MUMBAI: : The Wankhede has experienced this before — 35,000 people waiting for a special landmark, only to be cruelly silenced.
Sachin Tendulkarwas just six runs short of his 100th international hundred in the third Test against West Indies here in December 2011. The Wankhede fans, who had cheered him on lustily in April as the Indian team members took a lap of honour while taking turns to carry him on their shoulders, after the World Cup win, were prepared again to give their favourite son another cheer.
However, an attempted punch off Ravi Rampaul ended in the hands of Darren Sammy at second slip.
The West Indies skipper was back to spoil Tendulkar’s farewell party two years later. The retiring Master was close to a brilliant hundred in his last innings for India, playing sublime drives and punches. But as he tried to cut a Narsingh Deonarine delivery that bounced a bit more, the edge went to Sammy at slip to trigger a deathly hush at Wankhede.
Wankhede was buzzing with anticipation again on Thursday as India prepared to take on Sri Lanka in their seventh match of the World Cup. The stars were aligned, it seemed, for Virat Kohli to get to three figures and go level with Tendulkar’s record of 49 ODI tons.
As one approached ‘D’ road from Churchgate station to enter the Wankhede, the street was full of youngsters donning the India Blue No. 18. With Tendulkar himself in attendance as a UNICEF brand ambassador and the newly installed statue looking on from the Sachin Tendulkar stand, it seemed as if the Master, the ‘Idol’ and The Idolizer were in for something special.
When Kohli was dropped by the speedy Dushmantha Chameera off his own bowling when he was still on 10 and after surviving some checked drives on a sticky pitch initially, it looked like the Gods wanted it too.
The batter settled down to essay his trademark cover drives and the punch through mid-wicket off middle and off that scorched the turf to race to the fence. It’s a shot that he plays well when in top gear. He also seemed to be unusually chatty too.
He conversed frequently with Sri Lanka skipper and keeper Kusal Mendis. In between, he relayed throws from the fielders back to the bowler. When Pathum Nissanka dived at the extra cover boundary to save a run, he was all applause.
When Shubman Gill, with whom he shared a second-wicket stand of 189 off 179 deliveries, played a gorgeous stroke, Kohli smiled. When Gill got the first six of the innings in the 27.4th over, a swat off Chameera, Kohli punched the batter’s gloves.
When Gill refused a quick two, Kohli reprimanded him by gesturing with arms spread that he was too dozy. In between, he made 12th man Ishan Kishan earn his match fee by making repeated trips from the change room to the middle with either a drink, some fruit, or the cap and helmet. Sometimes, R Ashwin arrived, carrying an energy drink, and a message.
As a tiring Gill edged Madushanka to the keeper to fall for 92, the Wankhede crowd, though disappointed, clapped him all the way to the change room. Mumbai loves centuries yes, and centurions. But the throbbing arena was really waiting for 100 No. 49 and not century no. 7.
Gill’s dismissal seemed to have drained a tiring Kohli of his strength and enthusiasm. A string of dots bowled by Madushanka which saw Kohli checking his drive through covers, denied him his staple diet in the middle overs, The single.
The bowler and captain spotted the over-eagerness and tightness. The fielders were asked to close in tighter. A short cover was employed.
Kohli checked another cover drive, off a 114 kph slower one. It popped in the air. Straight to Nissanka. He was gone for 88.
The batter was stunned. The crowd seemed cut off from oxygen as one heard 35,000 gasps. Wankhede had witnessed another heartbreak.

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