from being redundant in this team, at this juncture.
The way Tendulkar has been dismissed in this series has shown a pattern. He had closed the face of the bat early to spinners and paid the price.
England coach Andy Flower's appointment of Cambridge mathematics graduate and teacher at Eton, Nathan Leamon, as the head of video analysis, has been partially responsible for solving the Tendulkar mystery. England's success against him when India lost the series 0-4 last year was reportedly partially due to statistical analysis that showed he scored mainly on the leg-side before settling down.
Even in this series, it seems England are cashing in on the same 'flaw'. Tendulkar was caught at mid-wicket off Graeme Swann in the first Test intending to hit over long-on but closing the face early. In Mumbai, on both occasions he tried to play Monty Panesar against the turn on the leg-side. He was bowled in the first innings. In the second, he was trapped in front.
Towards the end of 2003, in Australia, Tendulkar had faced a problem. Eager to play through the covers, he was repeatedly getting out caught behind or leg-before. In the same series, in Sydney, Tendulkar put matters to rest with an unbeaten 241.
Connoisseurs remember that 10-hour knock for Tendulkar's discipline. Not once did he play through the covers. It remains to be seen whether he still has the motivation and reflexes to do that again.
Sourav Ganguly believes he can. England skipper Alastair Cook says only a fool would write someone like Tendulkar off. Eden wants to witness another epic battle, with the little master as hero.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.